You might not think of going to the market when you want to relax, hang out with friends, or have a nice meal, but the Mercado Colon is not your typical market.
The Mercado Colon (Market of Columbus) in the Ensanche district of Valencia Spain is more of a Gastro Market. There are cafes and restaurants open for eating and drinking at all times of the day. The dazzling architecture and lively atmosphere make this a great place to meet and socialize with friends.
This modernist iron and glass structure was designed by architect Franscisco Mora Berenguer. Mora was a student of Catalan modernism and his design shows hints of Antoni Gaudi, who is famous for his many unique works in Barcelona. Mora covered the facade of the building with mosaics of ceramic and stone depicting of animals, vegetables, flowers and other iconic images of the Valencian countryside. The Mercado Colon officially opened on December 24, 1916 with a grand celebration.
The Mercado Colon is no longer a traditional food market; but it used to be. It was built to meet the needs of the growing population that was spreading out from the city center after the city walls were torn down. The mercado included vendors of fish, meat, poultry, flowers, fruit, vegetables; everything that residents of the new Ensanche area needed. The building was deteriorating by the end of the 20th century. With new supermarkets and shopping centers nearby, a traditional market was no longer needed. In 2003 the mercado was completely restored and reimagined into a destination with shops, cafes, and underground parking.
The mercado is currently celebrating 100 years of serving Valencia and is rebranding itself as a Gastro Market. During the months of October, November, and December there will be exhibitions and a variety of cultural events. I’m particularly looking forward to gourmet tastings and cooking workshops by the resident chefs. This is a great time to head to the mercado!
There are two levels in the mercado: the upper terrace features bright cafes in glass cubes along both side bays, while the lower level includes a small fresh food market and several full restaurants and bars. We haven’t tried every establishment in the mercado, but we are busy working our way through them. Here is our take on those we have sampled so far:
When we want to relax with a vermouth on the terrace, we head to Mi Cub. This cafe serves food made from the products sold in the market downstairs. Their focus is on local products. They serve Turia beer, which is brewed in Valencia. All of the wines on their list are from the Valencian wine region Utiel-Requena, including Vegalfaro Vineyards’ Caprasia and Pasamonte white blends, and Bodega Mustiguillo’s Mestizaje wines.
We really enjoy their vermouth. They serve Casa Mariol’s Vermut Negre, a dark spicy vermouth from Catalonia. It is made from 100% macabeo grapes macerated with botanicals and aged in 60 year old solera barrels. The glass is small, but still it’s nice that they offer this vermouth for €2.50 a glass. If we want a little snack, we go for the special of Vermouth + Banderilla for €3. A banderilla is a little tapa on a toothpick, for example a pick of olives, peppers and anchovies (called a gilda) or olives stuffed with tuna.
HOURS OF OPERATION: 10 am – 1 am
Vino y Flores
Vino y Flores occupies a prime location at the end of the terrace. This is a nice spot for people watching with a glass of wine and plate of jamón. Their Jamón de Teruel is quite good at only €4.50 for half racion including bread.
When ordering a glass of wine, they bring the bottle to the table to pour for you so you can see what you are drinking. This is a nice touch. We like the Beronia Crianza from Rioja with the jamon. The Protos Roble from Ribera del Duero is a little fruitier and nice to drink on its own while enjoying the view of the mercado and the people strolling by.
HOURS OF OPERATION: 9:00 am – 2:00 am
There are two Horchaterias on the terrace. Horchata is a traditional Valencian beverage made from ground tiger nuts, also called chufas. It is loved by Valencians, who typically drink it during la merienda (afternoon snack) with a sweet bread called a farton. Horchatería Daniel has been making horchata in Valencia since 1949. Casa de l’Orxata has been in the mercado for more than 10 years. You can also get coffee, tea, ice cream and other sweet treats at both cafes.
Ma Khin Cafe
Every now and then, it’s nice to veer away from traditional Spanish food and try a different taste. Downstairs in the mercado, Ma Khin Cafe is a fusion restaurant serving Colonial Asian food. The menu includes curries, Sichuan sautes, and many light healthy options. We had a very nice lunch there that helped break us from our routine of jamón and croquetas.
We started our meal with two glasses of wine: a verdejo and txokolina. Both white wines were very good, bright, citrusy. They brought us an appetite teaser of crispy lentil cumin bread and a slightly spicy house-made yogurt with lemon, cumin, red chili pepper and other secret ingredients that our server would not divulge. The lentil bread was so good we asked for more.
For an appetizer, we started with spring rolls of sepia (cuttlefish) and langostinos. The langostinos were large and juicy inside of hot crispy shells, served with a dipping sauce of honey, lemon and sriracha.
For our main dish, we shared the Cantonese steamed fish. A beautiful piece of sea bass (corvina) was served over steamed vegetables in a very subtle white wine sauce with a basket of rice.
HOURS OF OPERATION: Lunch 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm /Afternoon snacks and light menus 5:00 pm – 8:00 pm / Dinner 8:00 pm – midnight
Las Cervezas del Mercado
Most beer on tap at restaurants and bars are very light Spanish lagers. They are perfect with typical Spanish food. However, when we’re in the mood for a really good beer, Las Cervezas del Mercado is the place to go. Downstairs in the mercado, they sell Belgian and craft beers from all over the world. The current selection of 16 beers on tap is listed on the screen overhead. In addition to what is on tap, they have hundreds of different bottled beers from around the world available for take out only.
As usual, we tend to be there at off hours and get the bartender to ourselve for beer related chit chat. His favorite beer in the shop is the Guinness Special Export. Las Cervezas del Mercado has exclusive rights with the only tap of this in the world outside of Belgium. Of course we had one, and agreed that it is a mighty good beer.
And what could go better with beer than Patatas Bravas? These fried potatoes covered with hot sauce and garlic mayo seem to be the most popular tapa in Spain. The version at Las Cervezas del Mercado were tasty and not as heavy as some we’ve seen.
HOURS OF OPERATION: Monday – Sunday 10 am – 11:45 pm
Down Monkey Business
We pulled into this very unique lounge downstairs in the mercado to escape the heat one hot summer evening. The eclectic decor of the Down Monkey Business lounge definitely spoke to us, saying “Gin tonic.” Really, just looking at it we knew we had to sit down for at least one cocktail.
We had ginger cardamom gin tonics that were refreshing, not too strong with subtle ginger and cardamom flavors. We got a kick out of the snack mix of sweet gummy candies and salty corn puffs served with the drinks, and found ourselves fighting over the last gummy root beer barrel in the bowl.
HOURS OF OPERATION: Monday – Saturday 4:00 pm – 3:00 am
Habitual by Ricard Camarena
Habitual serves Mediterranean comfort food from a Michelin-starred chef. Ricard Camarena is one of Valencia’s most celebrated chefs and this is a chance to try his creations at an approachable price. We have not dined here yet, but I feel that it is worth mentioning. Hopefully it won’t be too long before I can share the details of the spectacular meal I expect to have here.
HOURS OF OPERATION: Monday – Sunday 1:30 pm – 3:30 pm and 8:30 pm – 10:30 pm
We have only covered a fraction of the options available in the Mercado de Colon. I think it’s best to wander through the market to discover the cafe or restaurant that best suits your taste. Maybe even try a little food crawl – I know it’s hard for me to pick just one.