Barcelona Cooking Vacation: Mercat del Ninot
I have to confess, when doing a market tour in Barcelona my first thought was “what’s the Ninot market and why aren’t we going to the Boqueria?” It’s true that the Boqueria market off the city’s main “Rambla” is one of the largest, oldest, and most well-known markets in Europe, but Barcelona is peppered with over 40 local markets, including the Mercat el Ninot in the town’s Eixample district, which was a perfect destination for a foodie tour of Barcelona.
Pronounced lay-ZHAHM-pluh, the word L’Eixample means “wide,” and is thusly named for the fact that when Barcelona outgrew its medieval walls it needed to be “widened” upward and outward.
What does “Ninot” mean? It means “figurine” and refers to a figurine that was found on the bow of a ship. The story our guide told for the naming of the market is this: during the years of the Transition, after Franco’s death when Spain transitioned to a constitutional monarchy, the names of streets, markets, and monuments were changed to purge the names of the defunct Nationalist regime. A couple found a figurine of a boy on the beach, carried it to the old market (formerly called “El Mercat del Porvenir”) and said, from now on this will be the “Mercat del Ninot.” This is what it is still called today, and a reproduction of the famous statue stands over the main entrance.
What is wonderful about the Mercat del Ninot is that, unlike the more famous Boqueria, it is not packed with tourists. Popular but not overcrowded, it is populated by locals shopping and eating as part of their daily life.
Inside you will find what you find and most markets in Barcelona: wonderful food stalls selling produce, fish, meat, eggs, cured meats, cheeses, preserved goods, salt cod, olives, and more. The downstairs is dedicated to a supermarket (which funded the recent restoration of the market), but unless you need toiletries or a random item you can stick to the upper floor and explore the fabulous foods there.
Our guide Josh, whose English was perfect, explained that market stalls in Barcelona have one of several specialities:
- fresh meats (although some can also specialize in offal)
- fresh fruits and vegetables
- fresh fish and seafood
- cured meats and cheeses
- any combination of: salt cod, preserved foods, alcoholic beverages, and olives
We had the wonderful opportunity to try samples from all of these on our foodie tour in Barcelona!
First stop was Alonzo Andrés, a family-run stall operating in El Ninot since 1933. We tasted a variety of local charcuterie, including jamon iberico, black blood sausage, white blood sausage, and chorizo, as well as wonderful Manchego, Spain’s famed sheep’s milk cheese. From there we moved to Ca La Rat, one of the stalls that specializes in the “other” items – in this case olives, preserved foods, and salt cod. We tried some six or seven of their more than a dozen types of Spanish olives. I had not realized that olives are a naturally fermented food – the olives after harvest are left to ferment in brine or other liquids until they soften. Some of the olives tasted super fermented and almost tingly, others were more fresh and green, and still others almost nutty and salty.
Next we sat at a meat counter eatery and enjoyed some truly amazing local fare. First was a blood sausage made with rice on top of bread – the rice softened the sausage and made it slightly less heavy. Next was oxtail – a dish of the day stewed until it fell off the bone – and one of the best things I ate during my week in Barcelona. Finally came Catalan tripe, stewed with tomatoes and chorizo. All of it was enjoyed with an excellent Catalan red wine.
After the meat came the fish! We sat at a fish counter and enjoyed a variety of seafood-based tapas with vermut and white wine. We had an Esqueixada (reconstituted salt cod left uncooked and mixed with tomato, olive oil, onion, and salt), vinegar-soaked anchovies (these with a unique touch – citrus zest), the ubiquitous “tomato bread” (toasted bread rubbed with garlic and ripe tomato, then drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt), roasted octopus with potatoes, and finally cod fritters with aioli. We finished with sweet bit – a bit of tart that tasted like a form of cheesecake, and a glass of Cava. Perfection!
If you want to try this fabulous foodie tour, you can do so during our amazing new Barcelona Foodie Adventure. Both the 3-night and 5-night itineraries include the Ninot market tour and tasting as part of the activities for the week.
By Peg Kern
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