What to Eat at El Mercado de San Miguel
Just as the stifling heat settled into the streets of Madrid in late May, I and hundreds of others had a brilliant idea to head indoors to the Mercado de San Miguel. It was the only thing I could think of to escape the shear brutality of the sun. In true Spanish style, a new friend and I made our way immediately to the Beer House ordering two over-priced but delicious German brews. Once our tongues were no longer dry, we weaved through the awe-faced crowds to explore El Mercado de San Miguel for ourselves.
El Mercado de San Miguel is the optimal location to challenge your palate and explore traditional Spanish foods with a modern twist. I have scrunched my nose at the robust flavor of sea urchin, stained my dress from the oil coating baby eels, and even squeezed a lemon so forcefully on my oyster that it went flying and hit a nearby man in the chest. My manners may not be perfect, but they have made for many memorable food experiences at El Mercado de San Miguel.
A Brief History
The market gets its name from a thirteenth-century church that once stood in the same location. The church was heavily damaged by a fire in 1790. Attempts were made to restore the church but none succeeded. Eventually, the open area was used as a fish market. In 1913, construction finally began to create a covered market. For it’s time, the iron and wood structure was extremely modern and spacious. Today, this symbolic iron building is the only one of it’s kind still standing.
During the late twentieth century, the market was in a state of disrepair. The growing popularity of supermarkets in the city posed great competition for the local vendors. In 2003, the market was saved by a group of individuals called El Gastrónomo de San Miguel. They acquired the marketplace and vowed to reawaken it to twenty-first century style.
Today at El Mercado de San Miguel
In 2009, the intimate market reopened with 33 vendors selling fresh produce, wild fish, local meats, homemade pastas, nuts, chocolates, and olive oils. There are also small tapas bars and cafeterias selling local and foreign foods. Today, the market is more vibrant than ever and is one of the most lively locations in Madrid, day or night.
During the morning hours, locals, dressed casually, stop to enjoy a café con leche or a pastry at one of the three cafeterias prior to heading to work. As the unbearable midday heat begins to penetrate the city, the market is used by many as a way to escape the sun and still admire the streets through the floor to ceiling glass windows. In a modern “green” fashion, instead of air conditioning, every couple of minutes, the ceiling mists visitors in a light rain, similar to produce at a supermarket.
Tourists survey and photograph the incredible displays of produce so beautiful they could be mistaken for still-lives. After wandering the crowded corridors and admiring the bountiful oysters or the homemade pastas, visitors sip on overpriced beers from one of the cervecerías and if they are lucky, share a hightop steel table in the center of the market hall to rest their legs momentarily.
Ostras Daniel Sorlut
The most high end stall in the market is open at all hours but becomes more crowded after dusk. Ostras Daniel Sorlut is an oyster and champagne bar offering hand selected oysters harvested in the Marennes-Oléron region of France paired with outstanding champagne. The oyster company has been passed down for three generations. Ostras Daniel Sorlut is well known in Spain for serving high quality, exciting, and unique varieties that appeal to first time oyster tasters and oyster connoisseurs alike.
Another favorite, Mozheart. Mozheart is a mozzarella bar that draws curious visitors in with it’s elaborate displays. the Italian chefs use Spanish milk to create a 100% Italian cheese. There are numerous variations of their three specialities, burrata, ricotta, and mozzarella. Depending on the season, the bar is decorated with delicate mozzarella rolled around Jamón Serrano and arugula, toasted bread with a creamy burrata topped with sun dried tomatoes and chopped almonds, or a smoky stracciatella mozzarella topped with balsamic glaze and tomatoes. Although these tapas portions are pricy, the burst of flavor is hard to forget and entirely worth the calories and cost.
Beer House and Carro de Cerveza Fresca
For an ice cold beer you have two options. Beer House serves German beers on tap. They come with a higher price tag than their friends Carro de Cerveza Fresca. This cart fittingly serves icy cold bottles of San Miguel beer at el Mercado de San Miguel.
El Señor Martín
El Señor Martín is the go-to-stop for all things fish and seafood at El Mercado de San Miguel. Want to risk it all and try a slimy fishy sea urchin? By all means go ahead. I’m warning you though, it tastes like low tide pudding. Prefer a safer option like salted cod or pulpo gallego (Galician squid)? Feel free to choose that too! The staff at El Señor Martín can prepare fish for you to enjoy at the market or package it up raw for you to take home.
Alevín Creative Cuisine
Alevín Creative Cuisine serves the best elvers in the market. What the heck are elvers? Why, baby eels of course! The elvers are a delicacy all over Spain. You can even find them frozen at the supermarket. The elvers photographed below were served over smoked salmon and drizzled generously in olive oil. We received a few glares from some other American tourists while we attempted to bite into these curious creations. I was pleasantly surprised by the flavor and would definitely eat elvers again.
Artisan yogurts are all the rage at El Mercado de San Miguel. You can choose from a wide variety of inventive yogurt shooters. Prefer froyo? La Yogurería makes their frozen yogurt daily with all natural ingredients and skim milk. The toppings change often to keep locals coming back and visitors interested. Definitely worth the cost!
Now that you know what to eat at El Mercado de San Miguel, here’s what you need to know. The market is open until 10 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and Sundays, and until as late as 2 a.m. Thursday through Saturday.
El Mercado de San Miguel, Plaza de San Miguel
What’s your favorite market in the world?