madrid spotlight: mercado de san miguel

I gone and done it again. I’ve recently become obsessed with making short films about and around Madrid. Last week I worked on the Buen Retiro Park stop motion. This weeks its all about the markets. None other than Mercado de San Miguel, that is. This jewel of a market is one of my favorite places to visit on any day of the week or weekend. Usually I try to avoid venturing to places like this on the weekend because of the heavy crowds of people and birds whirling this way and that way over your head, but going to this market when its packed is all apart of the experience. When I first wandered into this market I was initially very impressed with the architecture and its sturdy cast iron frames accented with glass windows, a vast wooden roof and granite floors. I really felt like I was old schoolin it, especially since my headphones were playing some Django Reinhardt (yes, this provided my inspiration for the mini movie shown above). There were bustles of people — tourists, locals, chefs, waiters — shuffling their way from one stall to the next. Since the place has an open vented roof, there were little birds flying over head peering down at the frenzy waiting for a bread spill or negligent plate holder. Wafts of bacalao and empanadas swarmed the narrow aisles where people were most inconveniently posted to talk to other market dwellers. I had to squeeze, duck and shimmy around every person who decided to stop in the middle of aisle traffic for a “quick” chat as they nonchalantly sipped their sparkling wine. And i loved it all: the fast pace, the empty bottles of wine lining every table, aloof aisle dwellers, waiters yelling indistinct Spanish words to each other across stalls, and above all the variety of tastes.

As I was filming my video, I was stopped by a person who asked if I was a photographer. I said that I wasn’t but that I was shooting a short film about the place. We struck up conversation and decided to share some wine and gambas together. An afternoon I thought would be spent in my own world of ipod tunes and watching the sites was turned into a day with a complete friendly stranger. That’s what is so great about this market and being in Madrid altogether. There is this incomparable energetic vibe at markets like this that you can’t get at a Cortes Ingles or a regular supermarket. People are curious about the food, the other market dwellers, watching it all and taking it all in. Everyone’s in complete sensory overload, endorphins are pumpin and the mingling of strangers starts to feel like one big “Great Gatsby” party where everyone knows each other. One question from a complete stranger can turn into a lovely afternoon with a professional photographer/vagabond whilst eating some amazing food.

So… a little bit about the market: It started its transformation in 1913, where it now holds the position as last iron market hall in Madrid. Other, older iron covered markets have all been demolished. And apparently, at the end of the 20th century the future of the Mercado de San Miguel was in doubt because of growing competition from modern supermarkets. The market eventually began to fall in to disrepair. Finally, a light in the darkness … the Mercado de San Miguel was saved in 2003, when a group of individuals formed the El Gastrónomo de San Miguel, which acquired the market place. Their aim was to restore the Mercado and adapt it to the 21st century. Today the place has around 33 vendors selling produce, fish, pasta, meat, beers, chocolates, wine, wine, and did I mention wine. Whenever I hear anyone mention this place, a discussion about wine will surely follow. Apparently, the place is known for its rioja vino and having a glass or two to top off (or start up) your evening is the thing to do around here. And since the market closes at midnight from Sunday to Wednesday and at 2 am on Friday and Saturday, there is no reason why your visit should be limited to daylight hours. Once other stores put down the shutters for the day and nightclubs start opening their doors you will find the market is still a buzzin. If you are hankering for a drink head on over to the wine houses — Pinkleton & Wine — or the various food stalls. The market is located right behind Plaza Mayor (a great place to also get some authentic Madrileno food). For more information about this market you can read this NY Times Article. Check it out, ya’ll. Start a conversation with a complete stranger and grab some of that rioja vino. chin.chin!

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