April 26, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Food and wine, Madrid, Spain

Exhibit A

Spanish fans, stinky cheeses, fanny packs (see exhibit A), fresh fruit, wine by the glass and of course antiques. Madrid’s markets have something for everyone – and a market for everyone. Not all markets here are created equally, however, so here’s a run down of the different kinds that you will find in the Spanish capital. Grab your wallets (but watch them closely, people – this is Spain!) – let’s go shopping!

The Rastro
Madrid’s most famous market, and supposedly the largest in Europe, takes place every Sunday in the rowdy La Latina barrio. Starting around 9am, people and up to 3500 stalls fill the narrow, winding streets of Madrid’s oldest neighborhood. Think big flea market, not farmers market.

El Rastro is the place to find clothes, antiques, trinkets – you know, all that junk you might want to take home to your family as a souvenir. My personal favorite: the scarves. For 2-3 euros you can find light-weight scarves (called fulares) that are great to use year round. And since it’s located in La Latina – a hot spot for Sunday tapas hopping – it’s a great place to grab a caña (small glass of beer) afterward.

Madrid farmers(ish) markets
Not in the market for useless stuff (hehe, no pun intended!) – eh hem – finely crafted artisanal goods? No problem – there’s another market for you. In many of Spain’s larger cities, one massive indoor market serves as the city’s go-to place for fresh foods. In Madrid, however, several smaller (and some not so small) markets lie scattered throughout the center. These mercados are essentially a hybrid between grocery stores and farmers markets (a “permanent farmers market,” as my friend Heather calls them).

Separate stalls fill the closed space, each specializing in a variety of different goods from produce, to meat and fish, and even the occasional tapas bar for the hungry shopper. While tourists might not find much to buy (perhaps some cheese? or maybe olive oil?), passing through will certainly entertain. The gaping mouths and piercing eyes of fish stare back at you from atop blankets of ice. And brightly-colored produce is arranged artfully, putting that Whole Foods display that you’re used to to shame. One pass through a Madrid market will tell you volumes about Spanish cuisine. And also potentially make or break your appetite.

El Mercado de San Miguel
Hidden behind Plaza Mayor, El Mercado de San Miguel sits inside a small glass-encased building, appearing to be a mini version of some of Spain’s larger and more famous indoor markets (like those found in Valencia or Barcelona). As mentioned above, many big cities have a primary central market, typically housed in an antiquated, picturesque building that spans several blocks. Since Madrid is full of markets spread throughout the city, no single one serves as its primary (much less pretty) market. It does, however, have El Mercado de San Miguel.

The structure was originally built in 1916, and was renovated and reopened in 2009. Today’s mercado gives the tourist a taste of the other less fancy, but more functional markets described above. You will still get to see a stall or two overflowing with vibrantly-colored produce, and other stalls with fish you never knew even existed. But let’s be honest, that’s not why you came to Spain – a few stalls later you can have a glass of wine, enjoy a plate of cheese, and even take your pick from a vast selection of croqueta flavors. There’s a little something for everyone (and by everyone, I mean a lot of tourists).

I may miss my Whole Foods (painfully), and the outdoor farmers markets (what does a girl have to do to get a cantaloupe?), but in the end, I think I’ve got more than enough market action to keep me happy. Now if only I could say the same about things like sushi and guacamole.

*This post is a part of the Lonely Planet BlogSherpa carnival, hosted by Indian Bazaars, featuring marketplaces around the world. You can also read the blog carnival that I hosted on unique customs.

8 Responses to “Madrid’s markets”

  1. RM Says:

    Just wanted to add that in Barcelona, while it does have the massively huge La Boquería, each barrio also has its own market, such as Sant Antoni (also huge) and Santa Caterina.

  2. Laura Says:

    Thanks for the tips! I’m looking forward to checking these out when we visit Madrid next year.

  3. David @ MalaysiaAsia Says:

    The markets here look absolutely lovely. As a fan of markets, I’m that person that explores the local food section and there’s always something interesting to chance upon. Awesome tips!

  4. Erin Says:

    @RM – I need to head to Barcelona and check out the markets there. I’m jealous of the big beautiful markets that other Spanish cities have!

    @Laura – we’ll definitely make sure you get to see all of the things you didn’t get a chance to hit up last time around. Can’t wait!

    @David – Couldn’t agree more! To me, food is the number one way to get to know a culture. Especially anything with sugar, chocolate or frosting….or anything cheesy….or anything wine-related. Ok, I just like food in general :).

  5. Erin Says:

    Looks like fun!

  6. Sabrina Says:

    Ooooh! I’d love to visit some of these markets and stop for some tappas (and a glass of wine :)). Sounds like so much fun!

  7. Erin Says:

    Will you ever make it to Spain, Sabrina? Tapas and wine are waiting for you!

  8. Sabrina Says:

    Oh, I sure hope I will, but unfortunatly my vacation days are fairly limited this year and will all go to various family visits over 2-3 weeks this summer. I’m excited about seeing family and friends again – as well as some new places at an English countryside wedding compliments of my baby sister 🙂 – but exploring new places in Europe will have to wait a little while. I am hoping for next year! And in the meantime I am living vicariously through your Spain posts and also putting another one of “your” cities closer to the top of my list: San Francisco. Nothing is for sure yet, but I would love, love, love to spend a weekend there later this year. How about you? Any trips coming up?

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