I’ve found one of my new favorite things in life– aperitivos. Specifically, aperitivos from Mercado de San Fernando in Madrid.
It’s really everything I like all at once: sitting around
gossiping talking with a bunch of friends, trying a bunch of new foods and drinking. I don’t know how I didn’t know about this before.
Aperitivos is kind of like a Spanish style brunch. You can technically do it any day of the week, but it’s most popular on the weekends.
And while you can find aperitivos spots all over town, and I have tried several, my favorite was Mercado de San Fernando. That was where it felt the most authentic, as it was (very) crowded with locals. We even toured another market during my walking food tour of Madrid, but that one was more aimed at tourists, in my opinion.
Mercado de San Fernando is centrally located in Madrid’s Lavapiés neighborhood. In addition to selling food, the market also sells crafts, and there are multiple bookstores– one even sells books by their weight!
So here’s how aperitivos works- during the week, the market sells typical items that you expect– fresh fruits, meats, cheeses, etc. But on the weekends, it becomes more of an eating market.
You and your friends come in, choose a bar to grab drinks at, and secure your spot.
You then order small plates from the bar you’re at, or even better, send a few friends out to gather food for the group.
It’s better not to order everything from one place, as each vendor has its own specialty.
You might grab the croquettes from one stall,
but the blood sausage over fries with an egg from a different one.
The stall around the corner had the best looking octopus (pulpo a la gallega)
but the stand nearest the entrance had meatballs I couldn’t pass up.
You couldn’t come all the way to Spain and not enjoy jamón Iberico (ham). But, if you’re going to have ham, you’ll probably have to find some cheese as well.
Eventually, your table will look something like this:
And as you sit around drinking, chatting and snacking, you may end up staying long enough that you need a second round. Then, your table ends up looking something like this:
Sitting around, catching up with old friends, making new ones, snacking on delicious fresh local specialty foods and washing it all down with beer, wine or sangria.
I don’t know why it took me so long to discover aperitivos, but now that I know about it, I hope to make it a part of my weekend ritual whenever possible.
Practical Information: Mercado de San Fernando (San Fernando Market) is located at Calle Embajadores 41 in Madrid, Spain. Several metro lines service the area, but the nearest stop from most directions is the Lavapiés line.
Don’t expect to find menus in English, but many of the stall owners speak at least some English. Worst case scenario, you can do what I did and dust off your rusty high school Spanish (and when that fails, point). Because each stall seems to specialize in one thing, you can also just point at what everyone else seems to be ordering or walking away with.
No one seemed to know the exact hours of the market, but when business started dwindling around 5, stall owners began shutting down. I would plan to arrive in plenty of time for a 5-5:30 finish time.
There is a website in Spanish you can check here for more information.