Monday, July 27, 2009

Madrid Eats: Mercado de San Miguel

Quite often the simplest thing can be the hardest to write about. Despite the fact that we tend to visit markets wherever we end up in the world, I tend not to write about them, so as not to reduce an awesome experience into a shopping list. I would be remiss, though, if I didn't tell you about the Mercado de San Miguel.

My shitty internet research reveals that the Mercado is housed in a late 1800s/early 1900s building, which probably is true, but the powers that be have updated the place into a modern miracle. Nestled on the outer boundary between La Latina and Los Austrias, just a few minutes away from Plaza Mayor, the Mercado isn't the largest market, or the most exotic of markets, but simply one of the best conceptualized market I've seen in awhile.

I love me some Granville Island, but imagine if they got rid of everything extraneous, and concentrated all the great parts of the market into one medium-sized venue that (drumroll) SERVES BOOZE. I'm no lush, but Lord knows I hate all the restrictions the Man has placed between alcohol and my consumption of it. To add that extra proverbial cherry on top, the place is open late, which works out gangbusters for everyone.

The market generally works much like a cafeteria. There's a stall that serves fine wines of all sorts, another for tapas and other cooked items, one for cheeses, a vermouth bar, etcetera, etcetera, and one simply collects whatever they feel like for dinner/post drinks grub/whatev.

Most of the stalls stay open through the night, but there's a few that close up. There's not a lot of people looking to eat dried bacalao right at the market, but there's always an audience for little sausages in every corner of the world.

One of the more popular stalls was the oyster one, which was serving an array of oysters on the cheap: it was something like 2 euros for 6.

Another was a dessert stall, with fresh macaroons, gelato, chocolate, name it.

What was it about the Mercado that makes it work? It's not the design, and, despite how awesome each stall was, it's not any particular item that they sell. Instead, it's a market planned around a different idea: the market as a communal space or a venue, rather than simply one of commerce. Contrasted with a more traditional market, each stall was more geared towards selling items one could enjoy right then and there, as opposed to produce, meats or other groceries. The net result, and one that works, is a place where people gather and stay, rather than a place where people just shop.

1 comment:

  1. Just a note. El Mercado de San Miguel is not a Madrid municipal market, it is actually a privately owned food court con marketplace. That's is why you can sample food at the stalls in this market. Except at market bars, most municipal markets, including the Boqueria market in Barcelona, operate under city government rules, which prohibit sampling food at stalls. For more info, here is my profile on El Mercado de San Miguel in Departures: