Madrid Tapas: Mercado de San Miguel

by mary on January 15, 2013

Mercado de San Miguel is the eat-in market concept taken to its highest level and is not to be missed on any visit to Madrid. You can expect insane crowds at peak hours, but that’s part of the fun, and it gives you a fun atmosphere in which to wander, edge in for some seating, try some tapas and have a few drinks. When I lived in Madrid, I loved to complain about the crowds like everyone, but I was always there anyway. A few more markets have opened in Madrid with similar concepts and the best of them is the Mercado de San Anton in the Chueca district…it is also worth a visit. But you can’t can’t beat the location, atmosphere, food, and wine at Madrid’s original tapas market, San Miguel.

The Mercado de San Miguel has always been in my Madrid for wine lovers top picks and it has long deserved its own entry. The beautiful historic market building from 1916 was renovated and reopened in its current format in May of 2009. It was an instant success, crowded from the beginning.

The mercado is located right next to the Plaza Mayor and is open all day from ten to midnight on most days and until 2am on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays! Really a transformative space, from market, to tapas to drinks spot late at night. Not many people would buy produce at the high prices on offer, but some produce stands have survived so far by specializing in high-end, gourmet products.

There is a lovely time at the mercado on a weekday morning before the rush starts, when you can sit, have a wine or a coffee and a tapa in relative tranquility. It’s not the true spirit of the market, but it’s lovely. After that’s moment….the people start too come and it just seems to get more and more crowded as the day goes on. It’s a lot of tourists and foreigners, but there are also plenty of locals. It’s horrible and yet somehow wonderful at the same time….if you just relax and let yourself get sucked in by that jostling, loud crowd, you will love it! It really is what Spain is all about….loud, slightly pushy, but ultimately very inviting crowds.

One of the main draws for me has always been the great wine on offer at the Pinkleton wine bar. They have great wines by the glass and a fantastic selection by the bottle. The staff is knowledgeable and usually speak English and the prices are decent. The by-the-glass prices may initially seem more expensive, but some of the wines are top crus and the pours are huge compared to a typical Madrid glass.

There is a routine that works well at peak I usually pick up a bottle of wine at Pinkleton and some glasses, put someone in charge of table hunting and then go with my wine in search of the best tapas. Table hunting is not for the shy or faint-hearted. The tables are all grouped in the center and it is a hover and grab system….it can get pretty competitive! Most people just resign themselves to drinks and the less messy tapas without any support….but there is no better feeling than scoring a table!

There is a constant rotation of the lesser quality stands…not all formulas have worked, and I always find new things when I visit. This last item there was a stand serving tapas based on burrata….yes the burrata craze has reached Spain! Also new was a tortilla de patata stand and a paella stand. All worth trying I’m sure but I seem to end up always back at my favorites…the same stands that have been there since the beginning.

There’s the cheese stand, with all sorts of yummy cheeses from all around the world, though I tend to order a sampler platter of just Spanish cheeses. They usually have my most favorite goat’s cheese, Monte Enebro. The embutido stand is super important as one of my goals when I go back to Spain is to eat as much jamon and lomo iberico as is humanly possible! They can prepare a delicious platter of jamon, lomo, as well as chorizo and salchichon, the other two iberico cured meats.

Another great, and maybe unexpected stand, is the cured fish stand….sound weird? I promise the tapas they serve there are quite tasty. All of the tapas here are bits of bread topped with either smoked or canned fushes…spain is famous for its fish conserves. Try anything with smoked cod, anchovies, or conserved tuna…the adventurous are rewarded!

A more recent stand I had to add to my favorite was the aptly named “Meating Point” by the Carnicerias Raza Nostra. It is a made to order hamburger and hot dog place with 30 varieties of hamburger patties. There are minis too…and some interesting special origen beef as well. Good meat! The buns are good too!

My all time favorite, the one I can never skip, is the Ostras Sorlut. Look for the Sorlut oysters..the stand is close to Pinkleton wine and they only serve oysters. There are some other stands that serve Galician oysters and they are worth trying but the French Sorlut oysters are exquisite. They are served in a minimalist wayy, freshly shucked on flimsy plastic plates, slices of lemon. Sometimes they sell lemon “pearls”….fun to try. Nothing better than a very cold glass of Spanish white wine served up with the freshest Sorlut oysters.

I was recently up at Union Market, a new eat-in market concept in DC. It has exciting potential, but I’m still waiting to see someone do it like the Spanish. I know it’s a tall order….


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