Market Scene: La Boqueria in Barcelona
La Boqueria has to be one of the world's greatest markets. Located just off La Rambla, the busy pedestrian-friendly boulevard, it's a must-visit for any serious eater in Barcelona. The colorful, abundant aisles are packed with tourists and locals alike shopping for Jamón Iberico, fresh fruit, seafood, all sorts of animal parts (tongues, heads, and organs galore), eggs, fresh juices, nuts, cheese, and olives.
You can't walk a couple steps before seeing the first jamón vendor on the right side of La Boqueria's entrance. And if for some reason you don't stop, there are easily 10 more jamon vendors inside. Some of them don't speak English so if you can't speak Spanish or haven't brushed up on your Catalan, here's a quick jamón primer for shopping. (Special thanks to SE'r Jose of this internet-based jamón shop for your help!)
Quick Jamón Shopping Primer
If you want nothing but the best, look for Jamón Ibérico de Bellota. This means dry-cured ham coming from "Iberico" (Iberian) race pigs that have been raised in the wild in the traditional way (not in farms) in Spain's southwestern pasture lands (Extremadura, Huelva). They've been fed acorns ("bellotas") and grass during their finishing period.
From there it's time to choose which Ibérico de Bellota you want. The safest bet (to ensure a consistently high quality) is to go for a ham from a producer that is inscribed in a Denomination of Origin (DO). There are four Jamón Ibérico DOs in Spain:
- Dehesa de Extremadura (Extremadura region)
- Guijuelo (Salamanca region)
- Huelva (Huelva region)
- Los Pedroches (Córdoba region)
The first one, D.O. Dehesa de Extremadura, is known for enforcing the strictest quality controls.
Another option is to shop by brand. These producers aren't actually backed by any DO but are regarded as some of the best jamón brands in Spain: Maldonado, Joselito, or CInco Jotas.
You'll need at least a good 45 minutes to wander the aisles and take it all in first. There are all sorts of vendors: fruit, veggies, candy, dried fruit and nuts, eggs, seafood and of course meat—cows, rabbits, ducks, geese, lambs, chicken, with many parts still in tact. Some of them start to get repetitive after a thorough lap around the market, so when you realize you need those ostrich eggs you just passed, there's probably another egg stall just around the corner.
There are also a number of tapas bars interspersed throughout the stalls. SE favorite Bar Pinotxo, is located near the front entrance. Grab a bar stool (and there aren't many, so prepare to hover before scoring one) for tortilla de verduras (a vegetable omelet) or a stew of chickpeas and morcilla (cocido de garbanzos) or really just anything that looks good next to you.