While some may come to Madrid for the many wonderful art galleries, the culture, the shopping (do they come for the shopping?) I’ve made the focus of my trip (aside from some compulsory tourist-ing) the local food markets. The Spanish food has been rather too good to me so far, but luckily an enforced diet when I head to the UK, ill-famed for it’s gastronomy (or is it??? stay tuned) should counter that.
The first two markets I checked out were the famous Mercado San Miguel and the rather less famous Mercado San Anton.
Mercado San Miguel
Less of a market and more of a fashionable food hall, Mercado San Miguell is busy (even on a Monday), attractive, and has a somewhat unusual smell… A combination of fried food, cured meats, and seafood, it somehow ends up smelling a little… clinical. Nonetheless, the food here is for show and consumption, with one vendor even displaying a monstrous monkfish which I struggled to imagine anyone ordering a slice of! On my first half lap I picked a spicy meat empanada, which was nothing terribly exciting, and not all that spicy… but it was fresh, and warm, and pleasant to munch on while wandering around examining the other stalls.
The market is trendy and also the most central of all the markets, being just off Plaza Mayor, so it’s full of tourists and not particularly cheap. Having said that, I was nonetheless excited to find a fantastic opportunity to sample some excellent steak at Raza Nostra. It broke my lunch budget a bit, but you don’t often get the chance to do a direct comparison of quality produce like this. The degustation featured 3 pieces of steak in the chuleton style – grilled rare and salted, but in this case not on the bone. The stall cooks the meat fresh in front of you in just a few minutes, and also has an interesting diagram of different cattle breeds on the wall.
The selection included Aberdeen Black Angus from Arkansas, Fleckvieh Simmental from Germany, and Rubia Gallega from Spain. Unfortunately the server did not know whether they were grass or grain fed and told me it was a mix, but they were all marked as female. It was 15€ for the three, which I feel was about 250-300g, so not bad (and certainly not as much of a shock as in Barcelona!)
Normally in a fine dining restaurant serving meat of this quality, you’d order a full steak, so being able to get a small portion and compare the flavours directly was pretty exciting for me, as well as the fact that two of the breeds were unfamiliar to me (the most common premium steaks in Australia being Black Angus and Wagyu). Being cooked in a very simple style with only salt, the flavours of the meat really shine through – here’s what I thought:
Black Angus – this American beef was the most familiar to me, with the meat showing the darkest colour, a lean and firm texture and having that rich meaty aroma that one associates with aged beef. It has a robust presence in the mouth. I couldn’t tell any difference from Australian Black Angus, but of course I didn’t have any for this direct comparison.
Rubia Gallega – This Spanish bred beef had a sweeter aroma, softer pinker undertones and a more tender flesh. It was very mild despite being rare and I would say highly approachable for most people.
Fleckvieh Simmental – A German breed I have never heard of – also very tender and probably the sweetest smelling and tasting of the three, with a flavour somewhat similar to Wagyu despite the lack of marbling and it’s duller color. Some may prefer this cooked a little further as it was much softer on the palate and the sweet meaty flavour may not be to everyone’s preference.
As they cooled, the Rubia firmed up a little more but the Simmental stayed very tender and delicate.
Mercado San Anton
Having already had too much to eat a few hours earlier, I didn’t sample anything at Mercado San Anton, but I wanted to check it out anyway. Being a little further from the centre (but still pretty central, really, close to Chueca station) I was hoping it would be more of a traditional local market, but it still had much of the feel of a food hall. This complex is actually several levels, with a supermarket in the basement, market on the second floor, food court on the third and a restaurant on the top.
The quality of produce in the market certainly looked high, and I also feel that the produce in the supermarket below was of a higher standard than a regular supermarket (I did pick up a few vegetables there – I LOVE the assortment of tomatoes available here in spain, including the large ribbed beefsteak and it’s subvarieties!). It was certainly less crowded than San Miguel, however, so if you still want the trendy food hall experience but prefer a little more space, I’d definitely recommend checking out San Anton.
More markets to come later!