Spain’s markets and food halls are on another level.
They provide an opportunity to taste the best of the area, region and, even the country, under one roof. I am not exaggerating when I say you can spend hours trying different things on these gastronomic temples.
I visited the city many years ago and since I only had one day to explore (insane), I didn’t stop by any of the markets. I vowed not to make the same mistake on a future visit.
That is why on my way to the waterfront, through Las Ramblas, I kept my eyes wide open. I was trying to spot the entrance of the Mercat Saint Joseph (better known as La Boqueria) on my right hand side.
Now, let me tell you a thing or two about this market.
- It is the most famous market in Barcelona
- It is on the busiest street (actually, streets because Las Ramblas is more than one street) in the city
- It is touristy, crowded and a little bit on the theatrical side (things are arranged in a very appealing way)
Having said that, I still think this market is worth a visit. Why? Because the variety of goods is impressive, there are bursts of color everywhere and the tapas bars in there are frequented by top chefs (they are that good!).
That first visit I started to describe above was a total fail. My husband and I got inside but it was impossible to walk around. The crowds were massive. We left and returned another time when things were on the calmer side. Therefore, that is my advice to you. If you get the canned sardine feeling, run away and return at another time! Or, try to hit the market close to open time.
For excellent tapas, stop by any of the following:
- Pinotxo Bar
- El Quim (their specialty is fried eggs with baby squid)
- Kiosko Universal (for great seafood)
Other less famous bars are:
- Bar Central
- Bar Boqueria
If you prefer to eat on the go, there are many vendors offering quiches, turnovers, pastries and even noodles and burritos (ahem!).
For those who prefer to snack, the options are limitless. Stalls offer fruit, chocolate covered strawberries, candies, macaroons, fresh fruit, olives, nuts, chocolate and Iberico ham.
If you see somebody selling coconut milk on a plastic cup, make yourself a favor and get one. The one we tried at the market was delicious (remind me of the one my grandmother used to get from fresh coconuts).
If you are interested in visiting a less crowded and touristy market, you can stop by Mercat Santa Caterina in the Old City.
Santa Caterina Market was built in 1845 to provide the neighborhood’s blue-collar community with food related items. This was the city’s first covered market. A refurbishment, in the modernist style, was completed in 2005. An undulating roof is attached to the building by a wooden structure, and a vast mosaic of colored ceramic pieces, representing fruit and vegetables, boldly breaks with the traditional look of a market.
The photo below (from Barcelona.com) shows an aerial of the market.
I loved strolling around the almost empty market. We had breakfast at one of the bars and proceeded to take a look at the colorful produce. We found several food related products that served as souvenirs.
If you are a really fan of markets, may be interested in paying a visit to Sant Antoni Market. I didn’t have the opportunity to visit but reviews indicate it is bigger than La Boqueria with no tourists on sight. This is a good place to mingle with locals and food lovers (there is a tapas bar on site).
Comparisons tend to be unfair for many reasons but I feel like I have to give my opinion in this case. I would chose to visit any Madrid market over a Barcelona market. I find the food offerings in Madrid superior. The best food Spain has to offer is better represented there.
Yes, Madrid markets are touristy too but there are tons of locals (or at least people from the Greater Madrid area) in the market. In Madrid, there are common eating areas. That allows you to have a conversation with other while eating. That alone is a great opportunity to get recommendations or learn more about daily life in Spain. If you are a food lover, this is something you should give a thought.
What market in Barcelona would you like to visit?
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