In my last post, I shared with you my top 10 list of things to do in Barcelona and today, we’ll go a little bit deeper on #2. If you’re planning a trip to Barcelona, check out this 3 day Barcelona itinerary.
I’ll start off with a small and valuable tip – skip breakfast or at the very least, have a small one.
We’re about to explore the best market in Barcelona and maybe even all of Spain. The Mercat de la Boqueria is situated right in the middle of Barcelona’s most famous avenue – La Rambla, so there’s no way you’ll miss it. Just follow the crowds and get here in the morning (just not on a Sunday when this place is closed). As the rule of thumb goes with markets, they’re always better in the early mornings, when the real buyers do their shopping and the crowds are still stretching in bed. Even if you get here by midday – don’t sweat it. It’s a paradise for foodies but even common folks with no culinary sense like me will enjoy this place.
We’ve visited quite a few Spanish markets on our trip to Mallorca and Seville, but this one is on a whole other level. Are you ready to start exploring the market?
A bit of history
The Mercat de la Boqueria officially opened in the 1850s though it’s been around in some shape or form since the 12th century! It’s always so exciting to go into these old European markets, as you can just imagine what shopping looked like in the old days. The seafood section, which will be the highlight of our visit, was added a few decades later and the market received its metal roof only in 1914. This probably helped to prevent shoppers from fainting in the sweltering summer heat, and the produce from rotting away in the sun.
The fruits & vegetable section
As you enter the market from the La Rambla entrance, you’ll visit the fruits and vegetable section. You’ll find here stalls selling fresh produce from across the region. The fruits and veggies look super fresh and you can see the quality is good, not like the tasteless veggies we usually find back home in Ireland.
There are a few special stalls you must visit in this section of the market. The first is Frutas y Verduras Jesus y Carmen, pretty close to the entrance. They’ve been selling here since 1864 so they know a thing or two about fruits and vegetables. Their signature trademark is the chilly hanging around the stall – just lookout for that!
Another interesting stop is at Petras, which specializes in mushrooms. It’s a bit further to the back but just ask anyone and they’ll point you in the right direction. There’s some weird stuff over here and I wonder how you use some of these mushrooms in cooking. Nonetheless, it’s super cool to see and don’t be shy to ask about the curious looking ones.
On a side note, your eyes will certainly be lured by the appealing colorful display of fruit juices, popular in this section of the market. I must admit that the one I selected was not good at all, a bit watered down and full of pulps. But maybe it was just bad luck on this one. Who knows?
The meat section
Where the fruits and vegetable section ends is where the meat section pretty much begins. If you’re a vegetarian, this section will definitely piss you off but I’m willing to bet Spain’s % of vegetarian people is not among the highest in the world. Giant Iberian Hams (Jamon Iberico) hang from the stalls and even the folks who man the fort can’t help it but occasionally snack away. The rule of thumb here is to always say ‘yes’ when offered a taste.
Here’s what it looks and sounds like to walk through the fruits & vegetables and the meat sections of the market.
The seafood section: the highlight of the market
Now we get to the serious stuff and definitely the best part of the Mercat de la Boqueria. You would think that with so many seafood stalls in the same market, they’d all be selling the same stuff. After all, how many different fishermen were out in different sections of the Mediterranean Sea? Well, the variety here is the best I’ve ever seen. You’ll see the usual stuff like salmon, mussels, and sardines but the really interesting stuff are the different types of shrimp, octopus, red tuna, crabs and really scary-looking fish. I would most definitely pee in my wetsuit if I encountered any of these guys when down below.
Local merchants diligently take in orders, removing the scales and finely slicing the fish – exactly as the customers ask. You should see the looks on the faces of buyers when they collect their goods. I can only imagine what goes on in the kitchens back home afterward.
Here’s what it looks and sounds like to walk through the seafood section of the market.
Are you hungry by now? Let’s eat!
It’s commonly known that you don’t come to a wedding on a full stomach so the same logic goes for visiting markets! Like many other traditional European markets, the Mercat de la Boqueria has good eating options within its grounds. But not many markets have such excellent produce, with the sea so close. Combine that with the Spanish love of tapas – and you get a unique opportunity to sample some great food on the go.
The first good option is Bar Central, right by the meat section. This place is super popular and the bar is almost always filled with shoppers grabbing a quick bite. The seafood looked amazing here and the price, accordingly.
Another good option is Bar Clemen’s. They have all your usual favorite tapas dishes but they also have excellent seafood on the menu to nibble on. Don’t be scared by the pink octopus and find a seat on the bar – if you can.
If you’re looking for something a bit more down-to-earth, then head over to legendary Bar Pinotxo. It’s a little harder to find but ever so authentic. We had a mix of breakfast and lunch, with a delicious custard-filled pastry and some spicy chickpeas.
If your sweet tooth hasn’t stopped teasing you by now, head over to Escriba, just as you exit the market. It’s considered to be one of the best bakeries in Barcelona. They do the usual Spanish pastries but are famous for their decorated cakes. Check out their Valentine’s Day special.
We spent a good hour and a half in the market and enjoyed every minute of it. We continued our day and headed inside to the Gothic Quarter, with fond memories of a memorable market.
Want to see more?
The Mercat de la Boqueria is definitely a place you must visit when you come to Barcelona, even if it’s not your first time. I can certainly see why it’s considered to be the best in Spain but I’ll leave that to the experts.