In America, a market is often defined and dominated by the tycoons and corporations of the mega “Supermarket”, a conglomeration of everything you would ever need in a store. You go in with a grocery list, grab what you need, check mark it off, grumble at the person in line that wants to make multiple separate transactions, and then you jet home back to life. Somewhere and some time, there was a loss of the true expert, artisan and crafter – visiting the butcher for your meats, baker for your bread, fish monger for your seafood, cheese shop for your cheese….we instead traded it in for convenience and at the same period lost a piece of community. However thankfully in many countries, all is not loss, and the mercados of Madrid and Spain still persevere and thrive.
Mercados are quite the epicenter of not only food, but also city life. It’s a place to eat, drink and socially gather and talk about the day’s musings. Our first stop was at the famous Mercado de San Miguel. The little square withstands centuries of history, and after a little renovation in 2009, it has reopened as a beautiful little open market decorated with gleaming glass windowed walls and elegant wrought iron. In the true Spanish style, it is colorful and buzzing with life. By 7-8PM after everyone has taken their siesta (which is taken VERY seriously), you can clearly hear clanking of dishes and glasses, the vendors making their sales and tempting passerbys with samples, and the place is just brimming with chatter from locals and tourists alike. Walking in, you are immediately greeted by mouthwatering displays of seafood, jamón, marinated olives, cheese, candies, cakes, gastronomical foods of all kinds and tapas being prepared on the spot.
If it’s a hot summer day, you might want to start off with a glass (or a few) of tinto de verano, a sweet, red wine cocktail very similar to sangria. Often, it is the tourists that drink the pricey sangria, and the locals who drink the more affordable €3-4 tinto de verano. Have a friend grab and save a table in the community dining area in the middle, and stroll the stalls. Grab anything and everything that catches your eye. Tapas are single serving bites to eat with your drink as you chat, and here they range from €1-5 per serving. There are cones of fresh nuts and cured meats, fried squid, stuffed sea urchins, baked scallops, fresh burrata and warm churros con chocolat. Although prices are higher than other markets, the food and atmosphere surely doesn’t disappoint.
Due to great timing, we happened to also be in Madrid during Orgullo, or pride weekend, so naturally we had to visit Mercado San Antón in the LGBT-friendly Chueca neighborhood. San Antón is meld of an upscale market and food court. The tapas are fresh and still range from the €1-5 with equally price wine. However, what you really want to come here for is the trendy rooftop bar, where you can watch people below and the sun set over Chueca from the glass balcony with a cocktail in hand.
Both mercados are a must-do when visiting Spain. There is a little something for every one and every taste. You can eat, drink, shop and enjoy the Spanish culture. As you browse and buy, don’t forget to look around. You are eating in a part of Madrid’s history, so savor the moment.