La Boqueria | Spain | Living in Mexico

La Boqueria

The 100-year-old Mercat de Sant Josep, commonly called La Boqueria, is one of the world's great food markets. The façade reflects Barcelona's architectural style that emerged in the late 19th Century.

The view of the stained-glass arch is partly obscured by netting, placed to protect it from damage during renovation of the building next door. We ran into situations like this everywhere we went, there's so much reconstruction going on. I don't know; the city is already jammed with tourists. If they make it any spiffier, everybody will want to come here.

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Step under the arch, you're confronted with an explosion of fruits and vegetables. I don't think I've ever seen so many varieties in a single glance.

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Displays were artful and prices weren't always sky-high—surprising in this expensive city. The strawberries in the pyramid are priced at €1.49 per kilo—about 90¢ a pound. Cheap, but these are the same strip-mined strawberries you get in U. S. supermarkets, the ones with texture and taste like cardboard. Hardly worth eating.

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Didn't they introduce fish genes into strawberries some years ago? To improve shelf life?

We do a little better as we penetrate farther into the interior of the market. This fruit cooked in sugar syrup looks exquisite—a far cry from Del Monte canned peaches.

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Have any of you run into dragon fruit? Apparently they are appearing in markets around the world. Everywhere except Mexico, that is. Mexico hardly needs another fruit, thank you very much. We've got more than enough wonderful local-grown produce of our own.

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The Spanish know how to do preserved meat: chorizo, salami, and especially, ham. Acorn-fed ham, dry-cured, aged a couple of years. This stuff redefines what ham is.

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Ham is sliced to order—by hand. It's sliced longitudinally, parallel to the bone, and each ham must be approached individually, to optimize the pattern of fat and red meat.

Porters race around with hand trucks, replenishing the stalls. That young man has the kind of job I would have loved when I was his age.

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Barcelona is a major mediterranean fishing port, and seafood is rushed to La Boqueria. In contrast with the fishy compost pile in San Miguel's Gigante or Mega supermarkets, these fish are shiny, with clear, bulging eyes and a sweet odor. Europeans won't buy rotten fish.

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But they will buy preserved fish, and none more so than salted, dried cod. Check out the prices on this stuff. The thick, boneless fillets are pushing $20 per pound!

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Once you've bought your fish, you have to season it, and after paying those prices, you're not going to want to shake a jar of Schilling paprika on them. Here, you can give spices the sniff test before buying a baggie or two.

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Now we're gonna look at the heavy hitters. The vendor didn't bother to post a price on these black truffles. If you have to ask, you can't afford them. Harvested in the wild by trained pigs, these babies are the other fruit of Spain's oak forests, after the exquisite ham. I've never seen so many truffles in one place before. This looks like a five-year supply for the French Laundry Restaurant.

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Tiny little wild strawberries from the Pyrenees: you'll never look at strawberries the same way again after trying these. But again, if you have to ask...

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What's amazing is that these little guys last only a day, so the vendor will have to sell them all or give the leftovers away. But if there's no more equity left to pull out of your house, forget Alpine strawberries. You'll just have to settle for some handmade candies.

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There are some great food stores in the U. S. You got your Whole Foods Markets, your Central Market in Austin, your Draegers in Menlo Park. None of them holds a candle to this place. The only market I've seen that's on par with La Boqueria is the one adjacent to the Tsujiki Fish Market in Tokyo, and that one's more of a shopping area than a single market.