Photo Essay: Spanish food markets at the heart of two cities

By Joe Thomas

1 A woman arranges fruit juice as La Boqueria opens at 8 in the morning.

To fully understand Spanish gastronomy is to make a trip to one of Spain’s many food markets. Natives still turn to the traditional markets to find the freshest food, sold from vendors with decades of experience preparing, presenting and selling their goods. The markets hold specialty products distinct to the region that can seldomly be found elsewhere. While some still cater to locals and restaurants, others have adapted to the increasing popularity among tourists by installing tapas restaurants and pre-packaged food and refreshments.

Markets such as La Boqueria in Barcelona and Mercado de Antón Martín and Mercado de San Miguel, both in Madrid, have gained international prominence for their selection and presentations, and have become top destinations in those cities. Markets have also become a gateway for foreigners to not only learn about food but also Spanish culture through interacting with the workers.

In La Boqueria, for example, passersby can find everything from lamb brain to fresh mango juice, as well as Iberian jamon, crêpes, eel and chocolate. “If you cannot find it in La Boqueria, you cannot find it anywhere,” the locals say. Similarly, in San Miguel in Madrid, the food displays abound, as do the people marveling at them. Tapas are arranged to look like tiny pieces of art – masterpieces made of cheese, anchovies, olives, meats. Fruit is stacked sky high, and sugary chocolatey confections defeat assumptions of what is even possible. In both places, the senses are overwhelmed by the engaging sights, sounds and smells that are specific to the space.

In many ways, the markets define the cities. The cities are the markets.

“If you come to Barcelona and you don’t know La Boqueria Market, it’s a lie, you were not in Barcelona, you did not come to Barcelona,” said Pablo Burcaizea, who has owned a crêperie stand in La Boqueria for more than six years. “This is the place. This is the center.”

Click on any image below to view the gallery. 

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