From away for a while – FARMER’S MARKETS IN SPAIN
I’m currently in Spain spending the summer in my hometown in Catalunya. I will try to get some posts published during my time here although I’m not sure I’ll be able to succeed much… For sure I will compile a lot of info that I’m determined to publish once I get back home. We’ll see what I can get done without my computer, the kids around, family vacation, a lot of friends and family to see, and millions of fun activities to do… We’ll see…
My idea is to write about the food-related experiences I will encounter during my time here: from the local markets, restaurants and peculiar foods to my mom’s cooking (I’m staying at my parent’s and she is in charge of the kitchen, I’ll be the sous-chef for the next few weeks 😉 ). I can already tell you that it is going to be very exciting!
Farmer’s markets are one of my favorite places here. There is a big tradition of farmer’s markets in Spain. And summer is the best time of the year to visit a market. It’s an explosion of colors, smells and flavors.
Every small village in Spain has its own weekly market where local vendors sell their products, mostly fruit and vegetables, clothes, shoes and whatever product is in fashion. Larger cities also have “permanent” markets that sell fresh produce almost every day. These “permanent” markets are usually indoors and have different food stands: vegetables and fruits; fish; butchers; cheese; nuts and spices; legumes and prepared foods; pickles, olives and salted cod; bakery; among many others. Basically everything fresh you would need in your kitchen.
The fruit and vegetables from these “permanent” markets usually come from a larger distributor from bigger farms, and are similar to those one could find in a small grocery store. The produce is still “local”, in this case local would be within Spain, which means the furthest an item might come is from the south of Spain (1200km/750 miles away). The few exceptions would be those products not cultivated in the country such as mangos, pineapples, etc. that would be imported.
In my local “permanent” market there are also some fruit and vegetable stands outside the building from local farmers that come from the different villages in the area to sell whatever they have in their gardens. This produce is really local (no more than 50 km/30 miles away) and really fresh (usually harvested the day before or 2-3 days prior max). Also, because everything they sell is fresh and local, these stands are not there every day. Sundays, Mondays and any day after a holiday there are no farmer´s stands because the farmers took their day off and did not harvest so there is nothing fresh to sell. Yep, welcome to a country with quality of life!
And this is also true for fishermen. There is no fish on Sunday, Monday or any day after a holiday because they do not go out fishing on weekends or any holiday. And I said fish. Fish, oh little corner of heaven on earth!!! This is probably one of the things I miss the most in the US, fresh fish and seafood. We’ve been in Spain for a week and my kids have already complained that we have eaten fish every day (not true, but almost…)!!
Fishing boats go out at night (around midnight), spend the day at sea, and come back around 4pm when the fish is unloaded at the “llotja”. The “llotja” is a big warehouse by the port where the fish is sold to the local fish stores owners who then take the fish to their stores. Some sell it the same day around 8pm, and others store it to be sold the next morning. Us Catalans and Spaniards (or maybe it’s just my family) are very picky with our fish, we want it fresh and we want to know everything about it. That’s why, by law, fish stands/stores are required to have next to the fish/seafood being sold a paper with all the information regarding the fish/seafood in particular: common and scientific name, area and date of capture, fishing boat, port of origin and fishing method used. Yep! We want to know everything and we don’t want to be fooled!
But the number one thing about our fish is that we want it fresh. From the day, if possible. And here goes an anecdote of a couple of years ago when I was here. I went to the market to buy shrimp and I asked the fishmonger if she had any. It was Christmas time and it’s usually very expensive around these dates, so she showed me the one she had from the day which was 70 euros/kg (40$/lb). Then she looks at me with this suspicious face and whispers “I have some that is cheaper, BUT it is not from today”, and she points me to the corner of the stand where there was all the not-so-fresh fish. It looked like the corner of the not-loved not-wanted fish, all alone, abandoned in a corner, away from all the plenty beautiful fish from the day. It was sad. But that fish looked as good as any other they had in the stand. So I go there to have a better look, and she whispers again as she was going to say something embarrassing that no one else should listen: “It’s from yesterday”. YESTERDAY she said!!!!! It was from YESTERDAY!!!!!!! I almost start crying…! And, of course, it was cheaper because it was from YESTERDAY, half price to be precise! I looked at her with an expression of “oh, no, it’s sure not as good as the one from today” but I told her I would take it despite being from YESTERDAY. Those shrimp were obviously delicious and not even the finest palate in the world could have guessed that they were from YESTERDAY.
So yes, we take very seriously our fish. So much that I am so spoiled that I have a hard time buying fish in the US. Luckily I live in Florida and we have some fresh fish from the Keys that is pretty good.