12 gourmet shops in Cantabria
While the appearance and names of Cantabria’s specialist food shops (ultramarinos, colonial, colmado, abacería, mantequería, delicatessen, tienda gourmet...) may have changed over time, their wide variety of carefully selected products and high standards remain constant. They are so strongly identified with the region that ambitious employees have exported them worldwide, from Argentina to Jerez and Cádiz. Here’s our pick of the most authentic tienducas in Cantabria. Whether old-fashioned or forward-thinking, they remain a doorway to the region’s most carefully crafted and premium quality products.
1 Diferente / Santander
Pilar and Virginia, the heirs of Lazarus del Cerro, who opened the original ultramarinos shop in 1940, have preserved his careful selection of products: Cantabrian anchovies, local cheeses, craft beers, meat from the Esla Valley and Ávila... The list is endless at the two locations of this classic shop (the original, on Vargas Street and the larger one on El Sardinero), which has been operating as a self-service since 1961. Don’t miss the wines, the roasted and stewed meats made by the resident chef and the radiant orange of his cabracho fish cake.
2 Mantequerías Frankfort / Santander
Disciplined rows of bottles and jars of peaches in syrup or mixed vegetables: the display window of the old-style ultramarinos finos shop – with the original 1955 signs painted on the glass – is a fast-disappearing experience in itself. This shop on Rualasal Street specialises in gourmet ingredients: tinned foods, cold cuts and English biscuits served up by the Peña family, who are third-generation experts.
3 Prisa / Santander
This counter with a corner shop vibe, an inviting display window and fair prices sits right on Plaza de las Cervezas. The hanging hams and pork loins from Extremadura, the high-mountain honey and the selection of cheeses and beef jerkies belie the shop’s name (prisa means ‘hurry’). Take your time, and don’t hesitate to ask for advice. Prisa is also, naturally, a specialist in Cantabrian anchovies.
4 Anchoas Doña Tomasa
This updates the spirit of an old ultramarinos shop with plant-inspired décor, wooden display cases, baskets and various eye-catching corners that make it the city’s most Instagrammable shop. At this colmado on Paseo Menéndez Pelayo, everything is placed with such millimetric precision that it looks as though the jars were chosen for their aesthetics. Its strong point is its selection of Cantabrian anchovies and sobaos pasiegos (sponge cakes).
5 Mantequerías Cántabras
Founded in 1860, this company specialises in wine and spirits (it has its own distributor, Tablanca) and its main shop is located on Calle Hernán Cortés. It’s the place to get some very artisanal sobaos from La Zapita, María Luisa almond pastries or very Cantabrian Angelachu anchovies.
6 La Ermita
La Ermita’s story begins back in the 1960s in San Pedro de Rudagüera, where the Salmon García couple ran an ultramarinos on the ground floor of the family home. Their three children expanded the business with – among other initiatives – La Ermita 1826, one of the town’s top hotels and restaurants, and this shop on Calle Jesús de Monasterio. In an impressive setting featuring a stone façade and fine woods, it also offers a variety of Cantabrian delicacies, house-made artisanal versions of cocido montañes, olla ferroviaria, croquetas, quesada and even a yoghurt smoothie served from a vending machine.
7 A puñaos
The return to popularity of the old ultramarinos is embodied in A Puñaos, in Calle Magallanes, which bulk sells of all kinds of products, from spices and legumes to vinegar and dried fruits. This photogenic shop displays colourful bags of rice, jars filled with pasta and fragrant urns of individual or mixed spices that smell simply wonderful.
8 El Colmado
This shop on Avenida Camilo Alonso Vega has radically updated the concept of colmado: all the products sold are organic, and most are local and sold in bulk in order to generate as little waste as possible. Ethics and aesthetics become one in a business that boasts of having close relationships with its customers. Decorated simply, it features natural materials and several nods to the old-style ultramarinos, such as the restored well-worn counter and antique scales.
The ideal place to buy the season’s first truffles and accompany them with some organic Cantabrian eggs, find a Galician sparkling wine, order a tenderloin from the Esla Valley or take home a Treviso cheese the size of a motorcycle wheel. A luxury in the heart of Torrelavega (on Calle Jose María de Pereda), where the wooden shelves heave with a wide variety of wines, and bags of legumes and the cured sausages on a tiled wall make you feel as if you’re at Grandma’s.
10 Abacería de la Sal / Cabezón de la Sal
Located in the Plaza del Ángel de la Bodega square, this hybrid between a restaurant and a colmado conserves the feeling and spirit of an old abacería, where everything on the menu can also be purchased for take-away. Top-quality tinned goods, cheeses, anchovies and cured sausages feature in a setting of rough stone and towering shelves holding carefully curated bottles of wine and tins of oil.
11 La Tienduca / Astillero
La Tienduca has made one of the hallmarks of the old abacerías its calling card: huge pieces of salt cod drying on hooks greet the customers in this Portuguese colmado that is also a bar and a restaurant. It’s a good place to pick up some Portuguese and Cantabrian tinned goods and to compare anchovies and sardines, Vinho Verde and Rioja, and also to try different cuts of dried salt cod, cured sausages and jams. It has an airy patio located right on the Plaza del Mercado where you can try everything before you decide.
12 La Tienda de Pedro García en Solares
To really experience the sensations of an authentic 20th-century colmado, book a table at this restaurant. La Tienda was run by Pedro García in Solares on Calle Calvo Sotelo from 1926, and closed when he died in 1971. Untouched for decades, the current owners found it and have kept it just as it was. To reach the small dining room, you’ll have to go through the back room, around the original wood and marble counter, next to antique scales, hanging sausages and some dark blue shelves loaded with tins, wines and old-fashioned flavour.