I must tell you about the food markets in Madrid. I went to three. One was a tourist hot spot that was in all the ‘Visit Madrid’ books. It was an old iron-framed market place that had been upgraded and re-styled. It was called Mercado de San Miguel.
There was a buzz about the place and a tourist hype that was infectious, so much so I bought a garlic holder with ‘Mercado de San Miguel’ painted on the lid from the souvenir stall promoting the market. Most of the market was geared up to showcase produce and offer visitors tasting samples of foods carefully presented for sale. Tapas, tostas or mini toasts (‘Todo los Pinchos’ at 1 euro each!) were topped with every type and part of fish you could think of. Each product was beautifully hand-crafted to tempt. They were like the canapé you imagine you will make but never quite achieve. Eating areas were set out well with tall tables and stools enabling everyone to enjoy the frenetic market vibes and indulge in delicious food. There were fruits, vegetables, fish and seafoods, coffee, cheeses, cured meats, olives, oils and spices alongside cakes, pastries and other foodie gifts.
The second market Mercado de la Cebada was less for the tourist and more for everyday life in Madrid. It was open in the morning and again from 5.30pm in the evening. It had been an iron frame market but after it had fallen into disrepair had had to be completely re-built.
I saw the market open after the siesta. I stood watching the stall holders clean their glitzy stands that looked akin to those in the fairground. Shiny shutters and metallic fronts displayed colourful trade names. You could almost see your face on the swept and cleaned floors. The displays emerged one by one, as blossom on trees. Each stall holder proudly and beautifully presented their produce ranging from fruits and vegetables to meats, cheeses, eggs and condiments.
I enjoyed looking at the cheese made from the milk of goats, sheep, ewes, and cows. (I remember being surprised how many Spanish cheeses there were when I visited the Good Food Show last year at the NEC and saw the prize winning cheese display.)
Even the humble ‘eggy’ bread, fried until golden and served with citrus jam rather like marmalade, is a favourite breakfast dish on cafe menus.
The final market was in a smart shopping and business area. This seemed somewhat strange but as the daily shop forms part of life in Madrid it provided a much needed one-stop shop for local office workers and those about town. Centro Commercial la Paz was tucked away yet as busy and vibrant as the other two larger markets. It sold the same produce, the same fresh ingredients but to smartly suited business workers and designer clad women straight from the expensive shops on the neighbouring streets. It was obviously valued as the source of ‘deli’ style ingredients that formed part of daily shopping life in Madrid. My market visits were complete and I pondered later on how I might take inspiration from what I had seen.
Entrance to Centro Mercado Commercial la Paz
Taking ideas forward – a personal view
I could see that colours, textures and flavours come easily when you select from good quality fresh ingredients. Regular shopping is the way to achieve this and something that I believe is part of the way of life for people in Madrid whether it be purchasing from markets or shops.
During my visit the weather was balmy, not too hot, and at that temperature I felt comfortable when picking from a range of small portions of food. Not only was it a nice way to relax and take a break but also it was not over-facing. I wondered if perhaps portion size was something the ’Brits’ need to consider for improving health and weight in the long term. Certainly I enjoyed smaller and tasty morsels of food and going through the process of choosing from tantalizing selections.
I loved the simple dishes such as Tostas. These ’on toast’ snacks looked so beautiful and tasted good too. I could imagine making them slightly larger for a mid-day light snack and dressing them with tapenade (olive pate) let down with olive oil. I suppose what impressed me was just how good simple ingredients can be when served this way.
I noticed the use of garlic, pimento and saffron to enrich the flavour of ‘bland’ products like rice, bread and some potatoes. I think I could be more liberal in my use of these products and also with the addition of splendid olive oil. I vow to spend more on good oil.
My use of some of the spices may increase. I tasted smoked paprika that worked in ‘unison’ with pork in the tiny Chorizo and rather enjoyed the oil that oozed from the sausages when they were warmed. I began to think of using Chorizo to replace bacon in some dishes or using finely diced Chorizo with peas or Brussells sprouts as a way to introduce more flavour and colour.
I recognised the value of the egg, from its use in mayonnaise, cakes and pastries to dishes
based on hard-boiled egg, omelettes (tortilla) and set puddings (caramel crème). Long live the egg.