La Boquería is undoubtedly one of the most famous markets in the world, but there are 43 markets spread across Barcelona, each with its own unique charms. Once a year, they can be experienced all at the same time, in the same place. From October 17 to 19, 265,000 visitors thronged the square in front of Barcelona Cathedral for the fifth edition of the Mercat de Mercats (Market of Markets) festival, which gathered 40 stalls, 30 local artisan producers, 40 chefs with 17 Michelin stars between them and 14 of the city’s best restaurants. The festival offers an amazing opportunity for locals and tourists to taste the dazzling array of Catalan flavors and to get to know the city’s neighborhood markets.
The motive behind this fair, which is organized by the city council and the Municipal Institute of Barcelona Markets, is to spotlight the markets and to maintain strong relationships between them and people. This year, the organizers also wanted to focus attention on the importance of “geocuisine,” or cuisine with terroir: food made by chefs that would transport diners across the country’s mountains, valleys, rivers and seas. Even though the festival was not strictly limited to Catalonia, most of the dishes, tapas and artisanal products were seasonal, traditional Catalan specialties: fresh meat, fish and seafood in tapas of rice, mini burgers, stews, croquetas or fritters; fresh and aged cow’s milk and goat’s milk cheeses; butifarras, fuet, bull and other cured and cooked sausages; marinated, pickled or stuffed olives and other preserved products like bacallà (salt cod) cooked in a variety of recipes; seasonal fruits – with particularly excellent oranges – vegetables and honeys; chocolate, turrón and other sweets; special breads; and, of course, Catalan wines, cavas and craft beers.
One of the highlights of the festival was getting to taste dishes cooked by some of the city’s best chefs. Many of them are regulars at the markets, visiting each week in search of the freshest and best ingredients. The restaurant stalls had the longest lines, all fans waiting to taste dishes created especially for the event, such as “truffle beef” from Fonda España and world-renowned chef Martín Berasategui; delicious coca de recapte, flatbread topped with caramelized onions and butifarra, from Nectari and chef Jordi Esteve; and the light and crispy shrimp omelet from La Taverna del Suculent, just one of Carles Abellán’s many great eateries around town.
As in past editions, there were numerous cooking demos and talks by chefs, critics and producers about terroir and cuisine, culinary traditions, historic recipes, specific areas and products, mostly centered on Catalonia but also ranging as far as China, Morocco or Mexico.
The Mercat de Mercats is a wonderful way to get to know the cooking traditions of the region and of Barcelona in particular. The organizers have packed these three days full of fresh inspiration and delicious satisfaction. So if you’re in Barcelona in mid-October next year, be sure to check it out.
(photos by Paula Mourenza)