Barcelona smells like salt. Perhaps it is due to the city’s close proximity to the ocean, but I believe it has more to do with the legs of meat, which decorate every street stall and market window. La Boqueria is no exception; in fact, La Boqueria may be the rule as far as marketplaces are concerned. In one of Europe’s oldest public marketplaces, food marries art at this one-of-kind Barcelona tourist attractions.
Cleverly separated into departments, one still requires more than the requisite eyes and ears to digest this heady scene. I was first met by the fresh produce that winks and radiates and all but bats its eyelashes in Barcelona’s golden evening light. Shapely avocados packed like lightbulbs orbited sweet, syrupy melons the size of small planets while nearby a neon-pink fruit leaked its insides into a pan for collection.
My musings on how to successfully smuggle fresh fruit onto an international flight were interrupted by my nose as I confronted the nuts and spices. Suddenly I was in the midst of a rich landscape of perfect pyramids of cinnamon and cardamom, tarragon and cayenne, which remained undisturbed despite La Boqueria’s constant foot traffic. The sun-burned palette of brick red, earthy brown and rusted yellow threading through this spice spectrum echoed Barcelona’s own bronzed aesthetic with dizzying effect.
My abrupt displacement at the seafood junction proved to be quite a contrast to the warmth I left behind me as I delved further into this epicurean wonderland. Garlands of sweet red pepper and fresh bulbs of garlic framed an array of live, ice-packed crustaceans destined to an olive oil fate. Women in sterile aprons and perfect poker face expertly hacked away at various animal appendages, twirling crabs by their meaty legs and stuffing them into thin plastic bags while the rest of us patiently waited and tried to ignore the erratic twitch of nearby claw and antennae.
At the heart of the operation, however, there is nothing gasping for air aside from the busy merchants and their customers. Here it takes some imagination to identify the various body parts for sale: piles of black-spotted tongue; small containers of sheep’s brain; bristly pig knuckles jumbled in a basket; a whole calf’s head sawed neatly in half replete with discerning eye; and, my personal favorite, gray, deflated lung. The usual suspects are here as well: the cured ham and dried sausage almost obscure the men rushing behind the counters.
La Boqueria pulses with color and intensity. Located just off of Barcelona’s main artery, Las Ramblas, it is a museum of sorts, celebrating the food and culture of Barcelona. Standing before a bin of fresh coconut with a piece of mango shedding on my tongue, other Spanish traditions and trends begin to become clear to me: tapas seems like a natural way to enjoy all that is available here and when mere food shopping becomes a source of artistic inspiration, I begin to understand why so many of the world’s renowned artists originate from Spain: Pablo Picasso must have enjoyed the feminine curves and bright colors of his fresh produce while Salvador Dali must have acknowledged the surrealism at work in seeing his own reflection in his dinner’s eye before slicing into its brain.
Like Barcelona, La Boqueria is lively, colorful and delicious – and one visit to Barcelona isn’t enough. A rabbit hole of sorts, I encourage you to get lost; and should something scream “Eat Me” or “Drink Me,” by all means, do.
Story written by Darrah Lustig | **This short Travel Story was submitted as part of the Holiday Travel Writing Competition. All short-listed entries such as this one are published in our online Travel Guide**