November 3, 2012

¡Mi Mercado Favorito!

Mercado de San Miguel

When traveling to different cities I always love to visit the local markets. Some of my favorite markets include Pike Place Market in Seattle, Chelsea Market in New York City, and Granville Island Public Market in Vancouver. Now I have a new ultimate favorite - Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid!

Tucked into the neighborhood near Plaza Mayor in the old part of the city, this place is a gourmet paradise. There is food to buy and take home (fresh fruit and vegetables, seafood, and other ingredients) but the majority of the stalls sell ready to eat tapas. There is a cheese vendor that sells delicious cheeses, a sweets vendor, a paella vendor, several vendors selling freshly cooked seafood, and (since it's Spain) a couple vendors selling wine. But, my favorite vendor was the one selling olives and vermouth on tap. Whether you choose to get a couple of tapas for a snack or make it a meal, after buying your food go to tables in the center of the market to enjoy your purchases.

During the four days we were in Madrid we stopped by this market three times - once when we first discovered it, another time for a couple of tapas before going to dinner at a nearby restaurant, and finally for dinner on our last night in Madrid. And there are still dishes that I did not have time - or space in my stomach - to try.

Olives and Vermouth
But, let's talk about olives and vermouth. Before coming to Spain, I had never really paid attention to this aperitif. I love olives, but I had not considered them a dish unto themselves. This vendor has numerous varieties of olives - green, black, stuffed with cheese, stuffed with pimentos, stuff with garlic, served with anchovies or tuna, and much more. It is almost impossible to decide which to try, and there are so many that it is (probably) equally impossible to try them all. So, each time we visited the market I ordered a plate of a few different olives. To go with the olives they serve glasses of sweet vermouth - or vermout con grifo (vermouth on tap in Spanish). The combination of the sweet, herbal vermouth and the strong marinated olives is amazing - the perfect start to any meal!

Pulpo de Galicia (octopus cooked Galacian style)
Pulpo de Galicia (Octopus)
Other than olives and vermouth, we tried numerous other dishes during our visits to Mercado de San Miguel. For seafood there was delicious Pulpo de Galicia (octopus cooked Galacian style), bacalao (salt cod), calamari, and a Spanish specialty called percebes (goose barnacles). The octopus - served with pimenton (or paprika) - was my favorite seafood dish. The bacalao and calamari were also very good. But, I have to admit I did not understand why precebes are so prized. They have a flavor similar to strong sea water, look like dinasour claws, and are very labor intensive to eat.

Another vendor, Paella y Ole, sells several different versions of the traditional Spanish rice dish, including paella de marisco (seafood), paella mixta (seafood and meat), paella de verduras (vegetables), and arroz negro (seafood and squid ink). I tried the marisco and Jonathan got the mixta. The paella was good, but not as good as the version we had at La Barraca.

Paella, Calamari, and Wine from Rioja

Then there is a vendor selling wonderful cheeses from all over Spain. I tried some different manchego cheeses, as well as some goat and sheep's milk cheeses. We also got some cheese, mushroom, and cod croquetas from a vendor selling them from a little cart near the center of the market. And since it's Spain, there is a vendor selling ham and other cured meats. (I think this was Jonathan's favorite market stall.) On the evening that we ate dinner at the market he enjoyed a plate of the Jamón Ibérico Bellota - a ham made from black-footed pigs that roam the woods free range and eat only acorns.

Lastly, there were vendors selling sweets. There were beautiful - and very tasty - pastries, turron, chocolates, helados (ice creams), and candied fruits. These are are almost too beautiful to eat. (Note, I said almost...) Like the olives, there were so many different pastries it was hard to choose what to buy. The pastries I tried were light, flaky, and fabulous!

When I return to Madrid, Mercado de San Miguel will definitely be the first place I go!


Bethany Miller said...

Wow- that sounds fantastic. I think I would walk around all day there and just eat, because it sounds like you have to try one of everything! Brings back great memories of Spain; it's one of my favorite places. I can't wait to hear about the adventure in person.

Jessica said...

I wish I could live upstairs in Mercado de San Miguel!

Rambling Tart said...

What a fabulous place! I love markets too, very much, but I've never been to Spain. Clearly that MUST be remedied. :-)