A Day at the Market

By Real Academia de Gastronomía

Real Academia de Gastronomía

Spanish markets are undergoing a transformation, integrating traditional stalls with leisure and dining options to ensure their survival and revitalize their daily existence. Here is the story of a new lease on life for Madrid's Vallehermoso Market.

La Crepa, Vallehermoso Market (1930)Real Academia de Gastronomía

Much More Than a Market

Vallehermoso Market is an open, inclusive ecosystem where producers, traders, and restaurant-owners of all generations have formed a new, extended family and shaped an innovative, eclectic, honest, and responsible market model.

Vallehermoso Market (1930)Real Academia de Gastronomía

Vallehermoso Market is a feature of Madrid's Chamberí neighborhood. Since 1933, it has maintained the same philosophy it had when its doors first opened: to offer quality products. Now it operates under a new structure where visitors can not only shop, but also go for tapas, lunch, or dinner in its wide range of eateries.

Washoku, Vallehermoso Market (1930)Real Academia de Gastronomía

The market has more than 60 stalls — including butchers, fishmongers, greengrocers, cheese and dairy producers, poultry stands, and bakers — offering selections of quality food.

It also has a producers' area, where shoppers can buy and eat food that is 100% "Madrileño" (from Madrid).

However, the market also has a global outlook: it houses a gastronomically-diverse range of foods (such as Argentine, Japanese, and Thai) that have helped it to broaden its horizons and ensured that it has not missed the international boat.

Egg0, Vallehermoso Market (1930)Real Academia de Gastronomía

The Heart of Chamberí

From unruly beginnings to a model of a mixed, collaborative market: The historical highs and lows of this neighborhood market.

A tomato from Vallehermoso Market (1930)Real Academia de Gastronomía

A Glorious Start

Neighborhood grandmothers tell the story of how the market doors opened to queues, excitement, and mayhem, on the first day and on those that followed.

Shouts rang through the air. "Manuela, give me a kilo of your best hake fish," "Pascual, what are the tomatoes like? And what about the strawberries? Are they ripe?" and "Antonio, how much is a kilo of ham?".

Vallehermoso Market, façade (1930)Real Academia de Gastronomía

Its crimson facade has stood through significant events in Spanish history, including the Civil War and the arrival of democracy.

The Abad Brothers, fish and seafood, Vallehermoso Market (1930)Real Academia de Gastronomía

Darker Times

The expansion of supermarket chains and the economic downturn in the 1990s was the beginning of a long period of decline that lasted over 20 years.

It was a gloomy period. Life was sapped from the market's corridors, debts began to mount and overwhelm some traders, and many market stalls were abandoned. Ironically, the market was dying of hunger.

This went on until 2015 when an enterprising group of market veterans decided to fight the risk that Vallehermoso could become a historical memory. This time, the doors opened for a group of young people with new ideas.

Graciana, Vallehermoso Market (1930)Real Academia de Gastronomía

The Year of Change

Young and old alike set to work, bringing life back to an institution that would once again become the heart of the neighborhood.

Slowly, the stalls were occupied again, accounts were settled, and new projects were launched.

Today, the market is a large extended family: a community of friends fighting together for what they believe in.

Torrijano y Varas fruit shop, Vallehermoso Market (1930)Real Academia de Gastronomía

Producers, suppliers, and restaurant-owners live side-by-side in a single ecosystem, with a variety of offerings, operating under a market model based on trust and affection.

"We can't do it alone, but with friends, we can."

La Cabezuela, Vallehermoso Market (1930)Real Academia de Gastronomía

A Global Community, a Local Heart

You can do your weekly shopping at Vallehermoso and also stop for a bite to eat. Enjoy anything from a traditional, Spanish pig's-ear (Oreja de Cerdo) sandwich to a spicy curry with Madrid-brewed beer, and walk away with a loaf of artisan bread tucked under your arm.

Asturias Sostenible, Vallehermoso Market (1930)Real Academia de Gastronomía

This diverse community of traders comes from different parts of Spain (including Asturias, the Canary Islands, and Leon) and further away, such as the US, Mexico, Argentina, Japan, and Italy.

This international, multicultural group consists of young entrepreneurs, veteran stallholders, restaurant-owners, and traders coexisting, united by a single passion: building the market of the future.

To understand its traders—those of the past and those of today—is to tap into the heart of the market.

Oliva, Vallehermoso Market (1930)Real Academia de Gastronomía

The Many Faces of the Market

A market is its produce and those who carry out the daily work to ensure that the best is for sale, whether served from a poultry stall or the bar of an (almost) haute-cuisine tavern.

Red scorpion fish at Martín de los Ríos fishmonger, Vallehermoso Market (1930)Real Academia de Gastronomía

The success of Vallehermoso lies in the close relationship forged between stallholders and restaurant owners. It's a relationship of mutual support that realizes success lies in this union.

Chefs shop in the market, and the stalls have broadened the range of food on offer to respond to a wide variety of restaurants' needs.

