The Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid is one of Spain’s most famed culinary destinations. Located just a few short steps away from the Plaza Mayor, the market was constructed in 1916 and received a massive, big-budget face lift in 2009. Since then, it’s become a hot spot for hungry travellers drawn in by the 30 vendors packed into the stunning iron-and-glass space.
Each vendor serves a distinct selection of prepared products (word is, management takes great pains to ensure the vendors don't overlap) in tapas-sized portions, so diners can drift from booth to booth, sampling as they go. There are also vendors selling produce, pantry items, and bottles of wine, which attract both shoppers looking to stock their kitchens and travellers looking for edible souvenirs.
While some locals might call the Mercado touristy or overpriced — indeed, there are cheaper tapas to be had further off the beaten path — think of the Mercado as its own unique, self-contained experience. Snacking your way through a series of regional specialties, sangria or vermut (Catalan for vermouth) in hand, is the perfect way to kill an hour or two — and with so many options on offer, you can try as much as your wallet or stomach will allow.
Want to know where to start? Here are five must-try dishes. (Want to know how to get there? You can win a trip from G Adventures and National Geographic by entering our Where To Next contest here.)
Banderillas at La Hora Del Vermut
If by some cruel twist of fate you only have time to hit one stall, make it this one. The glass case is packed with a wide variety of banderillas — toothpicks skewered with olives, jamón, cheese, and sardines — and plump stuffed olives that you can sample your way through for a Euro a pop while sipping on an equally inexpensive drinks (beer, wine, and sangria are all on offer at various stalls, but vermut is the thing to try here).
Cheese at Mya Quesos Artesanos
This stylish cheesemonger offers queso by the slice, or as thoughtfully composed tapas. Wedges of Manchego topped with daubs of quince jam and a nugget of walnut are heaven in two bites (or, let’s be honest, one).
Burrata from Mozheart
Burrata may not be the most regionally appropriate offering in the Mercado. But cheese lovers will devour the pintxos at Mozheart in seconds, then dream about them for weeks afterward. Choose which toppings — jamón, smoked salmon, arugula, and balsamic vinegar — you’d like piled atop a two-inch layer of whipped, stupendously fluffy Spanish-made burrata, and prepare to be elevated into savoury heaven.
Cod at La Casa De Bacalao
Taking its name from Spain’s favourite salted cod dish, this stall (actually one of a franchise of blue-and-white-tiled shops across Spain) offers a wide variety of bacalao tapas, dressed up in a variety of sauces and toppings. For a truly unique experience, try some cod fish liver — the foie gras of the sea
Fried seafood at Carro de El Señor Martín
While light flavours and fresh produce are key to much of Spanish cuisine, this cart at the centre of the market focuses on the opposite: Carbs and deep-fried stuff (in this case, seafood). A rotating daily selection of market-fresh deep sea delights — from anchovies and prawns to turbot and mussels — gets sizzled up in extra-virgin olive oil. They also do a great bocadillo de calamares (fried squid on a bun) — but you’ll pay a premium for theirs (9 Euro, as opposed to 3 Euro at nearby hot spot Casa Rua), so proceed with caution.
Thinking of a trip to Spain? You could win a trip to the destination of your choice from our roster of National Geographic Journeys tours by taking our Where To Next quiz here.