Jerez Market or Mercado Central de Abastos de Jerez is one of the best markets we’ve visited in Spain. If the way to a culture’s heart is through its stomach, then the people of Jerez, whose market feeds them some of the finest produce on earth, must be the happiest people in Spain. And they do seem to be a jolly and friendly lot.

On our first morning in the city of Jerez in Southern Spain, we hit the local markets as we normally do. Conveniently located just around the corner from our current home away from home in Jerez on Plaza Arenal, Jerez Market, the grand old Mercado Central de Abastos de Jerez may be compact but its stalls sell some of the best produce we’ve seen anywhere. And we mean anywhere in the world.

And the produce at Jerez market is all local, coming largely from the Cadiz province, and surrounding regions. We’ve been back a couple of times since and today the market was packed full of locals heading to their favourite vendors. This is our guide to the Mercado Central de Abastos in Jerez.

Jerez Market for Tripe and Trotters, Hairdryers and Handguns — Our Guide to Mercado Central de Abastos in Jerez

At Jerez market’s centre is the pescaderia or fish market, and when we visited at noon it was packed, although produce was running out fast. As we slowly strolled by the stalls, checking out the merchandise, the friendly fishmongers would pick up a fish and show us their bright red gills, a sign of freshness — with a grin.

All the stalls at Jerez market are named and numbered, which we love. It means the proprietors are proud of what they do, that they want to be known, and want to develop a loyal customer base. And the local shoppers clearly have their favourite merchants.

Surprisingly, compared to most markets we visit, there seemed to be a lot of stalls at Jerez market run by women, and these appeared to be the most popular.

 

Two busy women operate Hnos. Muñoz (despite the name, Hnos is short for hermanos or brothers), a seafood stall with a crowd that was swelling when we walked by, and, as a result, the only stall we spotted at Jerez market with a machine for patrons to take tickets for their turn. Their produce was spectacular — glistening, gleaming fish with bright eyes — which explained the throng. Mantina (No 5), also run by women was almost as popular, with little old ladies lining up to buy the last of their merluza and dorada.

The locals were also crowded around A. Delgado ‘Chaqueta’ (No 27) where the fishmonger was chopping up a colossal piece of fish to order while the ladies were trying his tuna steaks — marinated in olive oil, they told us, after they interrupted the poor man to insist he stop what he was doing and pass us the plate to try it for ourselves. It was delicious and a lot moister and flavoursome than its colour implied.

In the outer-market halls of Jerez market are stalls selling fruit and vegetables, cheeses and dairy, olives and pickles, meat, ham, sausages and cold cuts. The fruit and vegetables were the best we can recall seeing — enormous in size, perfect in form, and absolutely flawless — not a bruise or cut on anything.

E. Rubiales — Frutas y Verduras (No 37) sold what must be the most colossal strawberries known to mankind — from Cadiz, they were plump and fragrant and just coming to market that week. Wild asparagus (a local speciality) was everywhere, thin, bright green and looking far less cultivated than the bundled ones you see in the usual markets. Many stallholders had snails as well, another local favourite.

In the butcher’s hall of Jerez market there was an abundance of tripe and trotters among other finer cuts of meat and local specialties painstakingly displayed beneath spotless glass counters. The lamb’s brains were neatly presented in small plastic containers.

Carniceria El Migui (No 51) had a row of hooks above his counter upon which he hung little carved wooden signs to advertise the specials of the day, ‘Carne de Toro’ (bull’s meat) and ‘Carne de Cordero’ (lamb’s meat) when we visited. This butcher has a great reputation and we bought our oxtail here for my rabo de toro (oxtail stew) recipe for our series The Dish, where we cook a local specialty of the places we’re settling into this year.

Jose Antonio (No 64) seemed to have the choicest cuts of bright red meat at Jerez Market — his specialty was ox tail — while Magdalena Sanchez (No 65), who had a lovely smile, had the largest variety of crumbed things, from veal schnitzel and chicken Kiev-like pieces of meat to all kinds of croquettes.

On a stroll around Jerez yesterday we discovered that the sense of pride in selling quality produce, on presenting it beautifully, and the tendency to focus on businesses selling just a few things extends to other areas of retail in Jerez. Stores specialise in everything from ribbons and buttons to hairdressing products and handguns. 

There are two Carrefour supermarkets and an El Corte Ingles department store on the outskirts of Jerez — we haven’t come across a big shopping mall yet — but the locals seem just as happy buying their new flat screen TVs from the tiny electronics shop opposite our building. And who can blame them when they know the name of the owner and service comes with such a warm smile?

Have you been to Jerez market? Do you have a favourite stall?

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