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.
Barcelona’s most central produce market is one of the greatest sound, smell and colour sensations in Europe. It spills over with all the rich and varied bounty of fruit and vegetable stands, and seemingly limitless varieties of sea critters, sausages, cheeses, meats (including the finest Jabugo ham) and sweets.
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, it has always been the place where locals come to shop. Many of Barcelona's top restaurateurs buy their produce here, which vouches for the quality of the market's offerings. Nowadays, however, it’s no easy task getting past the gawping tourists to indicate the slippery slab of sole you’re after, or the tempting piece of Asturian queso de cabra (goat’s cheese); it's worth getting there early.
La Boqueria is dotted with half a dozen or so unassuming places to eat, and eat well, with stallholders opening 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 Spain, these look like witch fingers and are eaten with a garlic and parsley sauce.