Barcelona's La Boquería, the biggest food market in Europe, is a wonderful place to peruse and buy the best of Spanish produce
Barcelona. I'm sashaying down La Rambla, the town's most tourist-infested street, channelling my inner flamenco dancer. My friends, giddy with the spirit of Spain, totter about excitedly on frighteningly high heels brandishing sangria glasses as big as their faces.
Despite getting distracted by roadside painters, jugglers and one odd man cycling around blissfully, plastered in gold paint, we eventually find our way down the Rambla to La Boquería, Barcelona's most colourful tourist attraction — its food market. Today travel magazines, tourist guides and brochures wax eloquent about it, showing how much of an impact foodies have had on tourism. Even five years ago, visiting a market would never have been a priority for an Indian tourist abroad — there were too many ‘must see' sights to tick off a list and malls to raid. Now, everyone's in the markets, soaking in the atmosphere and pointing their cameras into all nooks and crannies to create comment-worthy Facebook albums and acquire memorable profile pictures.
Outside La Boquería, an Indian vendor sneaks up to me and whispers ‘Cerveza' in my ear. As I'm debating whether to punch him, just in case that's an off colour Spanish term of endearment, I notice the beer bottles in his hand. Smart desi entrepreneurship — he's bought beers (‘cerveza') for a couple of Euros from the supermarket and is now selling them outside at double the price. Other colourful instances of Indian marketing I saw in Europe?
In the midst of the fiery protests at Plaza de Cataluña, brought on by Spain's current economic crisis, there are singers, guitarists and — an Indian man yelling ‘samosa, samosa'. In Amsterdam I chat with a nice Gujarati couple selling cannabis lollypops in the heart of the red light district.
La Boquería is special for a variety of reasons. It's reportedly Europe's biggest market. Set in the heart of Barcelona, it's an accessible statement on how proud the Spanish are of their produce and culinary artisans. The produce is outstanding, gathered from mountains and plains, seas and rivers, forests and fields. Some of the world's most distinguished chefs shop here. Ferran Adria, for example, considered the world's greatest chef, calls the market a “gastronomic temple.”
Inside, little old ladies pulling trollies trundle about the market doing their daily shopping. They poke at produce, glare at tourists and haggle with good-natured vendors. The bars, long counters set in the middle of the market and served by dapper waiters, are crammed with people sitting elbow to elbow drinking strong coffee and making new friends as they wait for their food to arrive. There's a babel of languages in the air, mingling with the scent of fresh bread, ripe fruit and burly cheese. The stalls are tumultuous swirls of colour. Magnificent Sagrada Familia may be Barcelona's most famous work of art but it's likely Gaudi picked up an idea or two from the market. Every stall is a celebration of modernism, carefully haphazard, wildly patterned, intricately balanced. There are fruits and vegetables, of course. Also fish, in rows of glistening silver. Lovingly plumped sausages hang in neat rows. Spices in blistering reds, dehydrated fruit, gleaming jars of olive oil the colour of sunshine. One store is dedicated to just mushrooms, in shapes and colours so mysterious you could be forgiven for assuming they've been delivered by an owl from Hogwarts.
The popular charcuterie shops show off their Chorizo, dark, salty and perfect in the morning with fried eggs and a twist of crusty sea salt. Jamon, or air cured ham, is really the king of charcuterie here, hung at the entrance of restaurants and bars with the pride of a Picasso. If you're feeling adventurous (and for that I suggest you go easy on the sangria the night before) try some morcilla or blood sausage, spiced with cloves, cinnamon, and anise. Then you can sing that morbid childhood rhyme, ‘To market, to market to buy a fat pig. Home again, home again. Jiggety jig.”
Keywords: Spanish cuisine