La Boqueria MarketLa Boqueria Market

Would it be semantically correct to use the word “cacophony” to describe the layout, activity and smells of a place? Or is it applicable to only its sounds? I ask because cacophony feels like the right word for the totality of La Boqueria, a market formally known as Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria. Slightly less officially, people refer to it as just Mercat de la Boqueria. And sometimes English-speakers, such as myself, call it Boqueria Market (website).

La Boqueria is located just off Las Ramblas. This makes it a perfect place for a little carefree, but hectic (if that makes any sense whatsoever) sightseeing detour during a ramble on Las Ramblas. Despite being primarily a food market, the experience makes it worth a visit—even if you have no intention of buying any food. 

Hundreds of stalls line the narrow aisles of La Boqueria. Vendors sell produce from all of the major food groups and most of the minor ones too. Included among the offerings are fruits, vegetables, nuts, cheeses, seafood, meats, various cooking, dipping and salad oils, and a variety of vinegars.

Some stalls sell prepared foods for takeaway. And others provide a counter with a row of stools, allowing customers to consume prepared foods there.

La Boqueria Looked Back at Me

Here's looking at you, kidHere’s looking at you, kid

I don’t know if this is a regular feature, but when I was there one of the butchers offered meat products with large eyes still in place. They stared at me. Or maybe it was simply my imagination.

Imagination or not, I found that disconcerting. I like to live in a fiction wherein I pretend that meat was never part of living animals. Instead, the cuts magically appear in the supermarket from some source that didn’t have parents or a social life (such as it may be for a non-human animal raised for human consumption). Rationally, I know that’s not the case. But I still like to cast rationality aside and willingly delude myself when it comes to meat products. The glaring eyes made it difficult for me to persist in that delusion. Nevertheless, I’m still an omnivore.

All of the pictures on this page are from La Boqueria Market. However, it’s not the only market in Barcelona. In my wanderings through the city, I stumbled unexpectedly on another one in central Barcelona, Mercat de Santa Caterina. Despite further from the main pedestrian drag (Las Ramblas) than La Boqueria, it’s still within a tourist’s ambit.

To my eye, Mercat de la Santa Caterina is the more attractive of the two markets. For one thing, its front sports a “Gaudi inspired” wavy roof. Mercat de la Santa Caterina has fewer stalls than La Boqueria market. However, the variety of produce in the stalls was roughly the same in both. Santa Caterina’s aisles were wider, cleaner and less grid-based than La Boqueria.

A Tale of Two Markets

Something fishySomething fishy

Unlike La Boqueria, Mercat de la Santa Caterina includes a regular sit-down restaurant. In contrast, if you want to eat at La Boqueria market you must make do with sitting at a counter in front of one of the stalls that offers them.

It might just have been a question of when I visited each, but Mercat de la Santa Caterina was much less crowded than Mercat de la Boqueria.

If I lived in Barcelona (as opposed to being the tourist I was, wherein I ate exclusively in restaurants and tapas bars) I would much rather shop at Santa Caterina than La Boqueria. The former seemed more antiseptic to me. Despite the characterless connotations, antiseptic is a quality I appreciate in a place that sells me food.

Santa Caterina also had a more organized feel than La Boqueria. Food shopping—or any shopping for that matter—is a chore I despise rather than an event I look forward to. Consequently, I prefer an organized feel to the markets I patronize. I suppose that if I lived in Barcelona I might eventually get to learn where my favorite stalls are in La Boqueria. But if my objective was utilitarian shopping rather than sightseeing, my stick-in-the-mud nature probably wouldn’t afford me the chance to do so.

Shopping vs Sightseeing

Nevertheless, there’s a reason why only La Boqueria appears in the title of this post. Being a tourist, I felt no desire to revisit Mercat de la Santa Caterina. On the other hand, I would enjoy more visits to La Boqueria. That’s specifically because of, not despite, the higher level of grunginess and bustle (although bustle understates it). Mercat de Boquería simply had much more of a vibe for me. When shopping, I want to get in and out as quickly as possible. As a tourist, vibe is good. Don’t ask me to explain that. I can’t figure it out either. Nobody said it was easy being me.