The European Market That Trumps Them All

mercat de mercats

Mercat. /məɾˈkat/ n. Language: Catalan. Meaning: Market. In Europe, this generally means covered shopping spaces where you can find fresh peaches next to pig intestines next to croissants next to fish heads. One-stop shopping at its best.
Can you imagine touring a U.S. city and heading to Safeway, Raley’s, Walmart or Trader Joe’s, specifically to take photos and explore the culinary scene?

What an outrageous waste of a vacation that would be.

No one needs photos of tomatoes that taste like plastic, or 2-liter single-servings of Coke.

But indoor marketplaces in Europe, and particularly in Barcelona, are a huge deal. Tourists freak out over the chance to snap photos and oooh and awww over the piles of dates and peaches at Barcelona’s most famous marketplace, La Boquería. Half a mile away, they go wild over the Mercado de Santa Catarina‘s colorful flowing roofs, and its similar stands of produce and fresh-squeezed juices.

Barcelona has markets like this in each of its neighborhoods. Markets where locals pick up their groceries, and tourists test out their fancy DSLRs and squeal in delight at entire lamb heads, casually chilling behind the glass with their tongues drooping out.

Food and travel go hand and hand, and when you have the freshest daily pickings laid out in mounds in front of you, it’s easy to get excited.

It’s my third year in Spain, and I’m still not immune to the thrill of these markets. As much as I hate crowds of tourists, I head to La Boquería (five minutes from my house!) like the rest of ’em because WHAT IS BETTER THAN PILES OF CHEESE AND CHOCOLATES?

So imagine my heart palpitations when I strolled through Barcelona’s Plaza de la Catedral one glorious Friday afternoon and stumbled upon the Mercat de Mercats. Held annually over one weekend in October, the Mercat de Mercats features vendors from all the indoor marketplaces across Barcelona, as well as from all four provinces of Catalonia.

Think of it as a celebration of the freshest, most local and artisan products of one of the most prominent food regions in the world. In a pretty unbeatable setting, at that.

cathedral mercat de Mercats

Mercat de Mercats in front of Barcelona’s Gothic cathedral

The Mercat de Mercats is a mix between market and festival. It’s held in the great outdoors (differing from the enclosed markets), and we got incredibly lucky this year with three days of clear blue skies. It also differs from the traditional market in that it excludes your general produce-fish-raw meat stalls (amen), and instead features the stalls of local artisan products such as cheese, cured meats, olive oils, jams, and bread. At the Mercat de Mercats, there are also rows of tapas tents, and a whole section of stalls selling glasses of wine, beer and cava (sparkling wine) from Catalonia.

And I think it’s worth mentioning here: There were free samples at nearly every tent.

So naturally I hung out at the Mercat de Mercats all weekend long.

Mercat de mercats

Mercat de Mercats

Mercat de Mercats

Cured meats, BREAD, and the moldiest of cheeses

There were stalls selling and sampling chocolate, bread, olive oil, fuet, chorizo, longaniza (three types of cured pork products), foie gras, spinach pastries, mojitos made with milk liquor, candied almonds, jams, cheeses (oh the cheeses!), meat balls, more bread, turrón (almond nougat), tapenades . . . . Wait, how did you reach the end of this sentence? Did you not stop dead at the mention of MILK LIQUOR!?!

Ah, the things you learn and taste at an artisanal market. Glorious things like liquors you never knew existed—liquors you sort of wish didn’t, in fact.

It’s been well-documented in my life that I’m a sample fiend (I may have fully dined on Costco samples on occasion in college), but obviously the idea here is that you end up purchasing some of these products as well. And I’d say just as important as supporting the vendors is learning about their products, the care they put into them, and the passion they exude through food and drink.

Somewhere in between the milk mojito and my 50th sample of artisan beer bread (!)—just when I thought life couldn’t get much better—I stumbled upon the sommelier tent.

Oh, Mercat de Mercats. You knew I loved my olive oil and wine, so you figured you’d throw in some free tastings and demonstrations to actually teach me about the stuff I’m shoveling down.

Good call.

Inside this magical tent there was a series of talks and tastings every hour. I attended four (seriously, I hung out all weekend): Wines of Catalonia; Spanish olive oil; artisanal bread; and Estrella Damm beer (produced in Barcelona). Inside this magical tent was where I learned to classify an oil based on its fruity or spicy undertones. It’s where I learned that a good wine actually does taste leagues better than a 2-euro bottle from the supermarket. It’s where I witnessed the most powerful speech in defense of artisan yeast, and heard the process of bread-making compared to that of rearing a child. And inside this magical tent, I actually caught only half of what was going on, since all demonstrations were in Catalan.

But foodie passion knows no language barrier. Neither does free wine and beer.

Mercat de Mercats wine tasting

Becoming a wine connoisseur….or actually just tipsy.

Mercats de Mercats beer tasting

Toasting to the Estrella Damm beer tasting

The Mercat de Mercats was one of my favorite experiences thus far in Barcelona, and not just because I’m a hopeless chorizo freeloader. The festival was in a picturesque setting, beneath a towering Gothic cathedral, for starters. It was a cloudless, blue-sky weekend. It was a celebration of artisanal culinary heritage, local products, and Catalan culture.

I’ve written before about Catalonia’s culinary tradition, and how blown away I’ve been by the deep emotions that seem to be tied to the culinary roots. The Mercat de Mercats confirmed this once again for me. Catalonia takes its production of all things food and drink seriously, and the regional pride seeps through in ever drop of olive oil, every bite of cured pig.

Next year’s Mercat de Mercats couldn’t come soon enough.

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  • lindsaypunk

    Milk mojito? Is that actually a thing?! Oh what I would have given to be hanging out at this market with you rather than being “stuck” in NYC :/

    • Not going to lie, I was actually diggin the milk mojito. Just not the idea of milk liquor. Also, for a self-confessed non-foodie, I’m sure you would have still died at this market.