What was particularly impressive about La Boqueria besides the tremendous variety and quality of produce and foodstuff that you would generally see in any good market around the world, was the abundance of all the unusual or special stuff that is common to the local cuisine or that gourmands generally view to be among the rarer or more sought after delicacies, wherever they may be from. Spain has a tremendous agricultural underpinning and its weather and geography make it a wonderful place for several types of crops. One of the largest producers of olives, the selection of fresh or cured olives in the market was mind-boggling. I was never a great olive fan but how can you NOT sample several different types of olives when there are so many on display? Throughout our whole trip, the best revelation olive-wise was a very minimally treated olive that was essentially the fruit and a bit of brine, thatâ€™s it. It was green, firm and flavorful without being overly saltyâ€¦absolutely delicious.
Also on offer at La Boqueria was an impressive variety of meats and game. Most noticeable were the dozens and dozens of â€œnakedâ€ or is it “dressed” rabbits in the display cases. My daughterâ€™s eyes bulged when informed what they were, as she keeps a pet bunny at home, but surprisingly, a few days later she ordered rabbit for dinner in Florence. Grilled rabbit tastes absolutely delicious. More flavorful than chicken and less gamey than other wild animals, this is something that I would order again in countries that frequently have it on offer such as Spain and Italy. Rabbit and artichoke paella is supposed to be one preparation that one MUST try. Besides the rabbit there was also a wide selection of fowl (contrary to reports that bird flu had stricken the fear of fowl into the continentâ€™s residents) including quail, pheasant, ducks and chickens of all sorts as well as their livers and other good partsâ€¦ Seeing about 15 kilos of fresh foie gras in a glass case is not something I have often come acrossâ€¦
Vendors who specialized in unusual items such as different kinds of fish roe or bottargas were also at the market. I have never really learned to eat bottarga or its cousins and while I was curious and amazed by the selection, I didnâ€™t have a clue how to take advantage of the bounty. A lot of the seafood seemed to be â€œimportedâ€ with most of the shrimp frozen and flown in from Ecuador or Asia. While the volume of seafood seemed a less than the produce and meats, the variety was nevertheless impressive.
Even the candy vendors elicited a big â€œwow!â€ A huge selection of gummies, lollipops, licorice, chocolate and other goodies were enough to bankrupt a young childâ€™s travel allowance. If it were gingerbread season I could easily buy 10 kilos of candy at these stalls for the most spectacular candy covered creation back home. Beside the candy vendors were whole stalls specializing in nuts au naturel and dipped in honey, chocolate, candy coatings, etc. The dried fruit vendors had an impressive selection of everything from peaches and pears to kiwis, strawberries and even tropical dried mangoes and pineapples. Gosh, if only we had something mildly approximating this bounty back in Manila.
There were several tapas bars where you could order a wide selection of dishes and just sit with a glass of wine and take in the hustle and bustle of the market. There was also a vendor selling prepared bean and pasta salads that were superb. We bought several kinds of salads and brought them home to have for dinner one night. Using really fresh beans makes a critical difference in these bean salads; reconstituting dried beans just won’t cut it in many cases…We found a terrific bakery on the periphery of the market which had superb croissants (Spanish ones seem to have a sweet glaze on it that differs from their French cousins but taste good nonetheless), pain au chocolat and other pastries early in the morning. You could also sidle up to a bar and order some espresso or a cafÃ© and have it with some bread or pastry while standing and reading your favorite newspaper.
Also within the market premises are several dry goods provedores where I went to stock up on Asturian beans (wicked pricey!) for fabada or other beany concoctions. There was kilo after kilo of good saffron at incredibly reasonable prices when compared to those in the groceries or at local gourmet shops here in Manila. I also took home nearly 10 kilos of Bomba rice from the Calasparra region as it is the key to a spectacular paella. Olive oils in 30 different brands and types of packaging at very reasonable prices. This is the ultimate place to stock a balikbayan box headed for Manila!
If you go early in the morning, and head to the BACK and RIGHT side of the market, you notice a whole area outdoors without a roof that has great selections as well. At first I thought the older stuff was dumped here at lower prices but the goods all looked terrific and most of the shoppers were locals so I suspect the non-tourists get their deals here while the tourists wander aimlessly within the market proper. One way to do the market justice is to get there at 8 for an expresso and pastry. Then wander around the Gothic area and find your way back to the market for an early lunch at 12 at Pinotxo before the heavy crowds arrive, then explore the other neighborhood sites and get a late afternoon snack…