Local markets are some of my favorite spots to check out while traveling. You get a small dose of local life and access to some of the freshest and cheapest foods in town. We spent the better part of a day in Zaragoza, Spain on our way to Madrid this past June. We hardly did any research on Zaragoza before we got there so we stopped by the tourism office and grabbed a map before hopping on the bus to head toward the center of Zaragoza. As we glanced over the map, we noticed there was a local market and since it was still bright and early we figured a visit to Zaragoza’s Central Market (Mercado Central) was the perfect way to start our time in the city.
Thinking back on it, it’s not hard to tell which of my senses was greeted first as we hopped off the bus and approached Zaragoza’s Central Market. The smells wafting from the market were definitely the first thing to welcome me as I climbed the stairs to the door. Well, let me clarify… as I climbed the stairs I was met with the very distinct odor of fish and fresh seafood like I had just run right smack into a brick wall. I don’t eat a lot of seafood and it has such a strong smell that I was immediately overwhelmed, but little did I know the fish were about to get a lot more overwhelming.
With the smell of fish fresh in our noses, we hurried through the doors to the market. Immediately, we were consumed with the sights, smells and sounds of Zaragoza’s Central Market. Not only did the smell of fish grow stronger, but it was joined by the smells of freshly baked bread, produce, and all different types of spices. My eyes were frantically trying to absorb all that was happening within the walls of the market. Locals were going about their day buying fresh ingredients for their meals, haggling with merchants, and laughing with friends. Stall after stall was filled to the brim with all different types of fresh fruits, vegetables, spices, nuts, breads, cheeses, olives (so many olives!), all different types of meat, poultry, and so much seafood.
As we began to wander through the market, I was mesmerized by the vibrant colors and the variety of foods that were available. One minutes I’m looking at cheeses, fruits, vegetables, spices, and the next minute fish eyes are staring me in the face. It’s probably the fact that I live in a landlocked state and don’t eat much seafood, but I was completely unprepared for the amount of fish heads and their beady little fish eyes piercing through my soul. I felt like every corner we turned there they were, staring back at me (no, I did not get a picture because I was too freaked out).
Fish heads aside, I absolutely loved wandering around Zaragoza’s Central Market. It was so different from the farmer’s markets I’ve been to in the Midwest and it was interesting to see the exchanges between locals and merchants. Next time I want to spend more time in Zaragoza so I can shop for fresh ingredients at the Central Market and prepare a delicious Spanish meal. If you are going to Zaragoza, you should definitely make a stop at the Central Market! Better yet, buy some of the fresh ingredients (don’t forget these tips for shopping at a market) and cook a tasty meal.
What city is your favorite market in? What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen at a market?