Mercados in Madrid
European living has some distinct advantages, and one of the things I love most is the abundance of fresh produce. When I lived in France I loved browsing the outdoor markets in the town squares on Wednesday or Saturday mornings. Strolling from stand to stand seeing the hundreds of types of cheese, or the 43 types of olives, or the stand that had all sorts of salami was magical. It was a sensory overload of beauty, fragrance, and samples to taste. But now that I’m living in the capital city of Spain, I’ve had to figure out how Spaniards accomplish the same thing on a larger, urban scale.
The answer is the Spanish “mercado.” Each neighborhood has its own mercado, which is an indoor building that’s full of stands for fruit, vegetables, a butcher, a fish market, a bakery—it’s a little bit of everything. Anything fresh that you would basically want to buy in a grocery store, you can get in a mercado, only from one vendor at a time.
One advantage over the supermarket is that it allows you the chance to build a more personal connection with your vendors. You can ask the butcher’s opinion about your meat, or request politely that he run your pork through the grinder twice so that you can have some really finely ground sausage for your casserole recipe. You can ask for their recommendation for the best cheese to pair with your chorizo, or what fruit is the sweetest today. And of course the other advantage is the amazing freshness of the food that you’re buying! Go early to be sure you get the good stuff, and bring some bags to carry all the goods you’ll end up buying.
The most famous mercado in the city is the Mercado San Miguel. This is very touristy and very trendy, but don’t be turned off by the hype. It reminds me of Baltimore’s Lexington Market or perhaps the Pike Place market of Seattle. It’s filled with little stands that not only sell their produce but also sell exquisite tapas (appetizer-sized portions). You can get your fill at meal time just wandering through buying tapas at various stands. And each is more creative and delicious than the last! San Miguel might be priced on the high side, compared to the average, non-trendy, neighborhood market but it’s also a hot spot for gourmet tapas so it’s worth a trip if you want to truly experience Spanish flavors while in the capital city! But you can also find great food and a cultural experience in Mercado de Maravillas, Mercado Anton Martin, Mercado de la Paz, Mercado San Idelfonso, and more in various neighborhoods of Madrid.