La Boqueria Mercat – The Most Famous Market in Barcelona
What is it about really great markets that everyone of all ages loves? Find out as I wander around the Market that’s all about its people!
Is it the atmosphere of un-rivalled hustle and bustle? The characters that have been there for years and are full of stories and friendly faces working hard to entice you in visit their stall?
In this article, I will fill you in on the low down of the most famous market in Barcelona, La Boqueria (Mercat St Josep – La Boqueria) and all that makes it so special. If you are a crazy foodie and just want to get to the best bits and the top place to stop off for a quick bite or an incredible seafood platter than scroll right down to the bottom for my top 3 recommendations! If not… read on & learn what makes La Boqueria so special for tourists and locals alike.
As El Quim says… “if unicorns existed this is where you would come to buy them.”
The trade of being a stall holder and that daily graft and hard work with a smile always charms me. Their eagerness to chat to customers and tell them their story and all about their produce from fruit & veg to chocolate and olive oils. Each stall as varied and colourful as the next – in produce & personality.
This place is no different to the images a bustling market may conjure in your mind – it is the epicentre of Barcelona Tourism & of course perched right in the centre of the busiest & most vibrant boulevards in the city, La Rambla. (Las Ramblas as it is locally known) Which in fact is actually made up of three parts and runs straight through the heart of the city starting at Port Vell & running as far as Plaza Catalunya – some parts are nicer than others along its 1.2Km length! As you step off the bustling strip about half way and between 8am to 8pm you will land in the heart of this bustling market. It was one of my first loves when I moved here – and possibly the only one that stood the test of time! It was built on the ruins of an old convent which is where the Sant Josep part of the full name originated from.
The History of La Boqueria
It was awarded the prestigious ‘Best Market in The World’ title in 2005 and has become an international name of reference in the last 20 years. When you first walk in the sound is electric – so many faces from all around the world – and without fail almost always a few selfie sticks can be spotted, naturally, as it has become one of the most tourist visited places in all of the City. The colours are so vibrant & rows of hanging jamons lining endless charcuteries inside. Welcome to the Aladdin’s Cave of markets! Its origins go as far back as the 1200s and it has as colourful a history as you would imagine. It actually began as an open-air market and it wasn’t until the 1900s that the metal roof was inaugurated. You can read all about its history on the markets web page – which takes you through its journey from its birth to present day. Check it out here!
Many a famous person has walked through the giant arches which form the adorned opening along with the crest of the Barcelona Coat of Arms and the cast iron lettering with the full name “Mercat St Josep La Boqueria” It is a feast for your senses to say the very least & the feelings and memories conjured back from childhood along with them. Most of the stall holders are the third & fourth generation at least and of course, some new fresh innovators and young entrepreneurs have joined the team to create something truly special!
Sometimes, I can’t help though but feel a sense of sadness for the locals and older generation around the area here. This place was once their local market, after all, full of their friends & neighbours who stopped by daily for conversations about their days & lives. However, now that isn’t what you would see here. If you have ever watched the YouTube independent film ‘Bye Bye Barcelona’ they explain how they now feel they have lost this to tourism. Which to be fair is probably correct – however, to me, it still resonates a huge sense of what was when you look deep enough and through the mass tourism which has encompassed a large portion of it. It still has a deep meaningful past and that is something that I can’t see fading anytime soon.
The Market Today!
Unlike many other local markets – there is many restaurants & bars actually within the aisles. Some of the best & most renowned in Barcelona. With some of the finest seafood & wines, I have tasted. I also love the novelty of perching on a barstool at the edge of a bustling seafood bar & listening to the staff calling customers in – enticing them with assorted pinxtos and deals on a selection of delicious offerings that are left over before they close. Holding up lobsters and shaking them like they are teasing a child with a toy. It’s such an incredible vibe & atmosphere it’s hard to even explain.
The market is a culmination of so many different stalls spread across 20,000sq feet! Yes I know, it’s quite a sprawling market. And in the very centre, you will find a ring of fish stalls which is for cross contamination reasons so I have been told. Plus for non-seafood lovers, it’s easy to avoid! There is very little that can’t be found beneath this roof. From stalls with every egg imaginable (Ever had an Emu egg!?) to rows of vegetable, you’ve never even heard of. Of course, all of the usual market suspects can be found in abundance – cheeses, olives and banderillas (small spear-like sticks with different olive / pepper / boquerones concoctions) with a to die for, meats, seafood… nuts, chocolate and oils… I could go on all day believe me, so I will save you the monotony!
So where are my favourite places to go? I know that is the question you are all dying to know! And of course – I couldn’t not tell you the places that are a must see in this Ali Baba cave of treasures. It is hard to choose just a handful but I will do my best to give you what I think are the top tips from La Boqueria!
La Boqueria Tip No.1
Don’t go looking for a sit-down meal and to be waited on hand and foot. It may be a tourist destination but it is still a market & an insanely busy one at that!! So go with that in mind and enjoy it as it is meant to be enjoyed. Bustle through and grab a drink alongside a bar while waiting for a possibly somewhat comfier stool with a little more room! Trust me all of the best places will be crammed with people – so you’re going to want to wait to taste the best!
