We had the best of intentions while in Barcelona. The Catalonian town boasts some great art galleries – the Picasso Museum, Fundació Joan Miró, the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art and the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, to name a few. There’s also some interesting museums: the Dali Museum in nearby Figueres and Antoni Gaudi’s La Pedrera come to mind. We were a bit exhausted after a whirlwind 2 week tour of Morocco and we ended up going mainly to places that were walking distance from our apartment near Las Ramblas. Though not an art gallery, the Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria is the place where we saw some of the most stunningly artistic displays of fresh food.
I take that back…La Boqueria is an art gallery. The range of bright, vibrant colors is amazing. Rich dark-red chunks of tuna, plump purple-green figs, earth-toned hues of dried fruits and nuts and bright green watermelons cut open to reveal juicy red interiors. It’s also a sculpture gallery. Dangling mobiles of vibrant-yellow bananas, vertical checkerboards of multicolored fruits and candies, neatly-placed rows of crab resembling soldiers in formation and a “fish wheel” of 12 sardines with each eye representing an hour on an analog clock.
I’m just as happy viewing the perfectly-placed pyramids of blood oranges than gazing at Gaudi’s modernist seed pod spires. I find the overlapping arrangement of the fishmonger’s silvery mackerel is as visually arresting as some of Picasso’s early works and the array of colorful fruits and vegetables surpasses the palette range of Joan Miró. How it all happens this way is no accident. Many of the vendors take at least 2 hours to set up their food stalls, spending much of that time carefully arranging displays, lovingly forming pyramids of oranges, apples and peaches.
La Boqueria has been around for several centuries. The first mention of the market was in 1217 when tables were installed near the old city gate to sell meat. Later on it became a pig market, then a straw market and for quite a while it was used for fishmongers and butchers. In 1826 the market was legally recognized and in 1835 a convention voted to build a covered structure to house the market. Construction began on March 19, 1840 under the direction of the architect Mas Vilà. The market officially opened in the same year, but the plans for the building were modified many times. The inauguration of the structure finally took place in 1853. A new fish market opened in 1911, and the metal roof that still exists today was constructed in 1914.
We went to La Boqueria every day. We bought tasty and beautiful green beans from the chatty vegetable merchant. She remembered us when we returned the next day. We stopped at the egg vendor displaying many varieties, all positioned in straw baskets and, after waiting for her to finish her conversation with her boyfriend, purchased a dozen which she carefully placed in a clear plastic bag. We stopped every day and purchased Serrano ham from the meat counter and the baker sold us crusty artisan bread loaves fresh out of the oven. We never made it to the museums that I mentioned above but that was fine with us. Barcelona is fairly expensive, but shopping for food at La Boqueria was an enjoyable way to make the city more affordable.