La Boqueria: A foodie’s guide to Barcelona’s largest food market
No trip to Barcelona is complete without a visit to its largest open-air food market, and undoubtedly the oldest. Set on the most happening streets of La Ramblas, La Boqueria attracts all for being a culinary institution.
Having said that, the market remains a gourmet hunter's must-go, but today it is also frequented by all of those who want to taste Spain under one roof.
Over 200 stalls come together under a shopping precinct, showcasing the blow-your-mind food one can never find back home. This is the place to find locally grown cured meats, artisan cheeses, rare spices, best of chocolates, the freshest of seafood, the best quality olive oils, and around-the-world nuts.
Passionate farmers and artisanal producers work meticulously to satisfy their customers from sunup to many hours after sundown. The hallway gets narrower, with recent visitors springing up with every passing minute.
After strolling around counters, you’ll realize it's time to add a slice of La Boqueria to your pantry collections. Here is my guide on the best things to fill in your shopping bags:
Bacalao, or dried cod, is a Catalan specialty that might grab your attention at one go. Dry salting is an age-old technique in Spain, mastered to preserve the fishes from rotting and decay. They often use Bacalao in fish stews but never try to have it as a grab-and-go for its too salty on most palates. Because of that, the dried cod is made edible only after soaking in water.
That being said, instant Bacalao snack counters are just around the corner, dishing out fresh deep-fried crispy cod-meatballs on a stick.
Jamon, or Spanish ham, is famous worldwide. If you’re a meat-lover, you must stop at stalls selling racks of Jamón Ibérico, which can be vacuum packed in thin slices to carry back home.
Another local delicacy is Botifarra, the Catalan pork sausage that’s usually served grilled or as cold cuts.
Stop by rows of hanging chorizo to get one packed for your pantry. There is nothing like a spicy chorizo sausage grill, and what's better when you’re in La Boqueria?
Spanish chorizo is famous for its smoky flavor coming from char-grilled garlic and pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika).
Spanish saffron is world-famous, and therefore a bottle of best quality aromatic saffron is a must buy. Today 70% of the world’s saffron is grown in the fields of Castilla La Mancha in central Spain.
Spain’s saffron has been considered the world best because of its red color and sweet aroma. Saffron gets a prominent place in Spanish cuisine. That being said, a dash of it can enhance any dish, be it paella or soups.
In La Boqueria, there are spices from all around the world, so if you love cooking with spices, do look through.
Paprika is quintessentially a Spanish ingredient that is used in most dishes. There are different kinds of paprika, mild and sweet to bitter and spicy. The ones I picked are wood-fired chilies, giving out a distinctively smokey flavor.
The best quality cheese is found in Asturia, a region of northwest Spain that specializes in goat cheese. La Boqueria is one of the best markets in Spain to find and bring home artisan cheeses, with a collection of more than 240 varieties. Another famous Catalon cheese is the buttery Manchego, from the milk of Manchega sheep found in the La Mancha wilderness of Spain. It's recognized as the oldest cheese in Spain.
Mahón cheese is the soft to hard cow cheese sourced from the island of Menorca, off the Mediterranean coast of Spain. Cheese connoisseurs will tell you to get a slice of Mahón with sprinkled black pepper, tarragon, and olive oil, served best with chilled wine from Rioja.
If you love cream cheese, then opt for Tupi, Mato, and Costa Negra, essential ingredients in desserts and sandwich spreads that melt in the mouth.
The creamy and salty aftertaste of l’alt Urgell is also a well-known artisanal cheese made using pasteurized Friesian cow's milk, a specie that hails from the Pyrenean districts. The smooth texture and mild flavor of the cheese can be paired with wine or as a starter to any meal.
Cabrales is another artisanal cheese, which is a blue cheese churned out of unpasteurized cow's milk using centuries-old traditions that include aging in humid caves high in the mountain regions of Picos de Europa.
There is no denying: cacao therapy is the best therapy in the world, and the chocolate counters are La Boqueria’s one crowd-pullers. Chocolate addicts march towards those aisles of white, brown & dark chocolates, looking no less tempting than Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
I highly recommend tasting the dark chocolate catanies – These are roasted marcona almonds with several coatings of delicious dark chocolate, caramel, praline, and the final finish of 70% cocoa dusting. It can also be an excellent souvenir for friends and family.
The next on my list is cava bonbons, rich chocolate balls filled with cava wine, a popular sparkling variant in Spain. But there are so many flavor-infused bonbons with anything from mascarpone to earl grey, and those innovative savory ones like anchovies with a hint of vinegar would tempt any chocolate purists.
Try the petit fours, bite-sized pastries that come in a dozen flavors and are an easy grab and go with a cappuccino or hot chocolate. Expect to find chocolates flavored with matcha green tea, Jamaican pepper, and gin&tonic as well.
Take a grab of Xocoxups, another Catalan specialty. Hazelnut based lollipops smeared in many combinations like pistachios with blueberries and coconut milk and dark chocolate.
