One of Barcelona’s (justly) famous landmarks is La Boqueria, an enormous market just off of La Rambla. The market is overflowing with live seafood, exotic fruits, cured meats, fresh vegetables, and more. I actually visited La Boqueria twice, because my first was late in the afternoon when many of the stalls were closed. Less known to visitors is the Mercat Sant Antoni (pictured above), with a slightly smaller selection but no tourists (except, of course, for me).
On my first visit to La Boqueria I saw plenty of artichokes piled up, and if you know me at all you know that I cannot resist the siren song of artichokes. I walked past Bar Central, one of the only eateries that was actually open, and saw a plate of cooked artichokes. I immediately found a seat among the other tourists, who were the only people eating at this time of day, and ordered up a plate. The fried artichokes were heated for a minute or two in the microwave and sprinkled with a generous amount of sea salt before being served to me. Crispy, chewy, and salty, these were very good, though not the best artichokes I’ve ever had.
Particularly exciting for me were the tropical fruits. I got a charge out of seeing mangosteens, something that I had to mail order in order to taste here in NYC, simply sitting there to be purchased. I spotted persedes, small barnacle-like critters, that I’d only ever seen on “No Reservations” and “Bizarre Foods” piled up like everyday groceries. La Boqueria is truly a playground for market junkies like myself.
As I mentioned above, the Mercat Sant Antoni is not really a place for tourists. The narrow aisles are packed with Catalan women haggling over the prices of fresh meat and produce. Fresh, skinned rabbits sat next to lamb heads and dried cod sat soaking in plastic tubs. I noticed that the booth P. Vidal Tosas was serving prepared foods, vacuum-sealed on the spot for consumption later. Then I spotted that they were selling — what else? — artichokes! I took a number, waited, and finally ordered one. “One?” the woman asked, surprised.
I should have gotten two. This was one of the best artichokes I’ve ever had, even reheated in my microwave six hours later. Steamed with salt, pepper, olive oil, and a bit of vinegar (I think) I just couldn’t stop eating this.
Barcelona is well-known as a food destination, and the markets are a reflection of that. It’s true, there may not be much seasonality or local sources in play — are strawberries and peaches reallyin season in February — but it’s a treat to see them presented so beautifully. There are also the people who work at the markets who make the experience something special. While I was eating my artichokes at Bar Central, a group of Japanese tourists was eating next to me. They were eating some seafood, but they had also purchased some berries from another booth. They asked one of the women behind the counter if she would be willing to rinse the berries for them, but she went a lot farther than that. She rinsed the berries, put them on a plate, and then went around the corner to a neighboring booth and got a handful of roasted nuts to sprinkle on the plate for them. I’m going to remember that little gesture of friendliness and generosity for a long time to come.