Mention food cultures when talking about Spain and of course tapas springs to mind (which will feature in a subsequent post) but this is to do the country a disservice. In fact even to talk about Spanish food culture is misleading, in much the same way that talking about Italian food is misleading. Spanish food cultures would be more appropriate because each region has its own cuisine, and in Catalonia they can feel justifiably proud of theirs.
Until its closure a few years back, El Bulli was regarded as the best restaurant in the world for its ground breaking molecular gastronomy. Barcelona was voted best gastronomic city in the world by an American TV network a few years ago.
Ask any chef and they will say that great food begins with great food producers. Farmers and growers who are passionate about the quality of the produce. Quality ingredients are the foundation of outstanding dishes; even El Bulli’s Ferran Adria would struggle to produce a masterpiece from flavourless components.
Which brings me to La Boqueria, which is claimed to be one of the best markets in Europe.
It was mid afternoon when I visited, which isn’t usually the best time for a market. Getting up early as the stall-holders are putting the finishing touches to their displays is usually more rewarding for photographers and shoppers alike – there’s more to choose from. I wasn’t surprised then to see that some of the fish stalls had already closed for the day. Nevertheless, the range and quality of produce was astonishing.
There has been a market here on La Rambla since the middle ages, though the present site dates back to the 19th Century. The sign and roof canopy were added at the height of the moderniste period.
It’s not the only market in Barcelona, but for its size and variety it has taken on the additional mantle of tourist attraction. I could understand why. When stalls specialise in single ingredients (like the mushroom stall, the tripe stall or the egg stall) you know they have to be good at what they do.
Of course all that food tends to make you hungry, but don’t worry if you do. The market is bounded by tables and chairs where you can sit and partake of food at its freshest. Shame I didn’t have a lunch date!