One cannot visit Barcelona without spending an afternoon, or several, at the Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria. Located in the city’s old town, with an entrance just off La Rambla, the market is extremely accessible and thus very popular with tourists. Don’t let the throngs of camera touting visitors scare you, the market offers some of the city’s best food and is well worth pushing your way through the crowded thoroughfares.
The market traces it origins back to the thirteenth century, but construction of the existing building began in 1840. The current space actually consists of several separate sheds, connected by a metal roof built in the 1910s.
You might want to do a loop or two through the market’s corridors to get your bearings – or dive right in and start eating your way through the best of Barcelona. The market is a great location for snacking, for a sit down meal or drink, or for grocery shopping.
Once inside the market, you will walk along the Calle Principal, or Main Street. This centrally located avenue is flanked by vendors flaunting their wares as well as corridors that branch off the main drag. Near the main entrance to the market stalls selling produce, with nearly every imaginable fruit and vegetable on display. Pick up produce to take home or enjoy a snack in the market. Many vendors sell thoughtfully prepared, pre-packaged snacks, like halved passion fruit, sold with tiny plastic spoons so you can immediately enjoy your treat. For a less healthy option, peruse the candy and chocolate stalls just across the Calle Principal. There are artisan sweets, including gemlike fruit pates, truffles, and marzipan, as well as gummy candies that mimic fried eggs, sea creatures, and soda bottles.
Continue into the depths of the market, the number of food stalls, and the infinite amount of food stuffs, is overwhelming. Some vendors proffer bins of nuts, legumes, and grains. Others burst with countless mushroom varieties, some cultivated, others wild and native to the region. One stall is dedicated entirely to eggs, from standard chicken to massive emu eggs. Some even sell packaged goods, including Asian imports, dietary sensitive items, olive oil, salt, and more.
Located in the center of the market are the fishmongers. Gorgeous seafood is displayed on beds of ice. Just some of the offerings include Spain’s famous shrimp, clams, cockles, periwinkles, lobsters, and even percebes, prehistoric looking barnacles. You can also locate smoked fish, quality canned tuna, and other seafood treats throughout the market.
One of the main attractions of the market are the meat stalls, particularly the cured meat vendors. If you are looking for meat to prepare at home, try one of the butchers, who sell everything from steaks to offal, pork to wild game. In the back of the market is Mas Gourmets, a gastronomic paradise. It’s a local chain selling charcuterie and cheese, including the famous Iberian hams. Purchase a few of their daily samples. Wrapped in paper cones, the stall sells small amounts of ham, chorizo, and cheese. The perfect size to share and snack, pick one of each and enjoy while walking around the market. Several other stalls sell wonderful cured meats and cheeses as well, so stop by whichever one looks inviting.
If you are looking to sit and savor for a while, pull up a stool at one of the many bar-restaurants in the market. Depending on the time of day, these can be packed with visitors and locals alike, or empty. Tuck into tapas like slices of tortilla, openfaced sandwiches, fried croquettes, and pardon peppers. Enjoy a glass of Cava or a glass of Estrella beer and watch the bustling of the market.
The market is open Monday through Saturday, 8:00 AM to 8:30 PM, though the hours of the particular stalls vary. Arrive early for the best selection of produce. Visiting later in the day does have its advantages, as vendors are more willing to haggle with their prices.
La Boqueria is certainly not the only market in Barcelona. The city has numerous neighborhood markets frequented by locals. Most are enclosed spaces centrally located in their respective neighborhoods. Mercat de Sant Antoni, Mercat de la Barceloneta, and Mercat de Santa Caterina are just a few worth visiting.
Written by and photos by Morgen Young for EuropeUpClose.com