Actually each of these cities has multiple food markets, but these three markets were in a class of their own. What also made the visit interesting is that while the focus was on food, each setup was different as was the vibe of the place, satisfying different needs for different cities.
Barcelona – La Boqueria
If you mention Barcelona to any self respecting food lover, this market is high on their list of places to visit. I was no exception, and it was the first place in Barcelona I insisted on dragging my husband (let’s get this trip off on the right foot). I stepped in to the interior, and I did not know what to do, logical thoughts flew from my brain. I’d seen this behavior in my five year old niece when she first caught sight of the Children’s Play Ground in Golden Gate Park, stutter stepping, conflicted, pulled in so many directions with a serious case of sensory overload – I just never expected to catch myself doing it. Finally I came to my senses enough to insist to my husband that we approach our visit in a logical fashion going down each aisle before making any purchases. He promptly rolled his eyes. I deserved that.
I can only describe it as Aladian’s Cave for food lovers – this site lists the types of stalls so you can see for yourself. The selection of foods was simply mind boggling, as was the attention to detail, nothing was haphazardly placed, rather all was artfully displayed to be all the more tempting. I found myself staring at a cluster of green onions as an object of beauty. The colorful displays more like mounds of the finest jewels – ok you get my drift.
In addition to being able to procure just about anything you wanted in the way of food, many of the stalls offered on the spot tapas, and there were even a few restaurants intersperced if you were so inclined, and believe me it would take someone with incredible restraint not to be so inclined.
Rarely do I regret staying in a hotel, but this place made me wish we had rented an apartment so that we could sample more goodies. There’s always next time.
We like collecting portable food for impromtu snacks and lunches so we were privledged to sample:
breads and some interesting pastries
Madrid – Mercado San Miguel
About three years ago the market added a new layer of offerings serving all tapas and pinchos a person could ask for in one location. If you are familiar with the Ferry Building in San Francisco, you get the idea, but this market is far more conducive to grazing as the food shops primarily line the exterior walls with the middle section set up with tables for noshing.
While you can still purchase items to take home, the focus when we arrived in the evening was for food and drinks to be consumed on the premises. I suspect the vendors were chosen with deliberation, there is no direct duplication of products, for example while I saw three wine related vendors, the first one vendor sold wines by the glass or bottle, the second vendor focuses exclusively on sherries, and the third offers delicious wine based drinks cocktails such as sangria. No direct competition.
My husband was so taken with this mercado that we ate here three nights in a row. His argument was that we had not tried everything, and we could probably sample the widest selection of tapas in the least amount of time with the minimal amount of effort. There was no faulting that logic.
Who can argue when you have this
and spot this
you get the idea.
So much to sample, so little time.
Valencia – Mercado Central
Where Barcelonas market struck me as dark and cavernous, with its rich, jewel colors of an old school still life painting. Valencia’s market seemed all light and open spaces. It is housed in a gorgeous Art Nouveau building that opened in 1928, and is one of the largest in Europe with about a thousand stalls calling this place home.
To me this was much more of a utilitarian market, with the focus not to linger (although there was options to eat on the premises) but to make your selection and move home. Having read up on Valencia ahead of time, I knew that this was an agricultural center for Spain and the produce options added credence to that idea.
Just walking down the street to the market we saw citrus and date trees with their offerings ripe for the picking. I am not sure if it was the correct thing to do, but my husband picked a Valencian orange from the tree, we were just too tempted by the bounty. I can see why the it is used more for juice rather than consumption. It had pucker power. Seeing all the incredibly produce options was a preview of what we had in store. This market is also where we sampled the delicious horchata.
There is no way I could pick a favorite. Every market we visited had its own charm, and certainly served a purpose for the community. The next time I am back in Spain, I’ll need to retrace my steps to confirm they were as fantastic as I remember.