El Raval is a multicultural melting pot with no equal in Barcelona, or perhaps in Spain. Here Filipinos, Chinese, Latino, African and Eastern European residents have lived with no strife for decades. The Raval is also known by locals as Barrio Chino, a name coined by writer Francesc Madrid after he saw Polanski’s Chinatown, set in San Francisco in 1920, and realized that the two neighborhoods were very similar. A few decades ago this area was considered quite seedy because of the high number of muggings and drug deals. Near the end of the 1980s the city cleaned up El Raval in the leadup to the 1992 Olympics, building countless new apartment buildings.
The Raval is made up of small streets, many of them dark, narrow and dank alleys which house places considered almost sacred to locals. One of them is the Mercat de la Boquería, also known as El Mercat de Sant Josep, located right off La Rambla. This market was once a Carmelita monastery but in 1835 it was destroyed by a fire. Later it was rebuilt following the Modernist architectural style of the era and made a market. La Boquería boasts 300 stands distributed out over 11 walkways. Here you’ll find every type of fruit and vegetable both local and exotic, and many consider it the best example of pure Catalan cuisine in the city since the array of products is mindboggling. La Boquería is one of the largest in Europe and many of its merchants specialize in offering the finest example of any given product, and many offer only one ware, such as salt cod or wild mushrooms.
La Boquería is a wonderland of colors and smells where not only will you find a rustic mom and pop shop, but also newer gourmet stands that cater to a different public. Whatever your tastes, you’ll be enchanted by the fact that the fish at La Boquería comes freshly plucked from the sea at the Puerto de las Rosas.
The stands offering embotits — cured meats such as the famous jamón serrano — are among the best in the city, and a real standout is the Cansaladería de Mateo López, which offers jamón serrano from Catalunya and from other parts of Spain.
Lastly, there is one thing you must do when you visit this market: sit down to some tapas. Don’t be tempted to partake of tapas in one of the tourist traps along the Rambla, but instead saddle up to a barstool at a bar within La Boquería, such as El Pinotxo or La Gardunya.
If the market hustle and bustle is too much for you, venture into El Raval to Casa Leopoldo, which specializes in cocina de mercado, such as rice dishes and fresh seafood. Close to Casa Leopoldo is Ca l´Isidre, a small restaurant where the fresh fish of the day can’t be beat. If you’re not into seafood, you won’t be disappointed by the canelones gratinados with truffles.