Mercat de la Boqueria is possibly La Rambla’s most interesting building, not so much for its Modernista-influenced design – it was actually built over a long period, from 1840 to 1914, on the site of the former St Joseph Monastery – but for the action of the food market within.
La Boqueria may have changed in recent years, filled more with tourist-enticing fruit-shake stalls and novelty chocolates than typical Spanish produce, but head towards the back and you'll discover what it's really about: rich and bountiful fruit and vegetable stands, seemingly limitless varieties of sea critters, sausages, cheeses, meats (including the finest Jabugo ham) and huge tubs of fragrant olives.
According to some chronicles, there has been a market on this spot since 1217, and while today it is a tourist attraction in its own right, locals do still try to shop here. Many of Barcelona's top restaurateurs also come here for their produce, something which vouches for the quality of the market's offerings. Nowadays it’s no easy task to get through the crowds to indicate the slippery slab of sole you’re after, or the tempting piece of Asturian queso de cabra (goat’s cheese), so it's worth getting here early.
La Boqueria is dotted with half-a-dozen or so vibrant places to eat, which open up at lunchtime. Whether you eat here or you're self-catering, it's worth trying some of Catalonia's gastronomical specialities, such as bacallà salat (dried salted cod) that usually comes in an esqueixada – a tomato, onion and black-olive salad with frisée lettuce; calçots (a cross between a leek and an onion), which are chargrilled and the insides eaten as a messy whole; cargols (snails), a Catalan staple that is best eaten baked as cargols a la llauna; peus de porc (pig's trotters), which are often stewed with snails; or percebes (goose-necked barnacles) – much loved across northern Spain, these look like witches' fingers and are eaten with a garlic and parsley sauce.