Barcelona’s dining scene is as exciting and diverse as the city itself, and numerous options range from traditional tapas places to high-end restaurants, affordable gastro-bars and chic cafes.
And then, there is one stop which does not quite fit into any category – Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, commonly known as La Boqueria, is indeed much more than just a food market. It is one of Barcelona’s best recognized landmarks, a tourist attraction and a local favorite. This is where you might as well splurge on a meal, leaving all the worries for food quality behind; and at the same time, you’ll have no trouble finding an inexpensive and wholesome lunch, enjoyed right at the bar counter in the company of friendly natives.
The first open-air market appeared on the site in the 13th century; it was frequented by farmers from nearby towns and villages. The market was officially recognized only in 1827. From this year onwards, La Boqueria expanded and improved; originally popular for its fruit and vegetable products, it now has fish mongers, butchers, and florists. The facilities were modernized, both on sanitary and esthetic levels. The present-day Boqueria is no doubt among the world’s finest food markets; in fact, in 2005 it was officially recognized as the best during the World Markets Congress in Washington DC.
If you are renting an apartment during your stay in Barcelona and fancy cooking for yourself, then there is no excuse for not doing grocery shopping at La Boqueria. The quality here is unbeatable; it no wonder that chefs from the finest restaurants in the city come here for exceptionally good local products. If you are not a big fan of home-cooking, you’d be happy to know that plenty of market stalls sell prepared foods, like simple salads, pastas, hefty bocadillos (sandwiches), or you can do even better find tiny stall Joselito and ask them to slice up the best jamon de bellota (cured ham) in Barcelona for you, pick some queso de oveja curado (aged sheep cheese), grab baguette, a bottle of Rioja wine and enjoy a delicious rustic-style meal.
For gourmet travelers, Bar Pinotxo (right next to the entrance from La Rambla) and El Quim de la Boqueria (on your left side if you enter from La Rambla) should do the trick. Both are traditional establishments which offer excelent Catalan cuisine, but each flaunts different specialties. In Bar Pinotxo get garbanzos con pulpitos – nourishing fare of chickpeas and baby squids, or habitas con chipirones – much beloved in Catalonia broad beans with cuttlefish. If you are fluent in Spanish, you might just ask a recommendation from Juan, or Juanito – the bar’s owner, always smiling and friendly. For dessert, no one can resist a xuixo – deep fried pastry filled with luscious custard cream. El Quim’s signature dish is scrambled eggs! Sounds way too simple, but just imagine those with, say, caramelized foie gras, or shrimps braised in cava (Catalan sparkling wine) – and you’ll get an idea of why the bar is always jam-packed. Eggs aside, there are dozens of mouthwatering tapas and sandwiches, fresh fish and seafood of which atún rojo (red tuna) is particularly good; meat dishes are varied and include fancy burgers with foie gras, oxtail stews and local butifarra sausages with beans and alioli (garlic mayo).
If you are a vegetarian, don’t worry too much – almost any bar at the market will have escalivada (fire-roasted eggplant, onion and pepper), verduras a la plancha (simply grilled seasonable vegetables) and setas variadas (sautéed mixed mushrooms). During the season from November to April, go for alcachofas (artichokes), and in February and March – calçots (tender spring onions), grilled or fire-roasted, and served with romescu sauce are hugely popular.
Metro: Liceu (line 3)
Bus lines: 14, 59 and 91