Valencia’s Central Market stands proudly near La Lonja de la Seda and Los Santos Juanes Church, as one of the most visited buildings in the city. Opened in 1928, this “theme park for gastronomy”, is one of the largest food markets in Europe and a true representation of Valencia as a city. In 1914, Valencia sponsored a contest for the construction of a new roofed market in place of the open air ‘Mercat Nou’ and chose architects Alexandre Soler March and Francesc Guàrdia Vidal’s design for the building. Construction began soon after this and the building was completed in 1928 by the Valencian architect, Enrique Viedma Vidal. Although built in modern Valencian Art Nouveau style, the market does not clash with the aesthetics of the iconic buildings with which it stands. The market sells everything from fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, meat, cheese, spices, nuts and seafood to souvenirs, authentic Valencian wines and a variety of sweet pastries. With so much rich culture under one roof, it is no surprise that I spent all morning getting lost amongst the various stalls.
I began my journey through the vast fish section, arguably the busiest section of the market at that point. Long queues formed at almost every stall as vendors prepared orders, chatting with customers about what they should purchase, what to pair with what and of course enticing them to try something they hadn’t before. For many customers it seemed as though they had a trusted relationship with a particular vendor, some making a direct beeline to a stall that they seemed to know would deliver the quality product they were after.
It is clear that this is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike as the sounds of various languages travel through the air, creating a lively atmosphere that hammers home what makes this market so special – people coming together to enjoy good food and good conversation is at the heart of the Valencian community. Central Market is a perfect representation of this.
I continue my way through the market, walking past stalls selling a variety of colourful spices, nuts, seeds and olives. The fruit stalls are bursting with vibrancy, they almost look like a painting. Among some there are smoothies of any and every variety you can think of, lined up at the front of the fruits. It is a satisfying feeling to be able to see the fresh fruit from which your batido came. The fruit drinks seem to be popular on this morning, a perfect way to gain fuel for a day of perusing the market.
Central Market is not only a place to walk around and shop, if you look around, you’ll see that most people are eating or drinking something. Dispersed throughout the market are places where you can purchase ready-made takeaway food, coffee, the famous Agua de Valencia in a handy cup to go and many more authentic Spanish dishes. ‘Central Bar’ offers a place to rest your legs, put your bags down and grab something to refuel. Nearing the afternoon, the bar is jam-packed with people sitting shoulder to shoulder on high stalls, enjoying a variety of food at the hands of renowned chef Ricard Camarena who offers a range of tapas, assorted dishes and sandwiches.
Opposite a stall selling jamón, someone stands, sketchbook in hand, drawing the scene before them. Many people, including myself, are trying to capture the essence of this vibrant Valencian landmark, through taking photos and videos. However, seeing someone stop to draw what is in front of them prompts me to take time to notice to beauty of the market: this mix of colours, textures and different cultures coming together is certainly something to be captured in a drawing. The beauty does not only lie in what is taking place on the ground, on the ceiling beautiful domes decorated with depictions of things typical of Valencian culture including the famous Cerveza Turia and of course, lots of oranges and lemons! Sunlight peaks in through the ornate stain-glassed windows, bathing the entire market in a warm glow.
A stand for chocolate catches my eye as it contains a sign that reads, “Chocobollo: the first chocolate bar to be eaten”. I hover for a moment, curious as to the validity of this statement and the stall vendor notices and hands me a leaflet explaining the story. The small brown leaflet reveals how the ‘Chocobollo’ is a traditional Valencian round chocolate and is considered to be the first chocolate bar in history to have been eaten. Containing sugar cane, cocoa paste, rice, flour and vanilla, it is a handmade unrefined chocolate that has a unique grainy texture. The vendor offers me a piece to try, first without sugar and then with sugar to see how much of a difference this one ingredient makes. The stall named ‘Xoco&Vero’ continues to follow the original formula of this first chocolate bar… but with their own unique twist. The rounded chocolate bars, wrapped in light brown paper come in a variety of weird and wonderful flavours from coffee, cinnamon, Mojito and even an ‘Agua de Valencia’ flavour, which I later learn is a favourite amongst customers.
I think back to an advertisement I saw near one of the entrances which read, “If you can’t find it in this market, it may not exist.” By the time I have made my way around most of the stalls, a dull ache in my legs and a takeaway coffee in my hand, ready to enjoy on the steps outside, I understand why. Central Market really does have something for everyone, and chances are you’ll end up stumbling across something you didn’t even know you were looking for!
Report by Shemaiah Rose
Article copyright 24/7 Valencia
‘Mercado Central de Valencia’ article photo copyright Shemaiah Rose/ ’24/7 Valencia’
MERCADO CENTRAL, VALENCIA
Address: Plaça de la Ciutat de Bruges, s/n, 46001 València
Tel: 96 3 82 91 00