La BoqueriaTip No.2
Don’t expect market prices. You are not in a little local market now! Believe me! It may look that way on the outside but I can assure you that it is not. The one thing that is terrific value is the juices & freshly chopped fruit. Especially in comparison with Starbucks or local coffee shops. Rows and rows of brightly coloured freshly pressed juices adorn the ice-topped stalls – they make beautiful photos as well as tasting good too. (One to impress your Instagram followers with!) Aside from that, some of the sweet stalls can be very expensive – especially the artesian style chocolates so be aware before you fill yourself bags and bags of sugar-filled delights only to end up almost having a heart attack because of the price rather than the sweets! In relation to the restaurants and bars – they may not be as cheap as some less touristy areas but they are by no means over-priced, especially as they truly are some of the best quality restaurants that you will eat at in Barcelona – and for the atmosphere and experience definitely worth every penny & then some! Believe me!
The stalls at the front of the market usually tend to be a higher price than the ones at the back as they pay higher rent! So if you see something that takes your fancy – have a wander down the aisles and try to pick it up elsewhere! 😉
Now for the fun stuff now that we have all the formalities out of the way!! The best of the best – the cream of the crop!?…. Where to eat! Here’s my Top 3 Must Eat Stops! Yummm I am hungry just thinking of them!… plus these pictures aren’t helping!
Number 1: Bar Ramblero (Stall No.550) Website
Seafood to die for, Gambas to devour and staff you want to stay and chat with all day! This is my favourite place in the market. It is one of the newer generation places but please don’t let that deter you. The seafood here is some of the best I have tasted in Barcelona and without a doubt, the Gambas are some of the best I have tasted in the world. Yes, and you know about my love of Gambas! Their menu has a range of different tapas and the bar is lined with pinxtos with so many mouth-watering combinations you will find it hard to choose. They also have a great selection of wines – all as delicious as the next.
The range & freshness of their seafood really is amazing here. And the wow factor that is achieved with the platters is fantastic. But what my favourite part here is aside from the quality of the food, has to be the incredible staff. They are so lively, fun and enthusiastic. After a couple of visits, you feel like you have known them years And that is something very special in a place! They are fantastic!
Winning Dish: It’s gotta’ be the Seafood Platter – WOW. Full Stop. Just do it!
Number 2: El Quim de La Boqueria (Stall No.606) Website
This is not only an incredible place to eat but has an incredible story to go along with it. The owner, Quim himself is so proud of all that he does that it shows. He began with a tiny unit back in 1987 with just 5 stools ( now El Petit Quim) and now has a bigger unit just a few feet away. He still works here every day and is so passionate about this market that he refers to it as Lady of La Rambla & the mother of El Quim de La Boqueria. He is a remarkable man with a remarkable flair for creating some mouth-watering dishes. His two sons now follow in his footsteps and are busy at work making their own innovative dishes with their father! Now that’s a team! They look like they are having fun from the moment they start until they finish! They’ve also had many a famous person drop by here including Jessie Tyler Ferguson from Modern Family! (Love him!)
Quim calls himself ‘The defender of the eggs’ And oh my, this is no throwaway statement. Their eggs here are without a doubt the best in Barcelona. And anyone who can cook eggs with fois is definitely my friend for life. Another variation is, of course, the broken eggs with squid, which is an almighty burst of a multitude of flavours – incredible. (But most of all what I love is enjoying the heart and soul of this place – raw and natural talent – cooked with passion. Sit back and enjoy the atmosphere.
Winning Dish: There is no way to choose one. Quim is constantly reinventing his signature dish – almost always involving fois – each as incredible as his last. Best dish – Ask him when you get there! You won’t be disappointed. Each dish as beautiful to look at as it is to eat!
Number 3: Pinotxo (Stall No.466) Website
This is somewhere that would charm the most ‘un-charmable’ of people. It has so much character it practically exudes it over the very bar! It serves some of the best & most typical Catalan food with no fancy frills but exceptional freshness and taste. But there is one very special thing about the bar and that is the owner, Juanito. He is exactly the symbol of all that this market stands and originates from. He has been working here over 50 years and can still remember when his mother worked there before him. She would begin cooking each morning at 4am to feed the stall holders before they would begin the day. It is a place that has stood the test of time and for very good reason – it is on everyone’s list of top places to go when you visit. Apparently, he says when his retire his nephew who also works there will take over – I am guessing that won’t be for a while yet! Its claim to fame?… even Woody Allen has visited Juanito and eaten at this treasure. If it’s good enough for Woody well it’s good enough for us! Check out the master at work just below!
Winning Dish: Each recipe has been passed down through generations – all as tasty as the next! My favourite is the chickpeas & morcilla (blood sausage. Melt.In.The.Mouth. If you are there during the day definitely check out the Xuixo – it is one of the best in Barcelona.
All of these places are amazing in La Boqueria and even if you get to pick just one I have no doubt that you will have a great time & of course eat some great food! (Photos please… make us green with envy, I love all that!!) And wherever you choose to go – you will, I am sure have fallen in love with markets all over again by the time your visit is over. Buzzed on the high of the atmosphere & the smell of the food lingering down the aisles, rows & rows of colours overflowing from each stall, and the best part of course – the stall owners friendly faces & characters. The most impressive market in Barcelona has no doubt left within you a memory that you will carry with you long after your trip to Barcelona is over.
So as your evening draws in – and the stalls all pack up and get ready to go home at the end of another busy day at La Boqueria, it’s time for you to head off into the evening and see where the rest of your night will take you! And in Barcelona, of course – you will always be spoilt for choice!
Check out some of the review for some ideas – and keep an eye out for our favourite bars in Gotico out soon! So for now, as they say in Catalan, adieu (Goodbye!)
Love & Gambas,
P.s While you are here… why don’t you have a sneak preview from the market! A great little video shot by my lovely friend and fellow tour guide at Devour Barcelona!