The following article and photos were published in The Guardian’s Been There section in September 2012. Please note that if you are visiting Madrid, the Mercado Isabela has since been closed.
Madrid’s Market Makeover
By Isabel Eva Bohrer
Once upon a time in Madrid, street vendors strolled the calles and plazas in search for customers. As the population grew, open-air vendors became sedentary, starting up business in the various neighborhoods. With the advance of construction techniques, wrought-iron structures soon came to cover these outdoor stands. But while some of these historical, one-storey markets still stand, others have undergone a significant renovation, combining tradition with modernity. Thanks to both public and private investment, entirely new markets have opened up, too.
Together, the old and the new fill the never-ending Spanish desire to eat out, even it’s just a caña (beer) paired with a tapa (frequently included in the beverage price). On your next visit to Madrid, celebrate the revival of the food markets first-hand. Spain might be in a crisis, but the dishes are as delicious as ever. ¡Que aproveche!
Mercado de San Miguel
Centrally located just off the Plaza Mayor, the Mercado de San Miguel dates back to the 19th century and was initially intended as an open-air market. In 1916, the wrought-iron structure was covered with glass, calling to mind the Parisian Les Halles. Years of use dilapidated the Spanish counterpart, but thanks to private investors, restoration began in 2003.
Six years later, in 2009, the market re-opened its doors, giving birth to Madrid’s market restoration legacy. It is home to more than 30 vendors, all of whom promote seasonal foods, local and international alike. From the Spanish side, you’ll find typical tostas and tapas, olives galore and regional specialties, such as Galician seafood, prepared frito (fried) or a la plancha (grilled). If your taste is global, head to the Mexican stand for some guacamole, or the Japanese for some sushi. Wherever you go, the protagonist is the product. Events, including tastings and cooking classes, are listed on the Mercado’s blog.
Mercado de San Miguel
Plaza de San Miguel s/n
+34 915 42 49 36
Mercado San Antón
Situated in today’s Chueca, Madrid’s gay neighborhood, the Mercado San Anton has its origins in a 19th century street market that catered to the area’s immigrants. The initial concrete building was completed in 1945, but, like Madrid’s other markets, was ready for renovation by the millennium.
In 2011, San Antón re-opened, and has been packed ever since. Unlike the one-storey Mercado San Miguel, this Chueca version boasts multiple floors. The higher up you go, the better. The ground level is nothing special; just a regular chain supermarket. On the first floor, you’ll find fresh produce, fish and meat, and on the second, cold and warm tapas. Head a little further and you’ll reach La Cocina de San Antón, the official restaurant and rooftop bar (read a full review on my website). The secret is to combine the floors: buy your fresh fish or meat on the first floor, and have the restaurant prepare it for you on the top. Not so hungry? At night, the rooftop terrace gets crowded just for cocktails, too.
Mercado San Antón
c/ Augusto Figueroa 24
+34 91 330 07 30
“Next!” The trend to refurbish markets has become a snowball effect. Just this year, the Mercado Isabela opened its doors, but just to two floors. Cold tapas on the ground floor, hot on the first – a total of 38 stands. The specialists from Casa Santoña show you how the anchoa (anchovy) is done, while St. James bring you arroces (rice dishes) of all kinds. In the late evening, – the market closes at 2 a.m. from Thursday to Friday, and at midnight the rest of the week, – the Mercado Isabela turns into a home for the hip. Stay for cocktails and music, though it might be packed to the brim.
Madrid locals stand in rapt anticipation of the top floor and the cellar. The former will feature an exclusive restaurant headed by chef Joaquín de Felipe, while the latter will be home to a screening room, conférences and cooking shows. Stay tuned.
Paseo de la Habana 3
+34 915 62 71 83
Keep on market-ing
Madrid’s market story doesn’t end here. The Mercado de Torrijos in the barrio de Salamanca just got a new look, too. Madrid’s market aficionados have even started a campaign against the demolition of the time-old Mercado de la Cebada. On your next visit to the Spanish capital, support the markets, old and new – there’s a tapa here for everyone’s taste.