Food Markets: A Real Taste of Spain
Savor this guide to some of Spain’s most traditional and beloved markets. They are the heart and soul of this nation’s gastronomy, as well as the best places to get an authentic taste of each region’s most delectable and sought-after culinary products.
Every week Madrid's Mercado San Miguel attracts thousands of visitors, who are drawn to this century-old wrought iron and glass market for a bite of cheese, a glass of wine, a half-dozen oysters, a plate of Ibérico ham and traditional or contemporary Spanish tapas. Located just off the stately Plaza Mayor, this restored and reconceptualized market – relaunched in 2009 – quickly became the model for this country's growing cadre of "mercados gastronómicos", gourmet markets where visitors can sample a wide range of quality Spanish products in situ from market stands, or bars that cook or prepare them on the spot, packaging their offering into bite-sized portions that can be devoured gourmet-food-court-style at any of the communal tables scattered throughout the market. In addition to San Miguel, Madrid also boasts similar-style markets including Mercado San Antón and the toney Platea. These join others around the country that have embraced this trend, such as Mercado Lonja del Barranco in Seville, Mercado Gastronómico San Juan in Palma de Mallorca, Mercado de la Merced in Málaga, and Mercado de San Agustín in Toledo.
Visitors should also take time to visit Spain's traditional markets. These are the lifeblood of local communities, where local and seasonal products reign supreme and one gains insight into an area's authentic regional flavors, cuisines and traditions. Let us take you on a tour through some of the most memorable – and often beautiful – of these classic Spanish markets.
Markets in Northern Spain
In northern Spain, the coastline that weaves its way around Galicia begins at the Atlantic Ocean and then heads east along the Bay of Biscay before ending at the French border. Although products from the sea obviously take top billing along this long coastal stretch, Galicia boasts at least one inland market that should not be missed. Located in the heart of the old city, the Mercado de Abastos in Santiago de Compostela is a high-ceilinged, columned temple to local products, including artisanal cheeses and sausages, Galician beef and fresh seasonal greens. Farther east along the coast in Santander, the Mercado de la Esperanza is like an extension of the nearby port, where the region's famed anchovies still glisten with seawater and mollusks come in every size, shape and color.
In Basque Country, San Sebastián's Mercado de La Bretxa occupies a stunning 19th century building in the center of town, with outside stands along both sides of the market selling local products like Idiazabal cheese, piparra peppers, Tolosa beans, tender peas and bags of perfectly julienned Romano beans. Then, head inland and southward to visit the Mercado Central de San Blas in Logroño for a glimpse of La Rioja's traditional pork products, including the region's quality-guaranteed chorizo riojano.
Markets In Barcelona, Valencia, Málaga and Cádiz
Spain's Mediterranean coast has just as much to offer, starting at the world famous La Boquería market in Barcelona. It is virtually impossible to prepare people for this experience. Packed to the gills at any La time of day, there are as many gawking tourists here as there are locals doing their daily shopping. Sit down at any of the small bars located throughout the market and order artfully-made tapas with wild mushrooms, Butifarra sausage, navajas (razor clams), and much more – to be washed down with a glass of the region's exceptional Cava while taking in the sights. Valencia's Mercado Central also offers an eyeful. A modernist masterpiece, the market has a separate section devoted entirely to products from the sea, notable for its live anguilas, or eels, an important ingredient in regional dishes like anguila all i pebre.
In Málaga, the Mercado Central Ataranzas, is reached through a 14th century Moorish gate, leading to 19th century building with a massive stained-glass window at one end. The market bar is a perfect place to try the fresh local catch turned into pescaíto frito, an Andalusian favorite comprised of small fish like sardines and anchovies, battered, fried and eaten whole with a generous sprinkling of salt. And although the market also has its share of prized bluefin tuna, it's nothing compared to the selection of these majestic fish that you'll find on Andalusia's Atlantic coast in Cádiz.
The recently renovated Mercado Central in the city of Cádiz is a sashimi-lovers dream, so much so that more than one tourist has been seen buying slices of the heart-stoppingly fresh bluefin tuna on display throughout the market, and relishing it on the spot. The sharky-looking dogfish is also popular here, the key ingredient in the local dish cazón en adobo. And while in Cádiz, make a stop at the Mercado Central de Abastos in the nearby town of Jerez, another 19th century architectural jewel like so many other markets on this list. This is an excellent place to find a variety of spices, infused with the flavors of Al-Andalus.
Traditional markets are the lifeblood of local communities, where local and seasonal products reign supreme and one gains insight into an area's authentic regional flavors, cuisines and traditions.