Breath. Inhale the fragrant aromas. Pick out the smells of jamon, chocolate and fresh strawberries.
Open your eyes to an array of colors that put a smile on your lips, and entice your tongue do a happy dance in anticipation.
Don’t sit. Stand. Wander and explore. This is Mercado de San Miguel, and it has a host of delectable counters just waiting to take your euros and give you a sampling of some of Madrid’s finest flavors.
As you can see, not much gets the adjectives flowing for me like food. Before our trip to Spain in late 2013, I had read about the San Miguel market. It was on our list of things to check out. I knew it was touristy, but it also housed some tasty tapas in a recently renovated early-20th-century building that was worth a look. Lucky for us, our vacation rental was only a few blocks away.
Gather all of your euro coins and head into the market for a tapas sampling. Move from stall to stall ordering one plate of fresh salmon with dill sauce, and another plate of housemade queso with pesto and tomatoes. Grab a paper cone of cured pork and a glass of sangria as you catch up on all you explored that day around the city. Meet friends at one of the conveniently set up tables (standing room only) or hover near the next counter while you munch and wait your turn to order a meringue, fruit tart or chocolate truffle.
Bring your kids
This food-lovers paradise isn’t just for elite palettes. Kids will love it too. Like any public market there are more than enough oddities to behold. Giant fish heads are always a winner, but the different pork bits are worth an ogle too.
The market does get crowded. Avoid nighttime, especially weekend nights, whenever possible. The after work crowds can swell, making it hard to navigate a stroller, stay with your group, or even get to the counter to order. Instead, head over on a weekday morning right when the market opens at 10 o’clock in the morning.
With a few euros in hand let everyone the family pick out something they would like. My 4-year-old wanted (no, needed!) a dish of olives. We parked at a stand up table just his size, where he proceeded to devour over twenty olives while I roamed the market with the baby looking for my own treat. The market was filled with mostly tourists at this time of day, but that didn’t make the food any less scrumptious.
Many will warn you away from San Miguel because it is touristy and expensive. Both reasons are true enough, but for a family, it can be a very easy way to sample a lot of foods you haven’t been able to because of bed times and cranky kids who can’t stand the thought of sitting through tapas. If you set a spending limit of twenty euros you can sample many different dishes and have a simple lunch the whole family will enjoy. The variety you get will be worth the extra expense.
As you browse and buy, don’t forget to look around. You are eating in a part of Madrid’s history. Savor the moment. Inhale again as you enjoy another chocolate. Remember that you are eating where millions have eaten before, stocked up on vegetables, or had an epiphany of the food kind while sampling a slice of true Iberico jamon for the first time. These moments don’t come along often for your taste buds. Let them enjoy.
Know before you go
- Mercado de San Miguel, Plaza de San Miguel near the Royal Palace
- Metro stop: easy walk from Sol or Opera
- Hours: 10am-midnight Sun-Wed, to 2am Thu-Sat
- Cost: tapas start at 1 euro
- Strollers? Yes. During the day you can navigate a stroller pretty easily. At night I would wear your baby in a baby carrier.
For true food lovers who aren’t satisfied with mere still images, take a video tour of the market with Foods from Spain’s film: