Friday, December 17, 2010

The Markets and Supermarkets in Madrid

When we leave Madrid next month, I'm going to miss the great traditional mercados and supermarkets, where you can get such good fruits and vegetables, cheaply, in the right season. Many neighborhoods in Madrid (and all over Spain) have large halls with stalls that sell produce, meats, fish, cheese, nuts, olives, beans and a variety of other products. So you go from stall to stall (kind of like at the farmers' markets in the United States, although the mercados are indoors and the stalls are permanent) buying your food, deciding which vendors have better products and prices. Parsley is always free if you make a purchase (you ask for a little parsley and they grab a bunch and put it into your bag). Mercados, being in Spain, tend to have a little bar/cafe (just a counter, really) where you can get a cup of coffee, a slice of tortilla, olives or a beer and some jamon, and take a break while you shop.

We got to know some markets very well. We love the Mercado de Chamartin, which houses one of the most impressive fish stands I've ever seen. There you can get delicious sushi-grade tuna belly (if you get there early, because it is so good that they run out). The only downside of the Mercado de Chamartin is how expensive everything is. The best mercado, in my opinion, is Mercado Maravillas. It is large, you can find anything there, quality is high and the prices are right. There are hundreds of stalls. One of them sells great cheese from La Mancha. Another sells empanada gallega, many types (including one empanada made of tiny Galician scallops named zamburinas).

Fish is especially fresh and wonderful at these mercados. We often eat mackerel, which we buy fresh and grill at home. Mackerel (caballa in Spanish) is one of my favorite fish. The seabass is also amazing (we bake it with garlic and olive oil).

We also love Mercadona (a large chain of supermarkets, with a lot of good store-brand products), Carrefour (a French chain, where we do a lot of our everyday shopping), and Hipercor, a supermarket that is part of the Spanish department store chain El Corte Ingles. Hipercor has fancier products and the prices are a bit higher. We get our quinoa and our tahini there.

We also shop on occasion at the Aldi and Lidl stores, which are discount German supermarkets with a lot of interesting merchandise, such as foreign candy and chocolates, pickled herring and wines from all over the world. The Aldi chain owns Trader Joe's since the 1970s, and you can see a little bit of the Trader Joe's ethos in their European cousins (Trader Joe's is more gourmet, has a more comprehensive line of products and is more fun, by the way, than these stores).

Another store that we really like is called Makro. Everything comes in large sizes and they don't give you bags, a bit like Costco in the United States. Makro is not cheap, but you can get some things that are hard to get elsewhere. At Makro, we buy: frozen wild salmon from Alaska, a whole ribeye from Argentina (fresh and not previously frozen), Italian mozzarella, dulce de leche, a very good Malbec and De Cecco pasta. And today at Makro we bought the box of apples you can see on top.
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  1. Sounds amazing!! I live in such a fresh food void. It's one of the things I dislike most about this area.

  2. Michelle, there are no farmers markets there or great seafood?

  3. Our area has pretend farmer's markets...maybe 2. Neither is good. I never buy seafood. When I have it I get it from Shane or someone else who caught it. Further south, the Homestead area, there are probably real farmer's markets. That's where s. florida's agriculture is.

  4. One thing I loved about living in Los Angeles was the easy availability of great produce. Amazing farmers markets over there, although no bargains.