Spain’s long and sometimes lonely Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route ends in the country’s northwest, at Santiago de Compostela’s cathedral. This 800-year-old church, supposedly home to the remains of the apostle St. James, vies for attention with the city’s historic mercado de abastos, or central food market.
Ever since 1873 there’s been a market meeting along the eastern edge of the old walled city, a location that overlooks the busy north-south Virxe da Cerca street. The current market complex dates from the 1940s, and the granite construction of its eight halls—each topped with whitewashed barrel-vaulted ceilings—recalls the nearby cathedral.
Around 70 individual vendors operate out of the stands in these halls, selling anything from fresh fruits and veggies (many grown in the northwest region of Galicia) to just-caught-yesterday fish and seafood. Even if you’re not a fan of mariscos (shellfish), it’s an exciting experience to walk by the beds of ice and check out still-chomping crabs, Santiago’s emblematic scallops and colorful, striped fish. There’s no better place to get your hands on traditional Galician products like empanada (savory pie), cured meats, soft cheeses, and homemade wine.
In the center of the plaza there’s usually somebody working a pot of boiling octopus, which isn’t just for tourists, as locals like to hang out here and share a platter of the stuff with a glass of white Albariño wine. Along the edges of the market you can usually find paisanas, apron-clad women from the countryside who hawk the small harvests of their family farms: potatoes with clumps of soil still clinging to the skin, a wicker basket of bright green Padrón peppers, and a few bottles of coffee liqueur distilled from grapes grown on their own vineyards.
With all the fresh seafood the market offers it can be frustrating for folks visiting who don’t have access to a kitchen. However, there’s a bar on site that will cook whatever creatures you buy for the flat rate of 4€. Called Marisco-Manía, the bar provides a great opportunity to try such Galician delicacies as percebes (goose-neck barnacles), centolo (spider crab), and navallas (razor clams) without having to worry about overcooking these strange shellfish.
The best days of the week to visit the market are Thursdays and Saturdays, but come early before rolling-cart-toting locals get the best picks!
What to Order
- Boiled octopus
- Fresh milk
- Locally-made liqueurs
Mercado de Abastos
Rúa das Ameas or Rúa da Virxe da Cerca,
Santiago de Compostela, Spain
(+34)981 583 438