Spain: Fruit salad on a stick? Historic market adapts to stay alive

Patricia Cinta
A vendor at La Boquería market in Barcelona.

A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

BARCELONA, SPAIN – La Boquería market in Barcelona’s iconic Las Ramblas avenue has reinvented itself for centuries to remain part of the city’s soul. To prevent the threat of encroaching supermarkets selling at lower prices, the port city banished bullying megamalls to its outskirts in efforts to protect the small-shop culture.

This sprawling market – the largest in Spain – houses more than 300 noisy shops in a brilliant metallic structure. It was built in the first half of the 19th century, although the market dates back to the 13th century.

Giant columns of twisted metal support a five-tiered roof and colorful stained-glass windows, and most shopkeepers belong to third- and fourth-generation vendors that arrange their produce, fish, poultry, and meat in ornate forms.

In the past couple of decades, the market gradually adapted to cater to its new foreign-born clientele from five continents, following the vast demographic change that reshaped the medieval and Gothic neighborhoods of the old city surrounding La Boquería.

And with a new economic reality and more expensive retail prices, its survival instincts are giving way to new products directed at the swarms of tourists that have increasingly flocked to Barcelona, especially since the 1992 Olympics.

The market’s hallmark fish focus is increasingly varied by the presence of spices, souvenirs, and bizarre products from around the world that attract large groups of camera-toting tourists trailing their guides.

How about a refreshing fruit salad on a stick? Or cured ham with melon tapas? Or a quick stop in dozens of tapas bars and cafes reconfigured into terraces and staffed by multilingual waiters? It’s simply irresistible.

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