In Spain the charming custom of purchasing goods straight from bakers, butchers and farmers is alive and well. Though there are plenty of big box supermarkets, people often prefer to shop at their neighborhood markets where they can purchase quality products at very reasonable prices.
That said, markets aren’t just place to pick up ingredients for the next meal, but serve a social function as well. For one, these markets foster relationship between the producers and the consumers. Most market stalls are run by families who have been at it for generations, and are absolute experts on their products.
Secondly, the newer (or newly renovated) markets encourage patrons to relax and stay awhile. Customers often have a choice between a large number of food vendors selling ready to eat tapas, giving them the opportunity to try a bit of everything. Paired with a lively atmosphere and stylish decor, they are happy to sit and eat and spend an hour or two at the market. There is usually also a bar for one to unwind after a long day at work or to kick off a fun night on the town with friends.
From upscale to everyday, there is a market to suit all tastes. The following are the five iconic markets in Madrid that everyone should visit while at least once.
Originally a street market opened in the early 1900s, the Mercado de San Antón has since transformed itself into a sleek and trendy food emporium. A hybrid of food stalls and tapas joints, this market has a large selection of tasty delights to try. On the first floor, purchase goods such as farm fresh produce, artisanal bread and high end hamburgers. While there, make sure to visit La Charcutería de Octavio and try their delicious cheeses.
On the next floor up, you’ll find swanky bars and a multitude of tapas waiting to be devoured. What are you in the mood for? This gourmet food court has a long list to choose from, including tapas from the Canary Islands, bites from Greece, and a Spanish favorite, croquetas.
The top floor houses a restaurant with tall windows and a rooftop terrace. From this vantage point, take in the views of the surrounding neighborhood while enjoying your drinks and dishes. Feeling a bit creative? The restaurant allows customers the option of having their meals created using ingredients purchased from the market below.
After your meal at Mercado de San Antón, head south-east to Plaza de Cibeles, and marvel at one of the most iconic statues in the city. At the center of the plaza is a grand fountain depicting the ancient goddess Cybele sitting atop a chariot, pulled forward by two lions.
Address: Calle de Augusto Figueroa, 24
The Mercado de San Miguel stands just outside Plaza Mayor, the city’s main square. Perhaps the most beautiful, and undoubtedly the most popular, the market is a bustling hive of energy and delicious food. At peak meal times, the aisles are crowded with tourists and Spaniards alike, enjoying scrumptious bites of different cuisines.
The market originally opened in 1916 as a place to purchase raw ingredients like produce, meats and seafood, before customers headed home to cook their meals. Overtime, the market’s economic activity dwindled and the owners realized they needed to make a change. In 2009, after an extensive remodel the market re-opened, this time with products that could be eaten on the premises.
Vendors offer a wide range of fare, including paella, sushi, Arabic sweets and traditional Spanish desserts. Stop by Casa de Bacalao for tapas made with cod, salmon, octopus and other quality seafoods. The bar La Hora del Vermut serves vermouths from different regions of Spain, a number of which are on tap, and white, red and rosé vintage vermouths.
The Mercado de San Miguel is centrally located, and is surrounded by an abundance of sights within walking distance. The grandest of them is the Royal Palace, which is at the end of Calle Mayor. Though this is the official residence of the Spanish monarchy, the Royal Family doesn’t actually live here, and it is used mainly for state ceremonies. Visitors can take a tour of the grandiose palace, which was loosely modeled after the Versailles Palace outside Paris.
Address: Plaza San Miguel
The Mercado de Maravillas is located in Cuatro Caminos, a neighborhood north of the city center. Built in the 1940s, it remains a vibrant place of activity housing hundreds of small businesses. Any given Saturday is sure to be busy, as generations of families come together to do their weekly shopping.
Shoppers can purchase a variety products including impeccable produce, meats, poultry and seafood. Spanish staples like cheese, olive oil and bread are also sold in abundance. Looking for some international flavor? The market has a number of kiosks that carry South American products, and a South Korean shop as well.
The market is quite large, a full city block chock full of vendors to choose from. Give yourself the time to wander; with over 250 kiosks it’s easy to get lost. As you make your way through the aisles, marvel at Spanish delicacies such as cow’s mouth, pork tongue, sheep brains and live snails.
After your visit to the market, take a 10 minute metro ride to the tallest skyscrapers in Madrid, Las Cuatro Torres (The Four Towers). Built on land previously owned by the Real Madrid football team, these towers now headquarter numerous businesses and embassies, and even a hotel. The towers dominate the city skyline, and are worth a close up look.
Address: Calle de Bravo Murillo, 122
At the border of two very lively neighborhoods – bohemian Las Letras and multicultural Lavapiés – lies Mercado de Antón Martín, a casual market that presents a glimpse into the lives of everyday Spaniards. Strolling down the aisles, you’ll see people from all walks of life: the old but spirited grandmother purchasing meat from her trusted butcher, a young, hip family picking up some vegetables for dinner and a group of friends enjoying some craft beer at the bar.
The market is also a great place to sit down and enjoy prepared dishes, from tapas to full course meals. For authentic Italian cuisine, head over to Fiaschetteria La Saletta. Can’t get enough of Spanish food? Bar Omaira will hit the spot! Bar Omaira also serves spectacular Venezuelan food if you stop by on a Saturday.
Film buffs take note: adjacent to Mercado Antón Martín is the official cinema of the Spanish Film Archive, Cine Doré. This celebrated cinema was one of the places to be seen during its heyday in the 1920s, and reflects the art nouveau style of that time. In the summer, Cine Doré converts its rooftop bar into a cinema, showing international films, classic movies and picks from the national archive collection.
Address: Calle de Santa Isabel, 5
Metro Anton Martin
In the Salamanca district, the most exclusive of all Madrid neighborhoods, local residents shop at Mercado de la Paz for some of the best culinary delights in Spain. The confines of this 130 year old market have everything you need to make a gourmet meal. Next to stalls selling superb fruits and vegetables, butchers expertly cut into their carnivorous goods and fishmongers proudly display their catches.
In the gourmet food area displays of cheese from Spain, France and beyond, beckon for a taste. Vendors also sell Spanish seafood favorites such as salted cod and mojama (cured tuna loin). Once you have all your ingredients in hand, head over to the vinoteca (wine shop) to select the perfect bottle to pair with your dish.
Not in the mood to cook? There are a few restaurants located on the premises, including Casa Dani which serves an appetizing homemade menu del día (fixed daily lunch menu). While there you must try their tortilla (Spanish omelette) which regularly gets rave reviews as one of the best tortillas in the city.
If you prefer to eat al fresco, take your purchases to Retiro Park, about 10 minutes away on foot. Formerly owned by the Spanish monarchy, the park was opened to the public in the late 1800s. This impressive park’s beautiful fountains and carefully maintained gardens make it the perfect place to picnic and take a respite from a busy day of sightseeing.
Address: Calle de Ayala, 28
Article by Estrella Sansait. Estrella is a serial expat currently living in Madrid. When she isn’t busy eating tapas or enjoying a tinto de verano, she is often reading a good book. Estrella writes for the Madrid blog on Madrid Food Tour, which offers authentic culinary tours in Madrid. Read about her expat experiences on her personal blog Estrella Explores or connect with her on Twitter or Instagram.
Article Photos: Flickr / Mike Norton, LWYang & Mar Coll del Tarré