Madrid is the Spanish capital, a city almost built on purpose to say “Hey, I’m your capital, kneel before me.” Practically in the middle of Spain, it’s in the perfect place to be… well, the capital of the country, since if you want to go to the sea, no matter the direction you take, it takes hours to reach it.
It’s a very vital city, full of material for art and history lovers, for example, and the #1 spot for the LGBT community in Spain and not only. That said, don’t forget we are in Spain so, like for Italy, food has a great influence on the culture and the society.
Food in Spain has a significant impact on everyday life and even if the country is relatively small if we compare it to bigger nations like China or USA, the difference of culinary traditions from region to region is incredible. From North to South, from East to West, it is possible to find many many different and excellent specialties in the various parts of the country. From fish based dishes on the coast to the meat and game based ones mainly in the center, with some new extravaganzas like molecular gastronomy brought by some world renown chefs, and finally a more decisive opening to vegetarian and vegan cuisine, something that looked like a taboo in the land of bullfights.
Another thing the country is famous for are the tapas, which basically are appetizers. Served cold or hot, they rapidly became not only something to whet your appetite while having a drink, but a sort or cultural phenomenon too. Don’t expect just a portion of olives (excellent all around the country) or some fries: you can find almost everything as a tapa: finger food, pasta, meat skewers, soups, sandwiches, savory pies and many other delightful things.
The situation in Madrid is no less so, you can find tapas everywhere, but there are some places I like more than others to go and eat something: food markets.
You know those places where you go when you want to buy some food from a stand, walk around to find better prices and hear sellers shouting about the freshness of their fish and how big are their olives? In Madrid, there are still places like that, but some of them have evolved into a sort of market 2.0, where you can still find stands but also places to eat-in or small ethnic restaurants selling tapas that defy tradition.
Having tried several of these mercados here’s a list of places you should visit if you want to eat something nice in a different environment.
Mercado San Antón
The San Antón food market is in Chueca, the gay district of Madrid. It’s a newly restored four-story building, with the market part on the ground and first floor. Here you can find a small supermarket and all kind of food stands, where is possible to buy the usual stuff you’d buy at a food market. Remember, though, the prices are not so accessible, it’s more like a gourmet market, so you need a nice wallet to shop here every day.
On the second floor, there are several ethnic restaurants, serving mainly tapas. It’s cool to buy various stuff here and there and then sitting to enjoy the place, chatting with friends.
On the last floor, there’s a restaurant with a lounge terrace to enjoy the view over the city. One thing worth mentioning is that the restaurant CAN COOK the stuff you buy in the market if you wish. You just buy what you want to eat, take the escalator and ask the waiter to cook your meal. So if you eat crap, you probably bought crap, blame yourself!
San Antón is for sure quite trendy and depending on the time you go the risk is to find no places where to sit, so try to keep your hunger for smarter hours!
Mercado de San Miguel
San Miguel instead is an iron-built traditional style food market located right in the center of Madrid. It has been built in 1916, and its location makes it perfect for a stop between a visit to Plaza Mayor and the Palacio Real. Architecturally speaking it’s my favorite, I adore the iron structure and the glass walls, a bond between old and new styles, also reflecting the spirit of the market itself.
Inside there are 33 shops, with products ranging from mere paellas and candies to more refined oysters and champagnes, still offered in the tapa way. Being one floor only, everything is on the same level and consequently the people too. That means it’s usually quite crowded no matter the hours you want to go there since it’s in a very touristic area of Madrid and it’s a common stop for almost everyone willing to visit the city.
It’s not really the place you should eat into if you’re on a budget, but going inside to take some picture is free, at least! Remember, you can’t bring and drink alcohol outside the building!
Mercado de la Paz
It’s one of the oldest food markets in Madrid, with its construction dating back to 1879, and it’s something you wouldn’t expect to find in the posh district of Salamanca, an area where I wouldn’t be surprised if they ask for your pay slip on the shops’ entrance.
Despite that fact, the de la Paz market is still popular and friendly, with the same families owning the stalls for generations. You can find every kind of fish or meat, fruit, and vegetable, with the addition of some uncommon products typical of some region of Spain, like the mojama (filleted salt-cured tuna).
This market is more focused on the daily, fresh products, but you can still find places to have a sit and taste some tapas. Legend says there a place inside where they prepare a particularly good paella with lobsters, too bad it was closed when I went there and I ate some sushi in the little restaurant aside.
Mercado de Antón Martín
That’s another traditional market, more similar to the de la Paz one than the first two. It’s in the district of Huertas, a path not usually beaten by tourists since it’s a more working-class area than a touristic one.
Starting from 1941 it hosts 63 stalls, but not only food related. It’s common to find almost every kind of shops inside, from the ones selling shoes to clothing or ceramics, as you would expect from a traditional market.
Anyway, eat-in spots are obviously there so if you’re feeling particularly hungry and you want to try some special delicacy from center Italy (“Why Italian food in Spain?” I hear you saying. Because I’m Italian, deal with it.), you can eat porchetta (if you’re vegetarian or worse, don’t read) at La Saletta!
That’s my list of markets in Madrid where to eat something different, or just a different place where to eat something, which depends on what you’re looking for! These are not all the markets in the city, but the ones I liked the most.
Have you been to Madrid and tried a food market? Do you like those places? Tell me in the comment section!
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