Spain is a flurry of sights and smells and sounds, and no place exemplifies this better than Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria (or la Boqueria for short).
A gigantic covered market in the heart of Barcelona, la Boqueria is sensory overload defined. Stalls are packed close, infusing the air with an erratic medley of odors; the fleshy warmth from the butcher’s booth dances jubilantly with the overripe rot of sundry fresh juice stands, affronting the senses and confusing the eye. Hanging dried ham legs and eerily large cow’s tongues–in-body attachment and all–unapologetically provide lessons in livestock anatomy to any unfortunate glancers. (Really, the meat stands are enough to immediately convert any on-the-fencers into vegetarians.)
Pre-poured fresh-squeezed juices arrayed in a rainbow of colors perch on feathered pillows of ice, tempting the thirsty with unexpected blends like coconut-blackberry and pitahaya-mango. At a chicken coop-themed hut you’ll find an egg lady peeking out from behind her baskets of straw, where eggs are piled impossibly high into delicate Humpty-Dumpty pyramids.
There are boxes and bins of nuts and spices, spooned to spill over and smell something like home. There are stands with gummies packed two stories high, a chaotic blend of colors and shapes and artificial flavors. There are bars, tapas spots, frozen sea creatures, and fist-sized macaroon-gelato sandwiches. Items that just don’t belong take their place alongside offerings found nowhere else in the world.
You’ll find chocolates and squids and baked goods and animal heads. You’ll find fried seafood cones à la cliffside Mediterranean fishing village and marzipan blobs molded to look like McDonald’s fry cartons. Enormous vats of homemade paella (aptly labeled paella orgasmica) unfurl a salty-hot steam while fruit towers glimmer as if they’ve arrived naked from Eden. La Boqueria is as loud as it is vibrant and hectic and crowded and exhilarating. It is captivating and overwhelming in the best possible way.
It’s much more than a market–it’s an experience. A way of life.