|Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria,|
The Boqueria has been around in one form or another, somewhere in Barcelona, since at least 1217. It's got shunted about depending upon the needs of the people and the growth and development of the city. And, for the sake of formality, let's give it its full title: the Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, which is quite a mouthful, so most people just refer to it as the Boqueria. It was named after the nearby Sant Josep Monastery. It opened on its present site way back in 1840, and today there are over 200 stalls selling all kinds of fresh produce, spices and sea food. And as you can see from the photo below azafran - or safron - is a pretty important spice. It's one of the main spices in paella, the national dish. They're also pretty keen on pimenton dulce, which English speakers know as paprika and pimenton picante, which we'd call spicy paprika.
My guess is that, if some of those medieval stallholders from the thirteenth century were to come for a stroll through the market today, they'd recognise a lot of the fare that's on offer. True there are exotic fruits that come from parts of the world that hadn't made it onto the maps in their day, and they'd not have known anything about the wonderful elixir that goes under the name of chocolate (more - MUCH more - about that later). But there's a lot of salami and preserved meat hanging around that they would have known all about. There are stalls of gourmet olives and fresh produce from the countryside that they'd have been well acquainted with. And Barcelona's enduring fascination with the sea means that all the delicious food that it produces would also have been well known to them.
The Boqueria is a great place in which to discover top quality ingredients, and it's little wonder that many of Barcelona's top restauranteurs come here to source their produce. Inside the market there are a number of restaurants, take-away stalls and tapas bars where visitors can sample the exquisite produce first hand.
We had tapas for lunch in the Central Seafood Café, which was pretty sensational. Emi had a huge plate of navajas, razor claims, which are his current favourite thing in all the world to eat. The whole idea of tapas is that everyone shares, but I can tell you for free that Emi was not about to start sharing his navajas with anyone without a fight. We had great big, juicy gambas, prawns, cooked with garlic and parsley a la brasa over an open flame, steamed muscles, mejillones de vapor, a few fresh oysters and pulpo a la gallega, fried octopus served with a sprinkling of paprika. Delish! If I'd been a more committed restaurant critic I'd have taken lots of photos of our lunch. That, however, would have resulted in my compadres scoffing the lot before I got down to eating anything myself. They're not very chivalrous in this family when it comes to food ...
After lunch we grabbed some take-away fruit salads to eat on the hoof as we walked around admiring the fabulous produce on offer. There's a glorious selection of fruit to either to buy as whole fruit, chopped up into take-away salads or ready to liquidise into a smoothy.
It feels as though this is a nation obsessed with (amongst other things) the consumption of pork and seafood. Curing pork, either in the form of salami or jamón ibérico has been raised to an art-form. According to the rules jamón ibérico must be made from Black Iberian pigs or pigs crossed with Black Iberians so that they are at least 50% Black Iberian in order to qualify. If the porkers fail to meet this spec, then the resulting ham will be the less expensive, but also delicious, jamón serrano.
The variety of salamis and cured pork on offer is stunning.
And the favourite local Catalan salami, fuet, is a great accompaniment for a pre-prandial glass of Cava. Unlike the other great favourite, chorizo, it doesn't contain paprika.
The produce is amazingly fresh, most of it is just hours out of the sea, with eyes still gleaming and bright.
I can testify to the fact that these oysters were amazing, the very essence of the sea.
And local cooks buy the fish heads to make stock, caldo, which they use to cook the rice and produce the most flavourful paellas known to man.
And much as I love to eat squid, I did feel rather sorry for these little chaps, with their earnest expressions.
Emi thought that this big-toothed monkfish looked like an extra-terrestrial.
And then we come to the chocolate sellers ...
Who are so inventive with the wonderful ways in which they can use chocolate.
Chocolate is one of my weaknesses. I don't have a sweet palate until it comes to chocolate, and then I could very easily fall of the rails.
Oh, and see those macaroons, well I could totally blow my waistline on those too.
Or, for those looking for a slightly healthier sweet fix there's also a divine selection of dried fruit ...
... and nuts.
And here's the bizarre thing: I was swept along in such a flurry of excitement. I wandered through the market, brandishing my camera and enthusing loudly about all the sensational things I saw. But I never once got my wallet out and actually bought anything. It only occurred to me when I got home and looked through my photos that I'd missed a HUGE shopping opportunity. The only explanation I can offer for this abnormal behaviour is that I was too blown away by it all to think of actually buying anything. Weird!
All the best for now,