Dear Culinary Backstreets,
I’m traveling to Barcelona and I love visiting food markets. I’ve heard a lot about La Boquería, but are there any other markets that might be worth visiting?
Any guidebook to Barcelona is sure to salivate over the famous Boquería market, but although it’s certainly worth a visit, you can avoid the swarms of tourists by heading to one of the city’s smaller, more local food markets.
My favorite is the Mercat de la Llibertat in Gràcia. Designed in 1888 by Miguel Pascual, the brick and iron structure is an impressive example of Modernist architecture. More importantly, whenever I can’t decide what to prepare for dinner, just a few moments of wandering amidst the piles of vivid-hued produce, the smells of fresh fish and pungent cheeses, and the echoing snaps of butcher’s scissors is enough to give me ample inspiration.
With more than 40 stalls –a few of which have been in the same families for over 80 years – selling a variety of delicious-looking food products, the market can see overwhelming at first: How to know which places to buy from? Luckily, over the years I’ve come to have a few favorites: xarcuteria Bragulat for jamón and sausages, Bordas for top-notch meats, Peix Fresc Esther for fish, and La Grana (established in 1930 by the grandparents of Lídia Castelló, who now runs the stall with her daughter Marta) for frutos secos, including toasted hazelnuts, almonds, desiccated coconut, dried fruit, chocolate and delicious turrón. If you’re looking for something to tide yourself over at the end of a long shopping trip, the bar of pescadería Joan Noi is the ideal place to order up a plateful of grilled shrimp or steamed cockles.
Just outside the market, La Huevería Vigatana is my go-to place for eggs, offering everything from delicate spotted quail eggs to enormous ostrich eggs. The shop is over 100 years old and with its whitewashed walls, straw-strewn floor and baskets full of white and brown eggs, you can’t beat the farm-fresh ambience.
Within walking distance of El Mercat de la Llibertat are two other food markets that are also worth visiting. For true no-frills neighborhood ambience, check out the Mercat de l’Abacería Central. The market dates to the same period as the Mercat de la Llibertat; however, since it has never been renovated, it has a decidedly more down-at-heel appearance. Nevertheless, the market is charming in its authenticity and it’s easy to get the feeling that things are pretty much exactly the same there today as they were 40 years ago (or 50, or 60…). If the sight of so much wonderful food gives you an appetite, the market also has three different bars, all serving dishes prepared with foodstuffs obtained from the market.
Not far away, in Barcelona’s upscale Sant Gervasi-Galvany neighborhood, is El Mercat de Galvany. Built over a long period between 1868 and 1927, the market is considered by many to be one of the most outstanding structures in Barcelona. The brick and metal building is topped by a tremendous dome that rests on four arches, while stained-glass windows and intricate mosaics decorate the exterior walls. The food stalls inside are particularly attractive but, since the market tends to be a bit on the pricey side, visitors might do just as well to remain outside and let the gorgeous façade serve as a feast for the eyes. – Johanna Bailey