Mercados are the heart and soul of any Spanish city. If you want to get under the skin of the place you’re visiting, make a beeline for the city’s biggest food market. Wander around each section (meat, vegetables, fish, etc.) and you will instantly see what the region’s all about. Then make your way to the mercado’s busiest bar, order what everyone else is drinking and demand your rightful complimentary tapa. If it’s something you’ve never clapped eyes on, even better.
La Latina’s Mercado de la Cebada is no exception. The place encapsulates Spanish culture to almost cliché levels: the heart and soul of Madrid is right here.
Every weekday, Mercado de la Cebada will sell you fresh produce from all over Spain. There’s also a good selection of local bars in the labyrinth of alleys both upstairs and downstairs, and even a few clothes stalls, toyshops and cobblers for some of the market’s more devout punters.
But then, every Saturday at lunchtime, Mercado de la Cebada transforms into what I will describe as nothing less than a seafood party.
The atmosphere is electric; iced molluscs and pulpo are flowing, and groups of friends doing what they do best: sharing food and belly-laughing, plastic cup of valdepeñas in one hand, half-eaten shrimp in the other.
Grab a few friends and get there no later than 2:30pm. Find one of the aproned chaps hovering in front of his stall, affectionately touching everyone with his fishy hands, and place your order per ración or by weight.
Before you take your polystyrene plates to the nearest paper-covered stack of crates, don’t forget to pick up your complimentary bottle of wine or cans of beer. Yeah… COMPLIMENTARY! Due to licensing rules, these shops can’t sell drinks. I imagine there’s a slight markup on the prices of seafood but, having said that, the prices are some of the lowest I’ve seen in Madrid, and the quality is some of the best.
There are cups, serviettes, toothpicks and mussel ‘spives’ (spoon-knives) strategically strewn around the stalls – a seafood spectacular with no frills, and all the better for it.
Address: Plaza de la Cebada, La Latina, 28005
Metro: La Latina (right outside)
Opening hours: Mon – Fri 9am-2pm / 5-8:30pm; Sat 9am-3pm
Another soulful neighbourhood market, not too far away, is Mercado de San Fernando in Lavapiés