In this post, the last of the Spanish saga; I feel I’ve saved the best for last. The food market of Valencia, Mercado Central is, without question spectacular, housed in an impressive, almost church-design like building with iron, glass and ceramic components and boasts the largest indoor market of it’s kind in Europe. As The Scotsman and I walked towards this grand building, I remember thinking we’d got the wrong place. Valencians, it seems, take food seriously!
The tall and wide stained glass windows, along with the 30 metre high central dome, allowed light to pour beneficently into most parts of the market. Inside, the huge space was clearly divided into sections – fish, meat and vegetables. We got in just as it opened but the locals beat us to it, trolley bags tugged along behind them, immersed in rapid spanish banter with the trades folk. If anyone took a picture of me at that point, I’d have decked them. I stood gawping, like a fish out of water, head whipping in all directions, eyes bulging trying to take in the monumental space dedicated to great food. I didn’t quite know which way to start, but took The Scotsman’s lead, while trying to ready camera lenses, settings and cross bags over my body and bumbled into the seafood section.
I’ve never seen such a gorgeous display of seafood. Prawns, shrimp, langoustines, razor clams, cockles, crabs, lobster, crayfish, you name it, there they were in shades of pale grey to bright coral. Flat fish, thick fish, short, long, elegant and ugly were laid out attractively side by side, smelling of the sea with plump flesh and glossy skins. Squids, octopus, cuttlefish, dried fish (bacalao), anchovies aplenty. Vendors shouted aloud at passerbys, bantered hard with the old ladies, sang and wrapped their wares in paper or bags, winked at you as you walked past. As much as I squealed aloud and tugged at The Patient Scotsman sleeves in delight, I wailed at not being able purchase all this oceanic goodness right under my nose. Oh, the agony!
Zig zagging through the stalls, we eventually emerged into the central area and right in front of us, was the most impressive display of ham I have ever seen. Row upon row of Serrano ham, cured sausages and all things preserved meats were laid or hung like ornaments, producing an irresistible display. The Scotsman actually gasped, he found his bit of porky heaven. The photo of this particular stall was the only thing he captured on his phone and promptly uploaded to Facebook. Such was it’s charm! While this was the best looking stall, there was no dearth of meat produce. Buttery Iberico Ham, with creamy fat stripes and their deep maroon colour was shaved carefully and laid slice by slice over waxed paper. Coils of deep coral orange coloured chorizos – small, fat, thin, long, curved, dried, fresh, sweet, hot – graced most counters. As they could be vacuum packed, we indulged and got a few packets at a wallet pinching price. I can tell you, it was worth every euro! And the locals prove it. Everywhere you saw little ol’ ladies carefully lay out coin after coin from their well used purses, for a few slices of excellent serrano ham. Good produce is worth it’s price, even in these penny-pinching days.
Huddled at the back of the stalls, in a dark corner, sits the long, brick lined, renowed Mercado Central Bar. Using produce from the markets, on the day, the cooks bring out everything from sandwiches and tostados, to tapas and proper plates of food. The food is fresh, delicious and the coffee is utterly divine. What is it about coffee in Spain? It’s so darn tasty! Sat on a stool, sipping his cortado, The Scotsman said it was always a wish of his to eat at a cafe in a food market, a need created by watching a lot of Rick Stein programmes! Next to us, sat two women, chatting away and chomping at a delicious looking baguette sandwich. The Scotsman kept peering over to get a better look and with much digging of elbows, got me to enquire in broken Spanish, what they ordered. Through sheer enthusiastic endeavour, some meagre understanding of Spanish on my part and a lot of sign language on both sides, I understood that it was scrambled eggs, mixed with the deliciously creamy salchichon sausage and a type of Spanish cheese. One of the women ordered on our behalf, (half a baguette for me and a full sized whopper for The Scotsman) and watched carefully, as I took my first bite. Gosh, it was SO good! Tangy, creamy, meaty, spicy and the bread was soft inside and crusty outside. ” Muy, muy bien!!!”, I spluttered and they whopped, clapped hands and gestured that I should’ve order the larger size! I agree! The chefs seemed to think the same…
A bit more of a wander around after elevenses and we made our way through the beautiful streets of Valencia, the Old Quarter. We took our time, I took lots of photos, we sat at cafes, where he had beer and I had a local drink called Horchata (not to be confused with the rice drink of the same name from Mexico). It’s a cooling, traditionally Valencian drink, made from dried tigernuts blended with water and sugar, which isn’t a nut but a tuber. It comes either as a drink or a slush. I could best describe the taste as being milky-melon like to start with, finishing with a nutty, earth note – so darn good!
And we come to the end of a very long, photo happy post! I hope you liked seeing Spain through my lens. It’s a warm and wonderful country and I don’t mean just the climate. I found people to be so engaging, easy going, ready to smile and enthusiastic. Much as I looked forward at the end to being in my own home, it was a shame to leave too.
So for now, hasta luego!