One thing Spain teaches you is to love markets. To absolutely love going to the market, having a café con leche in the morning or a beer in the evenings, and then savouring the atmosphere, the crowds, the piping hot tapas. This is all that much more pronounced in winter, when everyone huddles at the bar or around tables. The best of our market experiences is found in Barcelona, which was the start of our trip. Hence, since coming to Madrid, we’d sought out their markets eagerly.
Madrid’s Mercado de San Miguel was newly reopened after a few years’ worth of renovations. It’s a beautiful market, with wood and iron beams and large glass windows. The interior remains very much dim, where stores link one by one in the tiny little space. Instead of tables within shop spaces, community tables and stools are centred near the stores for customers to bring back their tapas mounts. Everything is worth a try at least once. Nearby there may be plenty of restaurants and cafés, but some of your best tapas will come from the cervecerias here. So, what do you eat?
Knock back plenty – and I really do mean plenty – of olives. They’re superbly fresh, PLUMP, and c’mon, they make your beer taste much better. It’s so much better than chomping on peanuts. These olives also come stuffed with pimentos, jamon, squid, red peppers. I spent about twenty minutes here just figuring out which to eat, knowing I couldn’t have it all. One thing appetite sure gives you, it’s the belief that your stomach is definitely as big as you think it is.
2. HAMBURGERS from the MEATING POINT
The smells that were just coming from this place is crazy, and it’s completely justified. They have wagyu, tartare, they do small little bites and regular hamburger patties. It’s not a fancy burger, you’re not buying into the whole fried onion, lettuce, onions, pickles what not – it’s all about the meat, and it’s on a bun with a dab of ketchup and mustard. And that’s all you really need.
3. SERIOUS TAPAS STUFF
Anything that comes on a crostini or baked with cheese, go for it. There are a few cervecerias here, one on each end of the market that is superb. A lot of their offerings are on display, but don’t forget to delve into their menu to find other gems such as this baked scallop.
Bocadillos are sandwiches made with Spanish bread cut lengthwise and stuffed with anything. This here wee little hot dog was at 1.50€. I was jumping up and down, as I do, grinning at my partner for us to have one. I was hoping my sheer excitement would justify us having this (because I really really really wanted to try it), despite it being sorta really expensive (about SGD2.50). Chalk it down to food in Europe being much more expensive, always factor that in when you’re setting aside food budget.
5. JAMON IBERICO
Don’t be cruel to yourself. Have some. No matter that you just had it somewhere else. You can certainly have it again. This store also introduced me to embutidos (sausages) in little plastic boxes that you could purchase for home. Pretty dainty, but I couldn’t help but find it fairly odd.
WHAT ABOUT PAELLAS?
If you’re heading to Madrid and to the mercado soon, have a look at the their paella store, a nibble of their dish, and tell me if it’s gotten better. Although it ran out quickly, I didn’t think this was exactly decent paella. It was crusty, dry, and generally lacking in flavour. If it’s your first time trying this dish, invest in an authentic one in a proper restaurant.
This is where plenty of homemakers come for groceries too, so if you come by the day you’d see plenty of haggling going on. The mercado’s modern yet historic charm (it’s been around since the 1916) makes for some interesting evening drinks and dining.
Mercado de San Miguel
Plaza San Miguel, Madrid, Spain (Centro)
Sun – Wed 10:00 – 22:00, Thu – Sat 10:00 – 02:00