As you would expect, a Spanish market is noisy and colourful with its fair share of ‘characters’. People watching is a good pastime at a market in Spain. Find yourself a spot at one of the little bars or side cafes and observe the hustle and bustle from there.
Although you might struggle to find all the herbs and spices you want at the supermarket, there is likely to be a stall dedicated to them at the market. You should also find flower stalls, stalls with dried fruits and nuts and others full of cheeses and charcuterie.
The fruit and vegetables available at the markets are still largely governed by season. Although you can find what you want all the year round in larger supermarkets. Sticking to the seasonal fruit and vegetables is not only cheaper but it also makes for a more varied year too. Once you see the water melons appearing you know that summer is here.
You won’t generally find fish on sale in your normal market. If you want to buy your fish this way you will need to visit a Spanish fish market or lonja. Make sure you pick out fresh specimens – avoid sunken eyes and dull skin. The flesh should feel firm and springy and if you poke the flesh it should bounce back into place and not hold the shape of your finger.
You will find a whole range of cured meats at the market. You can’t fail to miss the stall due to its distinctive smell. Salting, smoking, drying and curing are all traditional ways of preserving meats over a period of time. Hams, sausages and pressed meats are all very popular and can come very expensive if you have the money to spare. The most typical Spanish ham is jamón serrano or mountain ham. More expensive is jamón ibérico which comes from the Iberíco breed of pigs. Their special diet of acorns is credited with giving jamón ibérico its very special flavour.
You do not see many dairy cows in Spain and consequently are not likely to see a vast selection of dairy products. Olive oil and lard tend to be used instead of butter and fresh cream is very rarely found in pastries and confectionery. Cheese is popular, but is usually made from goats’ or ewes’ milk. This Manchego cheese is very pleasant though and well worth a try.
Markets are usually open in the morning until around 1.00 when stallholders will start to pack their produce away. There is usually at least one in every town and they do tend to vary the days they are open in a particular region. If you are stuck for something to do on an overcast Sunday there will usually be a market open somewhere.
Markets are wonderful, vibrant places but do take care with your possessions. They can also be a centre of attraction for pick pockets and petty thieves. Make sure your wallet/ purse are in a secure place as the close proximity demanded by lots of bodies in a small space means that the market is an ideal environment for a snatch.
Whether you go to the market to browse or are a serious cook with the drive to purchase fresh and authentic, the market is an interesting place to spend some time.