Unlike most of the popular destinations in Spain (which are located along the Mediterranean in the south or the Bay of Biscay in the north, and therefore known for delicious seafood) Madrid is not necessarily a foodie city. Well, unless you really like bread smeared with mayonnaise and every possibly incarnation of pig meat — in that case, it’s a food lover’s dream. But from my experience, a few days of continuous pork consumption on an unaccustomed stomach leads to a visceral hatred of ham and most of the ham-derivatives found in traditional madrileño cuisine. And that explains the sheer delight I felt in my heart of hearts when my host in Madrid took me and my travel companion to Mercado de San Miguel.
Located near the tourist-and-local intersection of Plaza Mayor, Mercado de San Miguel is a welcome reprieve from the ham museums and Spanish versions of T.G.I. Friday’s that attract the befannypacked to the area. The iron Beaux-Arts market was constructed in 1916, and after falling into disrepair after years of neglect (thanks in no small part to the rise of the supermercado) the historic site was gutted and transformed into a 21st century wine and tapas bazaar. If you’ve ever been to Chelsea Market in New York City, you get the concept.
With a collection of thirty-plus vendors selling everything from fresh seafood to churros con chocolate, it would be impossible to enter Mercado de San Miguel and not find at least one plate to lick clean. During the day it’s all about vendor hopping, but from evening until closing time (2 am Thursday through Saturday, midnight otherwise) the main draw is the comprehensive wine bar.
On my visit we enjoyed a little (okay, a lot) of both food and wine: after finding seats conveniently located next to the bar we took turns exploring the food stands and buying rounds of tapas for the table. Fresh octopus with olive oil and paprika, squid ink croquettes, and black truffle sausages were just a few of the dishes we tried, and I would name more if my seventh glass of wine hadn’t coincided with the fourth plate. I think I had a churro because I left with chocolate on my nose, but really, that’s anyone’s guess.
There’s a similar testament to the posh market trend called Mercado de San Antón in the Chueca neighborhood, but it seemed more like a place where rich people buy their groceries. Mercado de San Miguel, on the other hand, is more of a centrally located meeting point where you can establish a hearty wine buzz and eat quality food for a decent price. What more could you ask for in a city full of ham museums?
images via HerryLawford