MERCADO LITTLE SPAIN
A Taste of España in New York
We had just descended from the nature-architecture combo of the High Line, an elevated greenway and park in western Manhattan, when two of my sisters Ana Fe and Honey suspiciously remembered they needed to run some encargos – orders or pabilins to the uninitiated. You see, we were informed some beloved aunts – of no blood relations, but of choice – together with their octogenarian full-of-life close friends, have furnished a kilometric list of well-being creams, skincare lotions, perhaps specialty ointments – all top-of-the-line, only available and sold in better exclusive ladies stores. Hudson Yards was just the perfect haven for quality. We, the accompanying gentlemen suspected it was just an excuse to shop. We will never know!
When the pair went off to accomplish their mission, we noted a sign that spelled out Mercado Little Spain. Intrigued, it was our best discovery of the day.
The name sounded vaguely familiar, as I recalled it was immortalized in Forbes Magazine as one of the 10 Coolest Places to Eat. In short, Mercado Little Spain has often described as a love letter to this European country.
We learned this location within the concrete jungle was established by Chef José Andrés, twice included in Time’s 100 Most Influential
People List, awarded the Outstanding Chef and Humanitarian of the Year by the James Beard Foundation – among many other accolades. Not to mention the two Michelin-starred minibar.
He was aided by his friends and colleagues Albert and Ferran Adrià, brothers who are both established in their culinary fields and were the force behind the classic El Bulli, a Michelin three-star restaurant repeatedly voted as the top in the world for several years.
Mercado Little Spain is a culmination of their culinary genius and offers the best products tapping heirloom recipes and the most desirable restos of the country – all under one roof.
It was a definite ode to the largest and well-known mercados in Spain. We have memories of La Boqueria in Barcelona, which was established in 1217, and San Miguel in Madrid, which garners 10 million visitors annually, with 7 Michelin-star chefs on site.
Reminiscent of the marketplaces, what awaited us was a bustling scene for family and friends to gather and socialize whilesurrounded by the familiar sights, sounds and smells of España. And mind you, this was not during their peak hours. Just imagine how lively this sanctuary would be at Tapas O'clock!
The Market proper – the heart of the entire operation – were faithful representations of farm stalls and food stands, restos and bistros, wine bars and dessert parlors, from all over the nation. As a matter of fact, we sighted a huge map that detailed the specialty of each Spanish region. This attracted a lot of the Spaniards either residing in the city or on tour.
We even overheard one traveler boasted that a certain dish had the best version in his pueblo. Another one proudly praised that nothing can beat her Abuelita’s paella. Suffice to say, the pride of the place was very much alive, wherever we turned!
The roots of Spanish food, as illustrated by infographics, come from the plains and mountains, where veggies and fruits, livestock and poultry are sourced and the sea – home to 3,000 miles of coastline and 3,000 ways to prepare seafood masterpieces.
Having been away from home for close to a month, our mission was simple: to try a little bit of everything, as this was the perfect opportunity to sample all the delights we have sorely missed.
We shared a sandwich at the Bocatas and Empanadas, and agreed that the Galica empanadas were the standouts.
We snacked on some potatoes at the Bravas stall, which reminded us of our tia Maria, who never seemed too tired to prepare it, even with no occasion at all.
A confession: we are potato lovers. So we succumbed to some Spanish tortillas at the Tortilla de Patatas. A combination of potatoes and eggs, it is fried into one pancake-like delicacy. La Barra did not specialize in one dish. However, their offer was too irresistible to pass up -- it was an introduction to tapas for the new, and a reunion with favorites for us.
Cocas, their version of pizza, was customized to our liking, with numerous choices of toppings available – from fresh veggies to various jamones.
And speaking of, The Jamon and Queso stand offered us slices of ham and chunks of cheese. Claimed as the best in the world, “Just don't tell the French or the Italians!" commonly joked their staff.
We helped ourselves to some pork treats at Carnes ala Brasa and Lacon con Patatas, which specialized in different cuts and preparations. Should you ask for specifics, they will produce!
Pulpo y Mejillones offered us some pulpo a la Gallega, a fresh plate of octopus with mussels. Generously coated with olive oil, it was served with baby potatoes. ¡Mas patatas! Alleluia!
At the Pescados and Mariscos, we were bewildered at the choices of freshly-caught seafood, but ultimately decided on fresh oysters with a drizzle of lemon. This corner was seamlessly connected to the restaurant Mar, which specialized in seafood of all kinds in a more formal atmosphere.
Frutas and Verduras was a shop that carried everything that grew in Spanish soil. We chose our particular vegetables and fruits and the chefs transformed them into gazpacho!
At the Paella al Plato, we finally had our taste of Paella Valenciana, one of our most beloved. We thought of my sister Ana Fe, a resident of Valencia for over 40 years, who can whip this regional delicacy with her eyes closed – and yet, a winner at all times.
We went on a proverbial brief bar hop – all within the compound!
The Diner Bar presented aromatic gin tonics, sherrysoda mixtures and sangria. While at Vinos, we opted for only a quarter of a goblet of – yes, you guessed it – wine, glorious wine.
Cheekily named Bar Celona, this spot was flocked with cliques and groups who wanted quick cocktails alongside small snacks. In the same vein, the Bar Manolo took its inspiration from a line of neighborhood bars, where one would have sip here and a drink there, as they walked through the strip.
To cap off our nostalgic day, we simply could not pass up dessert. We each went to separate kiosks -- Helados, Churros and Pasteles -- and shared our desired ice cream, crispy and warm churros and creamy flan.
Fully pleased with our degustation, we grabbed some memorabilia and pasalubongs, and swore that the next time we were in the area, we would likewise drop by the adjacent and related Spanish Diner, a sit-down restaurant conceptualized by the culinary visionaries behind the Mercado Little Spain. But that's for another story.