Troy Hightower

Even non-cooks will marvel at the breadth and beauty of fresh foodstuffs arrayed in the Mercat Boqueria in Barcelona. This is one of the finest food halls in the world. Set in a Victorian age cast-iron and glass edifice accessed off Barcelona's main walking street, Las Ramblas, it's an enormous space featuring a dazzling displays of fish, meat, vegetables, fruit, cheese, and staples.

Wide ice-strewn swaths of pescados and mariscos--shrimp and prawns in all sizes, sea bass, eels, crabs, sole, flounder, and the wonderful tiny red rouget--temp the seafood lover. Artfully arranged mounds of vegetables local and exotic--small purple eggplant, deep red crinkly-edged tomatoes, pale green baby broad beens, intense but mild Gernika and Padron peppers, and hillocks of beige, golden and dark earthy mushrooms inspire one to compose a vegetarian menu on the spot. But there are also enormous loins of beef, all manner of pork, baby goat and lamb, hanging lines of furred and feathered hares, rabbits, partridges, guinea fowl & grouse and forests of Serrano and Iberico hams and hand-made chorizo sausage to temp the meat lover.

As well as food stalls, Boqueria sports a number of kioskos--really mini-reastaurants, each with a handful of stools at the counter. Our favorite, and perhaps the most well-known is Bar Pinotxo. Here, after wandering the market, we take a caña (miniature draft beer) or a glass of cava and a bikini—thin, toasted sandwich of ham and cheese elbow-to-elbow with white-coated vendors on break, brawny delivery drivers, restaurateurs, and elegant Barcelona ladies with laden shopping carts. For the more adventurous the chef/barman/co-owner Joan Bayén (pronounced jo-ahn, like Miro) and his brothers Jordi and Albert daily whip up specials based on market fare. We try perfectly grilled scallops, and a wonderful melange of mushrooms sauteed with sausage. There are normally chiparones (tiny squid) and garbanzos, oil-poached tuna, long-stewed partridge, a zuchinni omelette--and there is almost always tripe stew. Impecable food, cooked from the heart by dedicated chef owners at a place that's been family owned for nearly 70 years makes Pinotxo one of the best, if not fanciest restaurants in Barcelona.

If, as we usually prefer, your accomodation is a short-stay rental apartment, rather than a hotel, you can take advantage of the marvelous offerings of this magnificent market daily!