Many a food loving traveller will tell you that one of the best ways to get an authentic feel for a locale is to visit its central food market. It’s always a feast for the senses that, for most, will lead to a feast on the table either at home or right there at the market. Follow the locals to find what they deem best and freshest, or follow your own intuition for whatever catches your fancy that day.
For a literal and figurative taste of Malaga, try these five favoured food markets across the province.
1. The Atarazanas Market, City of Malaga
Here the historic building itself is worth a visit just to marvel at the mix of 14th century Moorish architecture and the 19th century industrial ironwork along with the prominent and impressive stained glass windows dominating the entire central arch opposite the main entrance. The 14th century Moorish arch at the entrance is original from the days when the space was a shipyard, while centuries of transformation led to a final major renovation in 1868, using the preferred material of the day, iron, but continuing the Moorish motif.
The reasonable prices for such quality may surprise you as much as the immense selection, with fresh fish and seafood a main draw. With some of these goods you may not even know what you’re looking at, but that’s part of the fun, and the locals are only too eager to share their knowledge and passion. The market is always buzzing and bustling with a palpable energy, but as with all Andalucían markets it’s best avoided on Monday if you’re after seafood as the fisherman do not haul a catch on Sundays.
Also in Malaga, this market just opened its doors a few months ago and has already added to Malaga’s up-and-coming status as a top rate culinary destination. Here you can also buy fresh fish, meat and produce; however, the real attraction is the array of stalls and local restaurant outlets selling gourmet snacks, and tapas that are just a little flashier than those at most of the traditional tapas bars in town. In this the Mercado Merced resembles the famous Mercado San Miguel in Madrid and has already become a hot spot for Malaga locals as well as tourists in the know. Specialty beer and wine stalls accompany the food vendors so you can pick and choose for a complete lunch or pre-dinner “merienda” in the Spanish tradition.
This establishment in Marbella’s distinguished Puerto Banús port area rather beat the Mercado Merced to the punch as the first gourmet market on the Costa del Sol, opening in July of 2015. It has that upscale atmosphere you would expect from this neighbourhood and states its aim “to become a reference point for Gourmet food in Spain”. Ambrosia also expands its offerings with a more international flavour to include various cuisines such as Asian, Russian and Arabic as well as Spanish. Not simply a gourmet market, though it does this very well, Ambrosia also hosts numerous charity, culinary and cultural events.
4. Ecological/organic food markets
It is perhaps a little known fact that Spain produces more organic food than any other country in Europe. Within Spain, Andalucía produces the majority of the country’s organic food with a staggering total of nearly one million hectares of pesticide free farmland. Because Malaga is quite mountainous it holds relatively fewer hectares than its neighbours, but still produces more organic produce than you can shake a carrot stick at. Here is a timetable of many markets around Malaga Province where you can buy locally produced, organic food directly from the farmers:
Malaga City: second Saturday of each month, on Cervantes Street.
Malaga City: fourth Saturday of each month, in the Parque de Huelin.
Cala de Mijas: last Sunday of the month on the Boulevard.
Marbella: first Saturday of each month in Urbanizacion Elviria.
Cartama: first Sunday of each month at Cartama Station.
Mijas: second Sunday of each month at San Valentin Square, La Lagunas.
Coin: third Saturday of each month at De la Villa Square.
Benalmadena: third Sunday of each month in Arroyo de la Miel, De la Estacion Ave.
5. The fish market of Caleta de Velez
You won’t find the little port town of Caleta de Velez, 20 minutes east of Malaga, on any tourist routes; however, it is in fact one of the busiest fishing ports on the entire Mediterranean coast of Spain. You’d imagine then that the fish market is going to be something to behold, and it is indeed. The only thing is, unless you are a chef or licensed vendor, you can’t actually buy anything there. In fact, unless you are accompanied by said chef or vendor, or have some clever connections, they won’t even let you in to see it in action these days.
More of an exchange than a market, “la Lonja” as it is known, sees local fisherman unload their daily catches fresh from the sea in separate boxes for display within the exchange. A large screen displays the various lots and the registered buyers make bids from handheld devices until bidding is closed and the money changes hands. This also explains the fluctuating prices at such markets as the Atarazanas market in Malaga, where the price depends on the catch and the premium paid at this special market in Caleta de Velez. Much of the fish purchased here will not even make it to market but will become dinner that same evening in many of the quality seafood restaurants all along the coast of Malaga Province.
Alan Hazel is Owner and Director of Cortijo El Carligto.