One of the most entertaining ways to get to know this city is to visit its market halls with their fascinating displays of foods to be purchased and tasted.
For a tourist, a great method of seeing a place is to mix in with the inhabitants in order to get a close-up view of their culture and one good way to do this in Madrid is to visit a municipal market hall. Here you’ll get a first-hand knowledge of the local products, which you can see and taste in these very pleasant facilities.
It’s interesting to ponder the fact that discovering the myriad colours and aromas that are always found in markets, and watching the local people as they go from stall to stall to make their purchases, is a typical activity for tourists when they visit the North African countries. Considering the importance of the Mediterranean diet throughout the world, however, it’s rather surprising to find that visiting the wonderful Spanish markets has yet to become one of the indispensable experiences of every visitor to our country, and all the more so since the markets here feature excellent eating places where you can taste everything you may see on display.
Madrid’s most popular market hall is surely the San Miguel Market, which stands next to the city’s historical Main Square – the majestic Plaza Mayor. This is a superb facility where you can taste an endless variety of foods of the very highest quality in the typical Spanish manner, accompanying them with a glass of good wine or beer. While nibbling tasty titbits here in the form of “tapas” or “pinchos”, you can admire the spectacular original wrought-iron structure that dates back to 1916. However, other delightful market halls are also well worth a visit in Madrid.
The San Fernando Market opened in 1944 and features a monumental façade in the classic Habsburg architectural style as was fashionable in Spain in the times of Francisco Franco. Inside, the aisles converge like streets in a square in the centre of the market hall. All this shows that the modern and the ancient go hand in hand in Spain’s capital. For example, the San Ildefonso Market, which was demolished in 1970, has given way to an updated concept of the ‘street food market’, offering a combination of leisure, enjoyment and socializing centred around good eating. In the purest American or Asian style, the new San Ildefonso Market has been designed as an extension of Calle Fuencarral, where it stands. It is even elegantly paved with stone like the street outside.
The market halls of the city have all been modernized and some even feature a new model of sustainability, as is the case of the San Antón Market. Here, the central skylight acts as a photovoltaic energy collector, the flooring is made of molten basalt, and a special system reduces the volume of organic wastes by 80%. The market hall’s bottom floor is devoted to the sale of perishable foods; the next floor is the site of a tavern and wine bar plus ten show-cooking stalls where you can taste the various specialities, and on the top floor there is a splendid restaurant where you can have food that you’ve bought in the market below cooked for you immediately and sit down at a table to enjoy it in comfort. This is a great idea to let you choose and savour market-fresh products without the need to prepare and cook them yourself.