There are always thronging, milling crowds clustered just outside and at the entrance to la Boqueria market in Barcelona, making it seem both impassable and strangely inviting at the same time. We had walked by this massive, indoor market many times on the way elsewhere but had never ducked inside – until this morning. Planning ahead for the Easter weekend (it’s kind of a big deal here) we decided to get as much grocery shopping done as possible so as not to encounter either huge crowds or closed shops.
Around 10am, the place was not yet that crowded – we could still walk fairly freely through the entrance gates, dodging wide-eyed tourists gazing in stupefied wonder at the spectacle around them while reaching for their selfie sticks. Skirting the center we slipped down the narrow perimeter aisles in an attempt to survey the scene as various smells – fruit juices, salty meats, a hint of seafood, oil and vinegar, charred veggies – teased our nostrils.
At first, it was difficult to get a sense of just how big la Boqueria really is, but as we wandered left and right down each passageway lined with hanging cured hams, trays of fresh tapas, vats of shiny olives, artfully arranged and polished fruit and veggies, brightly colored plastic cups filled with dozens of different juice blends, icy shelves of whole fish staring us in the eyes and so much more, we began to discover the market’s sheer size and variety of offerings. This vast, indoor food-lover’s utopia really seems to have everything. Crowded, bustling tapas counters, dotted with plates and glasses of beer or sangria being consumed quickly while diners perched on stools, were sandwiched between produce vendors, wine sellers, seafood counters, oil and vinegar purveyors and juice bars – so many rainbows of juice cups!
Just when you might think, however, that this market is only packed full of visitors and non-locals, your eyes adjust and you notice the countless small (they’re never tall) grandmas making their way through the crowds and bellying up to the meat and fish counters like it’s their job. We decided to follow the grandmas and shop where they shopped: several led us to a buzzing meat counter, staffed by a number of no nonsense, fairly bad-ass-looking women who hacked and sliced the meat with measured abandon and recommended a lovely steak for our Easter dinner, while others drew us to a row of fishmongers (also predominantly women) who sold still-moving shrimp (the eyes! They look at you!) and what I can only assume was also the freshest, mostly whole, fish. Deep reddish-purple tuna glistened on one end while various fish I couldn’t even identify stared at the ceiling waiting to be plucked from their frozen beds. We conservatively selected some perch (one large filet cost us about 3 euros – what??) and then made a wallet-damaging visit to one of the countless fruit and veggie stands where a tall, feathery-haired and scruffy-faced young man helped us pick out and pack up our goods (a huge bag of super-fresh produce ran about 18 euros). Lastly, we chose our favorite meat counter where a slender, middle-aged gentleman, who had just lovingly sliced four, thick-cut pieces of bacon for one of those grandmas, handed over our jamon iberico with a genuine smile. It was then time to high-tail it out of there in order to avoid buying EVERYTHING else.
Already, I can’t wait to go back. Clearly, I need to sit at one of those counters, sip a local beer, and point to the (likely many) tapas that look too delicious to pass up. Joe’s on board, so a follow-up post is likely imminent.