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The market is central to Madrid’s food culture, and it is where you can see the delightful range of Spanish ingredients and dishes. You will find large covered markets in most areas in the city, but the one in Malasaña, in keeping with the neighborhood’s edgy reputation, is slightly different and a refreshing change.
The Mercado de San Ildefonso is a modern take on the traditional Spanish food market. One of Madrid’s most popular covered food markets was located just around the corner in the eponymous square. So this is perhaps a tribute to this Madrid institution, which ran from 1835 until the 70s, when it was demolished to create a public square.
Although they share the same name, the two markets could not be further apart conceptually. The new Mercado de San Ildefonso is a chic, industrial-looking space with bare brickwork, metal girders and exposed wiring on display. No bog-standard market would sell the type of elegant and sophisticated, Spanish-style food that you find in the modern Mercado de San Ildefonso. And there certainly are no funky fish or overripe fruit anywhere to be seen.
On the ground floor of the mercado, there is a Central and South American focus, although Embutidos de Arturo Sánchez sells small dishes made with the Spanish favorite: jamón ibérico. Pick up a frozen José Cuervo margarita for €5.50 and get a shot of tequila for €2 during happy hour at La Margariteria. Mi taco is next door, where you can get 3 tacos for €8 or 1 for €3.50 in unusual combinations like turkey and mole. From Mexico, you can travel to South America in less than a foot, as the next stall along is Gaucho Directo, which sells Argentinian burgers from €7.90 for a classic burger.
As you make your way upstairs, you pass the entrance to the lower terrace. There are various small trees dotted around the wooden deck, draped in fairy lights. In winter, the terrace is covered with a canopy, but even in October (when we visited) it was full of people, despite the temperature. Both terraces are open from 12 pm, and close at 12 am from Sunday to Wednesday, and at 1 am from Thursday to Saturday. The terrace on the second floor is larger, and it is decorated with an abundance of potted plants along the back wall, giving it a strangely cool vibe.
The majority of the food stalls are on the second floor. The stalls line the walls, with a bar on the far wall, which leaves a central space for eating and drinking. The industrial look continues on this floor with a thatched metal frame that stands over the eating areas. Customers sit on metal stools at long wooden tables that look like work benches. Facing the eating area on the exposed brick wall across from the bar, ‘market’ is written in green neon lighting.
Mainly Spanish food is sold on the second floor, although there is one sushi stall offering a wide selection. Because of their size, stalls seem to concentrate on one dish in particular – if all you do all day is make croquetas, they are bound to be pretty damn good. Amongst the food stalls, there is a place that specializes in tortillas with morcilla and jamón ibérico, one stall that sells only brochetas (meat kebabs), a crêpe stall offering both savory and sweet options, and seafood stall that sells sea urchins, oysters and fried whitebait. To wash all this food down, choose from one of the three bars on each floor selling wine, beer and cocktails. From 5 pm to 9 pm, there is an after-work drinks special, where you can get a ‘mini’ gin and tonic for €4.50. This being Spain, mini counter-intuitively means really large.
The Mercado de San Ildefonso is a charming space, and it is perfect for socializing and unwinding after a long day. You can meet up with your friends, have a drink or something to eat if you fancy, all in a relaxed environment with a lovely buzz in the air.