Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Mercado de Abastos (Farmers Market) of Santiago de Compostela, Spain

I haven’t written much yet about the city I’m currently living in this year—Santiago de Compostela, the capital of the northwestern Galicia region—mainly because I have a backlog of 300+ pictures to edit and upload. Hopefully this summer I’ll have everything put up so I can start talking about what has become one of my favorite cities in the country. For now, at least, all I’ve got are some shots of the city’s mercado de abastos or farmers market, which is one of the premier markets of its kind in all of Spain but still small enough that you don’t feel lost inside.

Mercado de Abastos, Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Cabbage and carrots
Santiago’s market is one of my favorite places in the entire city, mainly because a huge part of Galician culture is its famously-delicious food but also because I love eating, cooking, and supporting local producers rather than big chain supermarkets.

Mercado de Abastos, Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Tetilla cheese
Although the current collection of eight granite naves or halls was built in 1941, the farmers market has been held almost daily since the late 1800s in a location due east of the cathedral on the edge of the historic old town. Bounded by the huge Church of Santo Agostiño to the north and the tiny Church of San Fiz de Solovio to the south, the market grounds house dozens of family businesses offering every kind of local meat and produce you can think of.

Mercado de Abastos, Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Nécoras or velvet crabs
The stalls generally fall into one of the following categories: seafood (mariscos), fruits and veggies (frutería), meat (carnicería), chicken & eggs (pollos), cheeses & sausages (quesos/charcutería), bread & pastries (panadería), and salt cod (bacalao).

Mercado de Abastos, Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Selection of Galician liqueurs and spirits
While you can find most of the same sorts of food in big-box supermarkets like Carrefour, Gadis, or Froiz, the selection and quality in the mercado blows the supermercados out of the water. At the very least I try to buy my produce at the market rather than at grocery stores because it’s so much easier to pick and choose a single carrot for a recipe rather than buying the only available bushel of them…plus it’s kind of reassuring to buy potatoes and onions still dusty with soil.

Mercado de Abastos, Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Pork shoulder and pig head
As far as seafood goes, there’s really no reason to buy anywhere else: from crabs to clams to fish to octopus, you’re gonna find the highest, freshest quality in the farmers market as well as the widest selection in the city. The fishmongers (is that the word in English?) know their stuff and can help you out if you’re an ignorant landlubber like yours truly. Even if you’re not fond of seafood, it’s an exciting (and enlightening) experience to stroll through the seafood market and gape at the fascinating, colorful, and sometimes terrifying creatures of the deep.

Mercado de Abastos, Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Orange juice oranges
Something I like about the market a lot is that they have a little restaurant called Churro-Manía on the western side that will, for the small fee of four euros, cook any food you buy—seafood or otherwise. It’s a great way to try the tempting Galician products you see in the shops but have absolutely no idea how to prepare, and if you’d love to order a mariscada or seafood platter in one of the touristy restaurants in the old town but would rather not shell out 35€ or more, you can “build your own” with what you want to eat and have them cook it for you right then and there.

Mercado de Abastos, Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Galician chorizo
On the other side of the market you can grab a quick bite to eat at Abastos 2.0, a “fridge-free” restaurant whose menu changes daily according to what looks fresh and appetizing that day. Plus, in the central common area, there’s almost always a guy working a huge copper pot, where whole purple octopuses boil away. You can easily sample sliced medallions of this most typical of Galician seafood on round wooden plates, garnished with olive oil, salt, and smoked paprika.

How to get there

Mercado de Abastos, Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Among the naves or main halls
Santiago’s Mercado de Abastos is located along the Rúa de Ameás on the eastern side of the casco viejo or historic old town. The Rúa da Virxe da Cerca runs below the hill to the east of the market, where almost all city buses make a stop. From the cathedral’s Praza das Praterías, head due east on either Rúa da Conga or Rúa de Xelmírez and keep a straight course.

The market is open Monday through Saturday from around 8am to 2pm, but the best days to shop are Thursdays and Saturdays. A handful of places stay open until 3 or so, but a lot of the seafood stalls start closing up shop around 1, so get there early for the best picks!

Do you prefer getting groceries at all-in-one supermarkets or farmers markets? Have you been to Santiago’s mercado before? Comment below!

For more pictures, check out my set on Flickr here.
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