Freshly washed cobbled stone paths. The sound of metal screeching as vendors open up their booths. People calling out “buon dia” to those walking by. This is morning in La Boqueria, the largest and probably most well-known market in Spain.
While visiting Barcelona with my sister and niece, our hotel was just a couple of blocks from La Boqueria on the La Rambla, and we came here for breakfast every day during our short stay. Each breakfast was eaten at one of the food booths where you look for a spot at the counter, pull up a stool and start pointing at items on the menu or ingredients at the counter to order.
On the three full days here, we dined at three different stalls: Bar Central, El Quim and Kiosko Universal.
Bar Central (toward the back of the market) was actually a stall I dined at when I first visited Barcelona eight years ago. I fondly remember the grilled calamari with a squirt of basil oil, the flavor of the calamari taking on the char taste of the grill that has seared much seafood over the years.
So I knew that’s what I would order. I unconsciously went through the same routine I did eight years ago when I tried to order “sepia,” which is Catalan for cuttlefish, but was told they only had calamari. (Looking around I later saw some sepia at a seafood stall and they looked like giant cuttlefish.)
The plate of calamari had more brown sear marks than I remembered and the basil oil lacked some punch, but it still satisfied because of the freshness of the calamari – flavored like most dishes here with a sprinkling of sea salt.
My sister tried a plate of gambas, or prawns, and it looked like a large plate even though it was just a half order. My niece ate the traditional breakfast of tortilla, which in Spain is an omelette (not the wrap for burritos). Both commented about the flavors and freshness.
One of the more popular food stalls is El Quim (pronounced El Keem as I found out while asking a nearby fruit stall vendor as we hunted the market for the stall). Situated near the center of the sprawling La Boqueria, El Quim is closed on Sunday and Monday, so plan appropriately. (It’s also apparently popular for dinner.)
The tiny stall with vibrant and bustling workers wearing bright pink shirts offered an extensive menu in English. I ordered a breakfast dish known as Huevos Fritos Chipirones (19 euros or $23.60), which was a plate of fried eggs topped with a mountain of grilled baby squids. This had a lot of flavor but I was bothered by the sandiness of the squids.
My sister ordered a plate of deep-fried squids (19.50 euros or $24.20) that was more food than she could eat alone (she shared it with some guys next to us since you know I don’t eat deep-fried foods so I wasn’t any help). My niece (who doesn’t like seafood) ordered the albondigas guisadas, or boiled meatballs (9.75 euros or $12.10), and we shared a pretty plate of asparagus wrapped with jamon (8.50 euros or $10.50).
On our last day, we decided to try an unknown, the Kiosko Universal, which had one of the larger counter space with a modern, California décor. I ordered the butifarra (8 euros of $10), which is a traditional Catalan sausage served up with baked beans that are lightly pan-fried to crisp the edges. It was a brilliant way to serve up beans and the entire plate (finished with a squirt of basil oil) was hearty and filling.
My niece ordered the tortilla de patata (omelette with potatoes, 3 euros or $3.75) served with the traditional bread rubbed with tomatoes, while my sister got a plate of mixed vegetables or salteado setas (8 euros or $10). I think because of our previous experience of ordering at the other food stalls, we were more conservative this time so dining at this kiosk seemed pretty reasonable compared to the earlier two.
The seafood dishes can be pricey, but they’re often large enough to share. Going to breakfast at the market is a jolt to your senses (helping you wake up if you had a late evening as most Barcelonians are known to do), walking through the brilliant colors of the fruit and vegetable stalls and smelling the fresh seafood frying up on the grill.
Like they say, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. And you can’t go wrong getting your fill at any of these three food stalls at La Boqueria to sustain you for a day of sightseeing.
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