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The Markets of Madrid: The Three You Can’t Miss

June 2, 2016

The secret to the soul of a mercado is its fresh produce. Just as you buy your groceries for dinner here, the food stalls are doing the same, and with the same ingredients as you, they’re making something your tiny little Spanish kitchen could only dream of.

All 3 mercados in this article have the basics in common: you can buy quality fresh produce here from Monday to Saturday; there’ll also be a cobbler, a florist, an organic veg stall, a hairdresser, but most of all, you can eat, drink, shop and marchar here, so why would you go anywhere else?

The seafood selection at Mercado de la Cebada
The seafood selection at Mercado de la Cebada

MERCADO SAN FERNANDO

Otherwise known as Mercado de Lavapies, it has the atmosphere of a late-night summer street party – just like the barrio. Order a blue wine from brand-new Sondelata, then migrate over to the Greek deli and order some mezze: every ración comes with a disproportionately large scoop of Kalamata olives whose salt content just encourages further drinking, and that takes us to La Buena Pinta – a specialist beer place with all but every beer from around the world.

There’s a Japanese diner, an Asturian Sidrería, a cake stall, cheese specialist, more wine bars, but if you love traditional Madrid ‘old-man’ bars, there’s a great one here tucked into a corner. It’s the last of its kind in this Mercado – a bitter sweet fact of evolving hyper-cultural Lavapies – but this bar is absolutely here to stay and so it should.

On Sundays, Mercado San Fernando turns itself up a notch and puts on live music where you’re encouraged to dance like no-one’s watching.

Mercado San Fernando's 'Old-man bar'
Mercado San Fernando’s ‘Old-man bar’

MERCADO ANTON MARTIN

This quaint, 2-storey mercado with a reputable flamenco school on the 3rd floor just won’t stop. Every time I go, I’m shocked to find yet another cool new place to sink my teeth into. To date, there’s a tasty Taiwanese deli, a suave oyster bar, a snazzy new wine & croquette bar next to an old-timer Cuban joint, a cereal bar that opened last week, a hearty Mexican eatery, a vegan restaurant, a compact sushi diner constantly packed to the brim, a chic ceviche eatery, an even chic-er vermouth bar, and a devout fresh seaweed shop.

A favourite addition to Mercado Anton Martin, however, is La Saletta – one of the best Italians in Madrid. Lunch is the best time to go, because they won’t have run out of the burrata yet. The pizzas and pastas are straight out of Italy, as is the wine, the atmosphere, and of course, the owners.

Mercado Anton Martin's cereal bar, Cuban diner and Croquette & Wine bar
Mercado Anton Martin’s cereal bar, Cuban diner and Croquette & Wine bar

MERCADO DE LA CEBADA

This is Madrid’s biggest mercado and also one of the best-preserved. Downstairs there’s an impressive number of fruit and veg stalls with unrivalled Mediterranean variety and a tonne of friendly faces. Go upstairs and you feel like you’ve stepped into a Moroccan medina with dimly-lit labyrinths of densely-stocked meat and dairy stalls. There’s also a cool event space upstairs which hosts the biannual Music and Dealers festival – if you’re a vinyl lover, you can’t miss this.

The seafood party in full swing at Mercado de la Cebada
The seafood party in full swing at Mercado de la Cebada

On Saturdays, by around midday, the biggest seafood event in town is in full swing. It’s some of the best seafood in Madrid, and also the cheapest. With any seafood you buy, you’re entitled to a free bottle of wine or can of Mahou from the iced buckets on the floor. Perch the lot on the nearest paper-covered stack of crates, tuck in with a spife (spoon-knife), and enjoy a no-frills knees-up because tomorrow’s still the weekend.

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More about Leah

Always on the lookout for humble eateries, busy bars, immigrant culture and local secrets, though occasionally Wes twists my arm and has me dining like a queen. Find me @madridnofrills on Facebook, Instagram & Twitter.

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