Eating in Madrid: Mercado de San Miguel
T he seconds were relentlessly ticking away towards lunch time as the sol de Octubre was shining brightly on the growing mass of tourists and natives flowing in and out of this historic building of decorative iron posts guarding a wall of glass. The fragrant greetings of colorful fresh fruits and decadent desserts seem to reach out into the plaza with the temerity to tempt and tantalize you every time the main doors opened.
I dare you to defy the seduction of those irresistible aromas if you happen to find yourself wandering the streets of Madrid near Plaza Mayor and feel the pangs of hunger gnawing away in your stomach. Consider surrendering to temptation and heeding its calls by stopping in at the famous Mercado de San Miguel. Your senses will be handsomely rewarded.
The historic market is clean, modern and vibrant, with 31 vendors selling everything from seafood to fresh fruit; tapas to pasta; edible flowers to cosmetics; pastries to meat; yogurt to beer and wine. I found the prices of many products to be moderate: not cheap but not too expensive; and the quality seemed to be moderate to high. I sampled a variety of items, of which I will highlight a few here.
Being in Spain, it was only natural that I try a small skewer of Spanish olives paired with mild white anchovies which I heard calling my name from inside the refrigerated glass case.
You would think that you would be inundated by a barrage of sodium — and you are — but the flavors and the salt complemented each other harmoniously with a perfectly slight note of bitterness.
The counter of La Casa del Bacalao is where varieties of seafood tapas was sold; and jockeying for position amongst the ravenous was challenging at best. The women behind the counter appeared to be simultaneously frazzled yet efficient as they fulfilled order after order with aplomb. One woman and I sidled over to the less-crowded side counter, where our orders were eventually taken without having to directly compete what seemed to be a growing mob.
One euro plunked on the counter bought you one item of tapas. The crunchy toast was the perfect vehicle for the flavorful Ajoarriero codfish with tomato and vegetables.
I could not leave without trying the ubiquitous churro, which is long thick strands of ridged dough which are fried and sprinkled with sugar.
Not being a fan of fried dough, I nonetheless forked over the three Euros at the counter of Horno San Onofre — which was thankfully empty at that time — and promptly received a bag of the famed Spanish treat with a cup of hot chocolate.
I was pleasantly surprised: the churros were not greasy; and the chocolate had a fuller and richer flavor than I expected. After trying a bite by itself, I decided that I preferred when the churro was dipped in the cup of hot chocolate — although the combination was not as sweet as I would have imagined. Wouldn’t you know that there was the right amount of chocolate left as I held my last piece of churro?
Mercado de San Miguel is a great place to go if you like your food à la carte and fast yet fresh; with plenty of variety to satisfy virtually any palate — without having to break the bank. It is an ideal place to sample the flavors and cuisine of Madrid and of Spain. There are counters inside along the windows in the front where you can place your items and take a momentary break while you eat before venturing back out onto the streets of Madrid. Try to visit during off-hours when it is not as crowded — unless you like to observe people, which for some is part of the charm.
It is located just north of what I thought was the oldest restaurant in the world; but it is considerable less expensive.
Mercado de San Miguel
Plaza de San Miguel
s/n 28005, Madrid
Telephone number (+34) 915 42 49 36
Either the Sol or Opera stations of the 1, 2, 3 and 5 lines of the Metro are located within walking distance only minutes away
The market is open during the following hours:
Sunday through Wednesday from 10:00 in the morning through midnight
Thursday through Saturday from 10:00 in the morning through 2:00 in the morning
All photographs ©2014 by Brian Cohen.