I recently found myself in the central market of Alicante on a weekday morning. Of all the places in the world, I could find myself on weekday morning with an hour to spare, I could certainly think of a lot less appealing places to be. I have to admit that for me, being someone who’s passion for food drives their very being, this is one of my favourite places in the world.
At the weekends, the Alicante Market is at its busiest when locals come and shop for their groceries, during the week the market enjoys the buzz from the slightly older generation, on a mission to seek out the best quality and freshest fish, meat and vegetables at the best prices.
One of the things I love most about Alicante is that it is a working city. It enjoys tourism during the summer months, but, for the most part, living in Alicante is a truly Spanish experience. The market is a little smaller than the famous indoor markets of Barcelona and Madrid, but the quality of produce is just as good, if not better. What it lacks in size it more than makes up for in authenticity and ambience. Wandering among the nearly 300 stalls, set out over two stories, you see the stall holders engaging with their regular customers, you hear the noisy banter between the workers and you just get the feeling that this place is happy with itself and doesn’t want to try to be anything different.
I was only in the Mercado region for a short while this particular morning, due to a meeting, so, while I waited, I decided to look for some breakfast, because I knew I had a long day ahead of me and I probably wouldn’t get chance for lunch.
I sat on a stool in an upstairs bar called “Mil Neueve Vientiuno”. The name celebrates the year that the Alicante Market building was completed. They even have a series of photographs on the wall where it’s possible to see some of the construction going on.
I needed something substantial to tide me over, so I ordered a classic Spanish breakfast of Pan con tomate y jamon with coffee and a fresh orange juice. You really couldn’t start the day in a more Spanish way.
Although the dish is said to originate from the Catalan region, I find it hard to imagine that no one had thought of reviving slightly hardened bread with something juicy like tomatoes, salt and olive oil before the good news came down from the Barcelona region.
Pan con tomate is such a simple dish but don’t let that fool you. This dish is typical of Spanish cuisine, where they have perfected the art of combining a few simple ingredients and executing something truly magnificent.
I usually enjoy my pan con tomate without the jamon, as its a little lighter, but on this particular day, surrounded by such wonderful produce from all over Spain, how could I resist such a temptation. Despite being such a substantial plate of food, it wasn’t heavy to eat. The jamon was sliced very thinly, and I think, that is one of the keys to making this dish feel so light.
As I sat and ate, contentedly sitting on my stool I watched the people in the market being busy and enjoyed listening to all the interactions playing out before me. In that moment, I had a sense of everything being right with the world. It’s difficult to explain but since deciding to live in Spain, that seems to happen to me a lot.
Shortly after finishing my delicious Spanish breakfast, and paying at the counter, I found myself at the back of the market, standing in the Plaza de 25 Mayo in the Alicante sunshine, surrounded by the bright colours of the flower stalls.
My eyes were drawn downwards to the floor where there is a permanent memorial to the hundreds of people that were killed in the market on one fateful day in May 1938 ( hence the name of the square) when it was bombed by Italian planes in the Spanish civil war. It struck me that this terrible event took place less than one hundred years ago. Yet, it feels like something like that could never happen now.
It just goes to show how quickly we can put nightmares out of our minds and move forward. The people of Alicante have suffered a lot of hardships over the years but have always been resilient. There’s a famous saying in Spain, “Para adelante como los de alicante” ( move forwards like those of Alicante).
Mercado Central de Alicante
Av de Alfonso X El Sabio, 8
03004 Alicante (Spain)
+34 965 140 841
Monday to Friday, 7am to 2.30pm
Saturdays, 7am to 3pm