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By Regina Winkle-Bryan in Barcelona—
What’s on your shopping list? Some chubby prawns? Sweet potatoes for fall dishes? Candied almonds and dried figs? All of this and much, much more can be found at the local outdoor market in Barcelona.
The many markets of Barcelona
Every barrio or neighborhood in Barcelona has its own market. Some are historic, others are utilitarian, and others are architectural gems.
Markets are made up of 100 or so stands where vendors sell everything from Mediterranean seafood to veggies, marinated olives, Spanish cheeses, fresh baked bread and salted cod fish. Market stands are usually family-run and customer loyalty is normal. I always go to the same vegetable stand. I know them, they know me, their produce is excellent, and I trust them not to rip me off or sell me a bad avocado.
Why shop at markets?
If you like supporting the local farmer or fisherman, then shopping the market is a must. Unfortunately, local outdoor markets are increasingly being replaced by Spain’s generic supermarkets. This is a sad turn of events, but not entirely surprising. Outdoor markets are usually more expensive, and some stands are only open in the morning, meaning those who have to work are out of luck. Some vendors however do stay open later, until 7 or 8 p.m., to catch customers coming home after work.
Also, for special ingredients such as seasonal mushrooms (from late September to November), the market is the only place to go. Regular supermarkets in Spain will not carry specialty seasonal vegetables, and the veggies they do sell come on a Styrofoam tray wrapped up in plastic. Yuck!
Fish shopping tips
Buying fish at the market is a must. Do not be afraid to approach the fishmonger and tell her what you want and how you want it! Tell her which fish you’d like and then ask her to clean it and cut it up for you. If you don’t, you may end up with a whole fish in a bag.
Look for deals come 1 p.m. or 2 p.m. on Saturdays, when the fish vendors are shutting things down. Fish is not sold on Sundays or Mondays, so vendors want to get rid of whatever fish they have left on Saturday afternoons before the weekend break.
For travelers, outdoor markets make for great spontaneous lunches. Pop in to pick up local cheese and bread for a picnic in one of Barcelona’s parks, or buy some fresh fruit to throw in your knapsack. At the famous central Barcelona market La Boqueria, look for the fresh fruit smoothies (about €1) and fresh fruit salads already made up for breakfast.
Must-visit outdoor markets
Aside from La Boqueria, which is on La Rambla and is the city’s most impressive market (and also rife with pick-pockets), consider some of these lesser-known markets in the Catalan capital city, popular with residents:
Francesc Cambo 16, Barcelona
Santa Caterina is one of the most beautiful markets in the city and it also happens to be the oldest in Barcelona. The market is of architectural interest and easy to get to, as it’s right across the street from the main cathedral. Come here for dinner at the adjacent restaurant or have a couple tapas and a glass of wine inside the market at one of the market bars.
El Mercat de la Concepcio
Arago 311, Barcelona
This one is the main market for those living in Barcelona’s posh Eixample area. The market first opened in 1888 and has a supermarket downstairs, food vendors upstairs and flowers outside.
El Mercat de la Barceloneta
Pl. del Poeta Bosca 1, Barcelona
This is the city’s beach-side market. Smaller than Santa Caterina and La Concepcio, this sweet little market is bustling Tuesday through Saturday.
The original market opened here in 1884, and then was renovated in 2007. It is now top of the line and offers everything one needs to make a delicious Sunday lunch. Have a coffee at the market cafe within the market proper and contemplate what this market was like 150 years ago when it was nothing more than a few stalls selling fresh fish from the port. My, oh my, how things have changed!