Chocolate in truffle casing, delicate pralines, liqueur-filled truffles, and chocolate meteorites (chocolate balls mixed with nuts, dates, and dried fruits) all speak of Spain’s rich tradition of chocolate making.
Don’t leave the market without tasting Turron, a Catalan Christmas delicacy baked all year round. La Boqueria is one of the best places to savor one. It is like a sweet bar made with honey, eggs, and praline masqueraded as chocolate bars.
Baked Goods and Confectionaries
There are humble bakers taking out quality bread from ovens and other confectionaries for four to five generations. Miguelitos is a great local treat. These airy phyllo pastry squares are filled with a generous portion of dark chocolate ganache, also coming with a dozen variety of fillings.
Buñuelos are an all-time high on my list; a fried dough packed inside with delicious custard filling and dusted with powdered sugar is worth that expanding waistline.
Cap it off with the most famous Spanish dessert of churros, a doughnut in a stick shape that is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, usually eaten with a rich chocolate dip. After the last bite of churros, you’d know why this Spanish dessert achieved so much fame worldwide.
Fuel up on fruit juices and smoothies that are displayed in multicolor rows of plastic glasses and by the throngs that line up near the stalls, which clearly says it all. There's nothing like a daily dose of chilled orange juice on a busy summer day.
The humble stalls are no less than a juice bar, offering different kinds of fruity concoctions. My favorite was the pineapple and coconut milk, which even without the rum tasted like a piña-colada.
Olive oil is an integral part of Spanish cooking because the country is home to more than 200 varieties of olives. From breakfast to dinner, there are hardly any meals that don’t go into it.
There are boutique olive oils infused with spices and packaged in fancy bottles, and it's always recommended to buy the extra virgin or the virgin olive oils.
The market may seem like a never-ending maze, but if you have an eye to hunt the best quality food for your pantry, you’re bound to find it. High quality smoked paprika vinaigrette was hard to come by and I couldn't help stocking a few in my shopper bag. The secret to smoky vinaigrette is Spanish paprika, and where else can we find such a high-quality product than in La Boqueria?
Watch out for mushrooms, fresh seafood, sausages, meats, and vegetables that are incredibly fresh. Grocery shopping is never a bad idea if you’re put up at B&Bs attached to a functional kitchen.
For those starting a day with a handful of nuts, you’re in the right place. The stalls can make your bargain a bit difficult with displays you’ve never seen before. You could always go with classics like almonds, pine nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, walnut, pistachios, peanuts, and macadamia – all blanched, roasted or sprinkled in sea salt and other spice mixtures.
But the native marconas, a combination of almond and macadamia that taste intensely sweet, delicate, buttery, and mild on the first bite are a huge hit among the locals and travelers alike.
Marconas are always on the list for the gourmet hunter, and at La Boqueria you’ll find them seasoned with sea salt or ingredients such as truffles, smoked paprika, chili, rosemary, and all-time favorite dusted cacao.
Let's get to eating
Taste your way to the culinary history of Spain by not just savoring on the food stalls but also bellying up to the counter seating eateries, the famous tapas bars brimming with curious travelers.
The rule of thumb is to watch foodies circle tapas tables, and if locals are joining too, you’ve found your place to dine.
Pinotxo bar has become a landmark after receiving the much-deserved praise by our late great Anthony Bourdain. Here menus keep changing and they dish out meals suitable for your taste palates.
I took a bowl of revuelto, scrambled eggs tossed with garlic shoots, wild asparagus, and shrimps topped with white truffle shavings. Revuelto, a breakfast staple, has many variations on the breakfast table.
A seafood lover must try suquet de peix, a Catalan bowl of prawns, clams, and mussels doused in a lip-smacking saffron-infused stew that giving out its red color.
If you don’t mind beef, tripe stew with cuts of beef is also a flavourful feast to shovel down. Vegetarians love the native rovellon mushrooms, best served with parsley and garlic drizzled over olive oil.
There are always lovers of paella making a beeline at the counter.
From traditional tapas like crispy patatas bravas and bacon-wrapped dates to popular treats like garlicky sautéed shrimp and pork meatballs, the tapas culture is a whole new world of cuisine.
There are also not so popular ones worth trying. Trust me it’ll never disappoint. Fideuà is a slow-cooked seafood paella kind of dish, but instead of paella rice, fideuà is made with pasta noodles or fideos, as they are called in Spanish.
Craving something sweet? If you had your fill of churros, go for crema catalana, the Spanish version of crème Brulee. Wash it down with vermouth on ice, and you’ll be ready for a siesta right away.
The Catalan cuisine served in buzzing counter-seating bars & restaurants allows a peek into the vibrant kitchen scene and luxury of chef interactions that otherwise is next to impossible.
The authentic meals focus more on the local produce and robust flavors, giving less attention to the embellishments. And while you’re at it, the bustling energy of the locals perhaps inspires these oldest and best tapas bars of the city, and their chefs, to turn out great food every time you visit.
For foodies, this is the place you’ll always want to come back like I have been doing, visiting La Boqueria all this time in my memories!