Mercat de la Boqueria- Barcelona, Spain

A trip to Barcelona wouldn’t be complete without at least 1 trip to the fantastic Mercat de la Boqueria, one of the largest and most famous marketplaces in Europe.  Although you will be one of about a thousand tourists at any given time, it’s a must-see place that showcases the local food culture, fresh catches from the sea, and most importantly the live spirit of the hard-working merchants.  Located in La Rambla in the Gothic Quarters half-way between Plaça Catalunya and the beaches (right in front of the Metro stop Liceu), it’s easy to spot the wrought iron entrance to this famous market.  Although the market can be historically dated back as far as the early 12oo’s, it settled into its current location in the early 1800’s.

Just in front of the entrance is a wonderful jamón shop that specializes in the marvelous jamón iberico de bellota, cured ham made with free-range acorn-fed Iberian pigs that have the most flavorful and aromatic fat.  The men behind the counter will skillfully shave as little or as many slices as you want, from a wide range of selections.  You can also buy pre-sliced vacuum sealed packs to take home with you.  I had a few slices of the Joselito Gran Reserva 2006 ham- the intense nutty aroma instantly perfumed my nasal passages as the tender marbled fat melted quickly on my tongue, leaving a faint delectable aftertaste and a smile on my face.  At 169 Euros a kilo, it wasn’t cheap, but it was worth every bite.  There are many more jamón stalls scattered throughout the market, so you can get your fix every few minutes as you slowly browse.

I loved walking through the meat section, slowly checking out the infinite displays of beautifully prepared organ meats from all types of animals.  Most people may quickly pass by these butcher cases in horror or disgust, but I had my nose pressed tightly up against the glass, imagining the tasty dishes that would be created from the fresh tripe, tongue, hoofs and brains.  If only I had enough time to eat everything here…

The seafood stalls also offered a wide variety of local fish and mollusks, even some that I had never seen before.   Everything looked absolutely fresh and beautiful.  They even had about 10 stalls solely dedicated to Bacalao, the Catalan specialty of dried salt cod.  My favorite photo from the Boqueria market is this close up of the razor clams.  Raw, uncensored and strangely erotic, these live navajas looked so delicious.

During my stay in Barcelona, I strategically chose a hotel in the Gothic Quarters that was a short walking distance to the Boqueria market.  I knew that I would be frequenting this market at all times of the day, and my plan worked perfectly.  One of my favorite activities to do was to enjoy the fresh fruit juices at any of the numerous fruit stalls by the entrance to the market.  For only 1 Euro a cup, they offered a wide variety of juices from orange, strawberry, kiwi and mango, to watermelon and pineapple.  I was hooked on the bright magenta colored dragon fruit juice that was light and refreshing.

The wonderful Boqueria market is closed on Sundays, but open from 8am on all other days.  The amazing tapas bars, freshly squeezed fruit juices and hand-carved slices of Jamón Iberico de Bellota are waiting for you.  Come to Mercat de la Boqueria, the heart of Barcelona, and experience how this city center pumps energy and life into the souls of all who fall under its spell.

Mercat de St. Josep de la Boqueria

Random trivia: According to legend, the dragon fruit was created thousands of years ago by fire-breathing dragons.  After the dragon was slayed, the collected fruit would be presented to the Emperor as a treasure and proof of victory.

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Les Halles – Lyon, France

Lyon

Lyon

The next stop after Burgundy on my recent Europe trip was Lyon, known as the French capital of gastronomy.  Our culinary partner-in-crime Gregory gave us a quick introductory tour of Lyon, through the cobblestone streets of old town vieux Lyon and across the bridges over the Rhône and Saône rivers.  With the beautiful Notre Dame de Fourvière standing magestically above the mountains, and cafes and bouchons lining the riverside, Lyon was quite a sight to take in.

IMG_6970All that walking got us hungry- when can we start eating some food?  After all, we were in Lyon.  With only 2 hours to go until our dinner reservations, we couldn’t help but indulge in some quick but good eats.  Gregory knew just the place to satiate our needs, and took us straight to the marketplace Les Halles.

Les Halles is an amazing place stocked full of the best foods in the world.  Row after row of food stalls, seafood bars and restaurants throw temptation in your face from all angles.  The vegetables stalls have the freshest vegetables bursting with flavor and juice, and the charcuterie stalls with infinite selections of hanging saucissons and hams.  The fromageries boasted an assortment of cheeses that I’ve never encountered before in my life, and a macaroon shop offered about 30 different flavors (even white truffle, olive oil and foie gras flavors! ).  There was a pastry shop dedicated solely to pralines, and about 4 different oyster bars. In fact, this Les Halles in Lyon is named after famed French chef Paul Bocuse.  I wish we had a marketplace like this in Los Angeles.  If such a place existed, I would probably be there every day.

Seafood stall

Seafood stall

Macaroon stall

Macaroon stall

Praline store

Praline store

Patisserie

Patisserie

Vegetable stall

Vegetable stall

Fromagerie

Fromagerie

Charcuterie

Charcuterie

We decided to eat some oysters, and sat down at a table by the oyster bar at the Ecailler Cellerier.  Gregory had just been there earlier that day for oysters, so the patron recognized him right away.  The kind patron gave us a warm welcome, and joined us for some conversation and a white wine toast.

Sharing a toast with the patron of Ecailler

Sharing a toast with the patron of Ecailler Cellerier

We tried 4 types of oysters: Marennes Fine de Claire, Isigny de Normandie, Speciales Gillardeau Number 3 and Speciales Gillardeau Number 4.  My favorite was the Gillardeau Number 3, a 3rd grade oyster harboured in the Marennes region of France from the legendary family-run oyster farm Gillardeau.  They were plump, rich, luxurious and divine, and truly some of the best oysters that I’ve ever tasted in my life.  So this is the famous Gillardeau oyster…now I see what all the fuss is about!  Some claim that these oysters are the best in the world, and many 3 Michelin star restaurants in France serve them.

Speciales Gillardeau N3 oysters

Speciales Gillardeau N3 oysters

Speciales Gillardeau N4 oysters

Speciales Gillardeau N4 oysters

Master oyster shucker

Master oyster shucker

Plate of oysters....so yummy

The most delicious and precious plate of oysters

Within the first 2 hours of arriving in Lyon, we were already at Les Halles having some of the best oysters in the world.  Les Halles here in Lyon is not a place to be missed.

Ah, Lyon, I love you already.  More exciting gastronomic adventures to come!

Random trivia:  Did you know that a baby oyster (larvae) is called a ‘spat’?