If there one thing I like to do more than anything else it's to explore locals marketplaces. Whether it's a rural farmer's market no bigger than a few tables of tomatoes or a giant European market hall, there is something so exciting about being surrounded by a myriad of colours, aromas and flavours local to that city.
Although some of these markets can be a bit touristy, their appeal to foreigners and locals alike is for a reason. They are incredible places to visit with some of the best food in the entire city. Along the famous tourist drag, Las Ramblas, you'll find one of Europe's largest and most fantastic food market: La Boqueria. La Boqueria Market is the perfect place to get the best sense of what Catalan cuisine and culture is made up of.
Hours and Access
The easiest way to access the market is to take the Green Metro line to Liceu Station, and from there it's a short one minute walk over to the market. The market is open from 8 am till 8:30 pm Monday to Saturday (closed on Sundays). While you can visit anytime during those hours, I highly recommend coming early in the morning or later in the evening. Hundreds of tourists pass through the gates every day, and your experience will be all the richer if you manage to arrive when it's much less busy. Arriving the morning also means you can see the vendors coming and going, loading up their stalls with the catch or pick of the day.
Opened in 1217 as an open-air market, the first Boqueria was located right outside the old city walls. Since it was outside the official city of Barcelona, farmers saved on the taxes city dwellers had to pay on their goods. It was also more easily accessible for merchants travelling in and out of the countryside as they didn't have to venture as far into the city. As the market grew, it was relocated in 1827 to Las Ramblas. La Boqueria is derived from the Catalan word "boc" meaning "goat" since goats were often popular meat sold at the market.
The marker is divided into sections based on what the vendors are selling which makes it easy to explore. With over 200 vendors, you'll be thankful for this organization, especially if you're looking for something in particular.
Before entering the market, remember to keep in mind that this is a pickpocket hotspot. Barcelona itself is very famous for being a city with a high percentage of theft and in the market where it can be wall to wall people, it's easy to brush up against someone and carefully steal their wallet without anyone noticing. Keep your money out of public view when paying and always be sure to keep your purse or knapsack closed (or even better - locked). I never had an encounter with someone I thought was a pickpocket but I was also very aware of my surroundings at all times, and I think that helps you avoid being a target to start with.
Make sure you visit an ATM before arriving. Although some vendors take credit cards, it's not worth the fuss and time it takes to process and most widely prefer cash. Speaking a bit of Spanish, or even better Catalan, will go far with winning you some favour with the vendors. They all speak a lot of English as they deal with tourists on a daily basis but since you're visiting their country it's always nice to end the conversation with "Moltes gràcies".
The towering grand iron entrance, topped with the iconic stained glass in Gaudi style leads you into a world of heady scents and brilliant colours! Vendors walk by carrying sopping wet fish, barrels of brightly coloured exotic fruits, bushels of raw nuts and freshly baked pastries.
If you arrive early enough or just happen to see a free table, don't miss El Pinotxo. This tapas bar at the front of the market is so popular with tourists and locals alike that there rarely is a table in sight. But if you don't mind waiting or managed to snag a free stool at the bar, you'll be in luck since this place as some of the most fantastic tapas in Barcelona. One of their famous breakfast options is a plate of garbanzo beans with fresh blood sausage. Don't let the name "blood sausage" put you off; it is absolutely delicious.
When you first enter the market, it's good to do a quick lap before settling in on what you want to buy. There are so many stalls, often with many selling similar items so doing an initial lap will help you gauge the prices and find the best deal.
The stalls at the very front of the market, closest to Las Ramblas, are decidedly marked up since they are the most visible to tourists who don't want to explore the entire market and would rather just poke their head inside. The rest of the market might not be as cheap as smaller less popular locations, but it's by no means exclusively for the rich and offers great deals if you know where to look.
A freshly squeezed fruit juice is the perfect travel companion for you as your wander around stall to stall. These juices are legendary, both in person and all over Instagram. These come in a variety of flavours, and their vibrant colours and taste help wake you up in the morning. My favourite is the papaya mixed with whatever you fancy. The colour it makes is to die for.
One of the best tips for visiting the market is to plan a picnic after your visit. Find a spot in the city you wanted to experience for a more extended period and camp out on a bench with your treasure trove of goodies.
Olives are plentiful throughout the market. Sitting lazily in baths of rich olive oil. There are all sorts of different varieties, and you can mix and match in a small take away container to enjoy later. Olive trees have sustained the people of Catalonia for millennia and there are over 54 different kinds of olive trees across Catalonia. Olive oil is also something that Catalonia excels in and is the perfect gift to bring home.
Seafood, caught seemingly moments before, sits atop piles and piles of melting ice. You can easily find your way to the seafood section - just follow your nose. Due to its close proximity the shores of the Mediterranean, Barcelona is a city which was shaped by seafood. Galician mussels, red Palamos prawns, oysters and juicy squid are just some of the incredible goodies you can find in the seafood section.
One of the most popular things in the seafood department is salted cod. Salted cod is used to make Esqueixada, a traditional Catalan salad of shredded salt cod, tomatoes, onions, olive oil and vinegar, salt, and sometimes a garnish of olives or hard-boiled eggs.
If you're looking to create a cheese tray of local specialties, keep an eye out for Manchego (a sheep’s milk cheese with a firm texture and rich, sharp, buttery taste), Mató (a sweet, unsalted, unfermented cheese perfect when combined with apples and honey) and Serrat
(an intense round cheese made from sheep's milk with an exterior that is traditionally decorated with different designs and shapes).
Catalan's most popular food item has to be its famous Jamón Ibérico or Iberian ham. This cured meat is made from black Iberian pigs, and the flavour is distinctly Spanish with a subtle nutty flavour. Hundreds of legs of ham hang from the stalls and ceilings. There are also other types of ham from Serrano to Lomo, as well as bright red salami and chorizo. If you want some meat to-go, vendors will cut you fresh slices of ham and put it into these darling paper ice-cream cone for you to eat as you walk.
Nuts and Spices
If you're looking for something to keep your energy up all day as you walk your way around Modernista Barcelona, be sure to stop by the Fruita Seca Morilla stall. This stall sells hundreds of different nuts and dried fruits. There are over 12 different kinds of almonds alone!
Spain is one of the major saffron producers in the world and this is the essential ingredient to making one of Spain's most popular dishes; paella. Tiny vials of saffron, worth their weight in gold, are for sale throughout the market and while they might seem costly, it's a fraction of what you'll pay back home.
Before leaving the market, I stopped off at Kiosko Universal. They have an incredible selection of fresh fish, and I just had to try the famous razor clams which are a local delicacy in Barcelona. They were juicy, sweet and tasted of the ocean - perfect for a midday snack.
In addition to my clams, I ordered a plate of fried Padron peppers. You can get these all over Barcelona but nowhere are they fresher than right from the market.
No matter what you come to the Market to buy, you are bound to have an incredible experience just walking up and down the aisles. There are so many things for sale here, and it's the perfect place to come for souvenirs for loved ones back home. Because nothing touches the heart like something for your stomach :)