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Understanding a Culture through Food - Got Food Envy? Head to Mercado San Miguel for Tapa

SPAIN | Friday, 19 April 2013 | Views [1339] | Comments [4] | Scholarship Entry

Just outside Madrid’s famed Plaza Mayor, the Mercado San Miguel stands serene. A refurbished historic building made of glass and iron, it is among the oldest covered markets in Madrid.

The illusion of calm dissolves, however, the moment you step inside. Food stalls line the inside of the Mercado, selling delicacies from all over Spain and it is nearly impossible to walk a straight line at any sort of pace. Visitors and locals crowd the spaces between vendors – tourists with guidebooks open and cameras held aloft, groups of teenagers, couples with young children, and Madrileños of all ages greeting each other exuberantly – either placing an order, waiting for food to arrive, or simply craning to see what’s available.

The cheese vendor proffers nearly 100 types of queso by the chunk. This stall has the most orderly line, with each patron taking a number and waiting patiently. Nearby, an entire stall is dedicated solely to olives – herbed, slightly spicy, stuffed, or skewered on long wooden sticks with hot peppers, mussels, tuna, pickled onions, and of course jamon. Across the way, oyster shuckers are conveniently located next to the cava bar, which also sells wine – tinto, blanco, or rosado?

If in the mood for a seafood delicacy, try the carabinero. Twenty euros might seem steep, but it’s entirely worth it. Bright red off the grill and sprinkled with rock salt, this oversized gamba is sweeter than lobster. Rip off the head and suck out the juices if you dare.

Keep in mind that Spaniards don’t bother with personal space; they have no problem leaning over you and talking around you. If there’s an inch of unused space, they’re sure to squeeze in… and here’s the key: you can and should do the same. Grab a couple of plates, a caña (small beer) or a short glass of dry vermouth, and look for a place settle and enjoy.

The best bet is to squeeze in at one of the high tables in the center of the Mercado. A good spot for people watching, you can also send a friend out for more food… perhaps the Galician-style pulpo, sautéed ciervo (deer) wild mushroom sauce of toasted bread, or warm gulas (mock baby eels) gently secured in puff pastry with a bit of cream cheese.

Not only is Mercado San Miguel the place to go in Madrid if you suffer from food envy, it’s a chance to understand what Madrileños are all about. The close environment, the energy and noise, the food – all backdrop for what eating is all about in Spain: enjoyment with friends and family.

Tags: Travel Writing Scholarship 2013



Such a great way to describe a beautiful place like Mercado San Miguel, which is amazing! Seems to me as if I was there, again! Thanks for the visit!

  Cris Apr 28, 2013 3:58 PM


I've been in Mercado San Miguel and Kerry's well written comment reflects the excitment of a magical place! It makes you want to return; Food Envy? you bet!

  Walter Apr 30, 2013 12:21 AM


Este artículo me transportó al mismo lugar!!! Que recuerdos, con olores y sabores. Lindo, de verdad!

  Maru P. Apr 30, 2013 9:11 AM


Un lugar historico y monumental, tan tradicional. Magnifica forma de describir que recrea en mi maravillosos recuerdos! Muchas Gracias!

  Carmen I. May 1, 2013 5:51 AM

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