In his evocative Homage to Barcelona, the Irish writer Colm Tóibín includes a charming description of the stall holders at his beloved market, Mercat de la Boqueria. Writing in the mid-1990s, he depicts fondly the women who served him there when he lived in the city in the 1980s:
”The women in the market dress like queens and behave like duchesses. If you touch any of the fruit, or try to break the queue, you are in trouble. But if you ask how best to cook the many varieties of mushrooms which grow in Catalonia, and are on sale in late November, they will go to great lengths to explain. Most of them wear make-up, and have the appearance of women who go to the hairdresser every day.”
While the days of heavy make-up and everyday hairdressers seem to be past, the people at the market still display a passion about their products, and a Spanish seriousness about food is still apparent. The Boqueria is the most amazing market I have ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of them.
Toibin also wrote that the central aisle is the one for show, and that nobody buys there, it’s too expensive. This seems to still be the case; but there are rows and rows of other stalls to choose from, mixed in with eateries that are almost always crowded. The atmosphere is sheer joy, if you like food at all. The mushroom stalls are still there, and the seafood is, as Toibin mentions, indescribable–literally! We have no idea what half of the fish would be called in English, if they have a name at all! But seafood served is just too delicious to pass by. Viva zarzuela!