La Boqueria market is one of those much-hyped travel recommendations that lives up to the praise. Located next to Barcelona’s main promenade known as Las Ramblas, it’s easy to find this covered market and well worth a stop. The variety and quality of fruits, vegetables, fish and meats, plus the colors, aromas and crowds combine to make this a very lively market. (If crowds are not your thing, then check out Santa Caterina market or another of Barcelona’s smaller neighborhood markets for a calmer atmosphere without sacrificing any of the outstanding quality.)
The best day to see Boqueria is Saturday. That’s when many locals do their shopping. They will tell you that the least interesting day to go is Monday since many stalls (especially fish sellers) are closed. However I’ve been there on a Monday, and I think the market is still worth a visit if that’s the only day you can do it.
My favorites are the local specialties: Gleaming displays of cured hams that hang from hooks. Olive oils that glisten like liquid gold (the local arbequina variety is considered the best). Codfish so thickly coated with salt crystals it looks as if they swam through a snowstorm. Saffron threads that you won’t be forced to pawn your cell phone to afford. And of course many varieties of luscious seasonal fruits and vegetables.
Even if you don’t have access to a kitchen during your stay in Barcelona, there’s still plenty that you’ll be able to enjoy at La Boqueria. You can graze as you go (buy a paper cone filled with freshly sliced Iberico jamón, for example), or sidle up to a counter where they’re serving food, or relax slightly more leisurely at one of the eateries alongside the market. Or simply walk the aisles to observe the extravaganza, and that might be enough to satisfy your appetite.
Here’s a quick guide to the Iberico hams that you’ll see at numerous stalls: Jamón Serrano is light-colored ham that’s mostly used for sandwiches. Jamón Ibérico comes from the black Ibérico pig (notice the black hoof on the hook) and guarantees at least 54% fat. But for the tastiest premium variety, look for these three words: Jamón Ibérico Bellota. That indicates the noble black pig that has been roaming the oak forests and devouring acorns (bellota) for at least three months before it was slaughtered. You’ll pay more for Jamón Ibérico Bellota, but it’s one of those splurges that’s worth it. The dark red meat is exquisitely marbled with veins of fat and tastes sweet, nutty, and utterly delicious. It’s best when served in paper thin (hand-cut) slices on a warmed plate that permits the ham to “sweat” — a slight melting of fat that ensures the ultimate pleasure in tasting the flavors.
Feel free to ask questions about the products. The salespeople are very knowledgeable. Rais Esteve, a chef-instructor with bcnKitchen in Barcelona which offers cooking classes and market tours, says that a full market experience means learning about the products—and of course, tasting them. “You never know food until you taste it.” I raise my fork to that.
La Boqueria was built in 1840 where the Sant Josep convent had stood before it burned (hence the market’s official name, Mercat de Sant Josep). It was transformed into a covered market with an iron roof in 1914. The decoration hanging over the main entrance is Barcelona’s coat of arms. The city is proud of its main market, as well it should be.
Open Monday through Saturday from 8 am-8 pm. (Although the activity slows down considerably after about 4 pm. Also note that many fish stands are closed Mondays.)
La Boqueria is located at La Rambla, 89 bis.