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Making Madrid Markets More Modern

Mercado San Miguel in Madrid
Mercado San Miguel in Madrid.

Mercado de San Miguel

Upon stepping inside Madrid’s Mercado de San Miguel on a Saturday night, you may have a couple of reactions. One, you can feel claustrophobic; the crowds, including many foreigners, are overwhelming. Two, you can acknowledge that you are one of the crowd, get over it, and collectively enjoy some of Madrid’s most delicious foods.

That is, if you can make up your mind what you wish to order. Spanish dishes are an obvious choice if you want to sample from the wide variety of traditional tastes. From the typical Spanish cerdo ibérico (Iberian pig) to mejillones (mussels) from the South and North, to Valencian paella, the options are many. To accompany such fare, a glass or two of fruity, homemade sangría is a good choice.

As a madrileño, or as much as a Madrid native you may strive to be, you might succumb to the temptation of a tasty Italian gelato for dessert. Italian ice cream is a recent addition to the market.

During the Medieval period, it used to be an open-air market for locals. Eventually, a church was built at the very location. After the church burned down, an iron-structured market was first built in 1913. The remaining famous iron structure, which has been conserved since the beginning of the 20th century, is part of the uniqueness and appeal of what is now one of the oldest markets in Madrid.

By the end of the 20th century, however, competition from other markets, such as the Mercados de Monstenses, La Cebada, Chamberi, and La Paz — not to mention the rise of supermarkets — increased. Eventually, the Mercado de San Miguel was in dire need of a more modern look to meet the increased competition.

The 2009 renovation included the current crystal and iron structure, which allows natural light to flow. The 75 old stands were substituted by the current complex, with the help of a company called El Gastronomo de San Miguel, which now owns the majority of the market. International stands and dining options were introduced, making the market more appealing to a new target audience.

“[The Mercado de San Miguel] is always full, I think they should start adding more seating options,” says Fernando Alcazar, who currently works at the market. “I see people buy a lot of things to take home, but they should also be able to enjoy it here.”

While the Mercado de San Miguel is known for its tapas atmosphere, where all the dishes are consumed standing up or on bar chairs, other Madrid markets offer sit-down options.

Fresh asparagus at Mercado San Miguel
Fresh asparagus at Mercado San Miguel.

Mercado San Antón

Case in point: the Mercado San Antón. First built in 1945 as an open-air market as well, during the end of the 1990’s consumer demands and changes in habit led to its decline. The market was later torn down in 2007, and in 2011 reopened to target the contemporary consumption patterns of both madrileños and tourists.

The renovation consisted in the creation of a modern three-floor, closed market. In the basement, you will find a supermarket, while the top (third) floor includes a restaurant and terrace bar, called the Cocina de San Antón, run by the notorious Cinco Jotas. The concept is unique: in addition to conventional menu options, you can buy fresh fish and meat downstairs at the market and then take it upstairs to the restaurant. At the Cocina, the fish and meat will then be cooked for you and accompanied as you wish — with vegetables, patatas fritas, or another side dish.

Jamón at Cocina San Antón, Madrid
Jamón at Cocina San Antón.

If you have had enough meat and fish during your stay in Madrid, you can also enjoy tastes of Italy, Greece, America, or even Japan from the different stands that now form part of the San Antón Market.

Mercedes Lorenzo, who works at the Bacalao stand, which serves different seafood tapas, says, “There are definitely more tourists now that more stands have been added.” She is surprised that her delicious and mix of sweet and seafood tapas are still very popular amongst the tourists visiting the market. “International stands have decreased the number of customers for Spanish stands, but then again they have also increased the number of tourists,” she says.

Rosa Soto, one of the employees at 24 café, a dessert stand, similarly affirms that, “We have an advantage because we are an international dessert stand, so we get people from everywhere around the world, however our peak hours are in the afternoons and evenings for tapas and drinks.”

While the origins of the Mercado de San Miguel and the Mercado San Antón reach far back in time, new markets such as the Mercado Moncloa are only a few years old.

Mercado Moncloa

Near the Complutense University, the Mercado Moncloa looks small compared to other Madrid markets, more like a larger food store, including desserts and sushi. With eight bars and one restaurant, it seems as though the owners tried their best to launch another market, but have not yet succeeded in the manner they would wish.

Desserts at Mercado Moncloa, Madrid
Desserts at Mercado Moncloa.

Mercado Isabela

In fact, not all investments in new markets go well. Investors poured 31 million Euros into avant-garde design and 36 food stands at the Mercado Isabela. In 2012, the market open with two floors to start with the idea being to open another top floor restaurant.

At first, it seemed that the Mercado Isabela exemplified one of the most important changes to the history of markets in Madrid. While in traditional times, they were open (literally, open-air) and affordable to all, in this model the clientele were essentially only those with a substantial budget who could afford to try all the rich foods they had to offer. For example, a mere piece of bread at the Mercado Isabela cost a steep two Euros.

However, it appears the public did not respond well to the higher prices. Only a little over a year later, the management decided to close the Mercado Isabela once again.

Yet the market movement in Madrid continues.

Platea Madrid

Opened in autumn 2014, Platea Madrid is housed in a former movie theater. The market includes a mouth-watering fruit store at the entranceway, several shops inside, with a functional theater occupying the main space. The former movie balconies have been converted into restaurant seating. While there are Spanish empanadas (savory pies) and jamon (ham), the sushi is particularly delicious – and expensive. Fortunately, in Spain, you can also just order a tape and a cane, or beer, and no one will look at you in a strange way. No matter what you choose to order, enjoy – no renovation will ever stand in the way of the Spanish love for food.

For More Information

Recommendations for Visiting Markets

  • Come hungry.
  • Bring cash.
  • Explore your options before purchasing.
  • Be patient.
  • Be open minded and willing to try new tastes.
  • Seating options may be limited, so be on the lookout to claim your seat.

Madrid’s Most Popular Markets

Mercado San Miguel
A market offering more than just local seasonal food, it is also a great place to get together.
Plaza de San Miguel, s/n. 28005 Madrid. (+34) 915 42 49 36.

Mercado de Torrijos
Traditional Spanish market in the Salamanca neighborhood.
Calle del General Díaz Porlier, 8. 28001 Madrid. (+34) 914 35 07 89.

Mercado Moncloa
Sit down, buffet-style restaurant.
C/Arcipreste de Hita, 10. 28015 Madrid. (+34) 915 49 60 08.

Platea Madrid
Market inside an old movie theatre.
C/ Goya 5-7. 28001 Madrid. (+34) 91 577 00 25. For reservations on the top floor restaurant, contact (+34) 91 219 23 05.

Mercado San Antón
Buy your meat and fish at the market, and then head upstairs to the Cocina de San Antón to have it cooked as you wish.
Calle de Augusto Figueroa, 2. 28004 Madrid. (+34) 913 30 07 30.

DECA GAPBRAVE is a student travel guide and forms part of the ROOSTERGNN Global News Network. Coined by ROOSTERGNN, DECAS are groups of people who collaborate on a series of journalistic projects. Join a DECA at rgnn.org.

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