The varied contents of customers' baskets reflect the market's spectrum of local and foreign products all under the same roof. At the same time, shoppers enjoy diverse, high-quality gastronomical venues.

Alejandro and María Jesús, Vallehermoso Market (1930)Real Academia de Gastronomía

What the Market Has Brought Together

María Jesús has had her own market stall for 20 years—a good old-fashioned grocery stand—where it is just as easy to find a can of beans as some olives. All served with a smile.

However, her 20 years in the business are nothing compared to her husband, Alejandro—"the ham guy," as he is known by his wife and everyone else in the market. He started working as an assistant in 1968, and bought the stand in 1982. Now he is the longest-serving stallholder.

Torrijano y Varas fruit shop, Vallehermoso Market (1930)Real Academia de Gastronomía

Friends and Stallholders

Felipe and Jesús were practically born in the market. Their parents each had a stall, one across from the other, and they played together in the aisles as kids. They inherited their parents' stands: Felipe runs the greengrocer's stall and Jesús had a small butcher's kiosk.

Over the last 40 years, they have shared good times and bad. Now Jesús, who as well as being a butcher, studied photography and worked as a film cameraman, is retired. He just swings by to visit and is much-missed by the market and by his friend, Felipe.

Ruyal Butcher Shop, Vallehermoso Market (1930)Real Academia de Gastronomía

Alberto and His Lamb

Alberto is the endearing gentleman who, standing behind the shop window with a huge knife in his hand, says, "There's no dust around here, man!" It's his way of saying that the meat is as natural as when he first opened his stall, over 40 years ago. A born-and-bred butcher, lamb from Soria and Segovia is his specialty.

Higinio Gómez, the King of Chicken, Vallehermoso Market (1930)Real Academia de Gastronomía

The King of Chicken

Higinio was knee-high to a grasshopper when, while walking through a market, the poulterer asked him if he wanted to help behind the counter. From that moment on, he and his brother, Antonio, were rarely seen without a meat cleaver in their hands.

He has been part of Vallehermoso for the past 2 years, and is now one of Spain's leading experts in poultry products, known for supplying most of Spain's Michelin-starred restaurants with duck, quail, partridge, poularde, and different breeds of chicken, all of which come from the best farms in Spain and France.

His arrival has attracted a clientele of foodies and chefs who, through him, have come to know and shop at the market.

Kitchen 154, Vallehermoso Market (1930)Real Academia de Gastronomía

Opposite Higinio is the market's most irreverent stall, Kitchen 154. When the stalls close, for the midday siesta, as well as in the evening, they set their tables and fill the aisles with delicious aromas of faraway places.

Their dishes are 90% made with ingredients from the market, which are turned into powerful—and spicy—recipes inspired by Asian cookery, and enjoyed in an informal, slightly anarchic setting. Their dumplings, curries, and ribs are sheer delight.

Vallehermoso Market (1930)Real Academia de Gastronomía

The 14 seats of Vallehermoso's only table-bar establishment, Tripea, are the most in-demand. This restaurant, or bar—whatever it may be—owned by Roberto Martínez Foronda raises the bar of gastronomy up to Vallehermoso's roof.

Roberto is often seen shopping at the market's stalls, later cooking dishes that are based on traditional Spanish cookery—such as stews and broths—with a Peruvian or Asian twist, and a deliciously international flavor. All in full view of his customers.

Guey, Vallehermoso Market (1930)Real Academia de Gastronomía

Market Love Stories

You'll always see Edson in the market, wearing his apron and with a ready smile, as he moves from one place to another. But how did a Mexican engineer end up in a market in Madrid? He fell in love with a Spanish woman (Ana, his wife) and settled in Spain.

As a result of this love story, his dream was born: a "chingón" (or "badass") restaurant, as they say in Mexico, where he can enjoy life and cure any homesickness for his home country.

Craft19, Vallehermoso Market (1930)Real Academia de Gastronomía

Craig is another who fell in love with a Spanish woman. He stayed in Spain for love, becoming "Madrileño" instead of American. As Craig explains, there were a few things that he missed, like pastrami sandwiches, pulled pork, and grilled cheese. Since he couldn't find any that he liked, he decided to open Craft 19 and make them himself.

Randall Coffee, Vallehermoso Market (1930)Real Academia de Gastronomía

Barry's Cafe

Barry Randall is one of those hard-core java-lovers determined to bring about a quality coffee culture in Spain. He launched his own "specialty coffee" micro roaster. The result is an exceptional, honest, artisan coffee that's also environmentally friendly.

La Cabezuela, Vallehermoso Market (1930)Real Academia de Gastronomía

Immortal Milk

The Guadarrama goat, a species native to Madrid, is in danger of extinction. So the owners of the cheese company "Quesos La Cabezuela" set to work and began making cheeses with its milk, to ensure its survival.

As they say, "We've immortalized the milk." And since they were making cheeses anyway, they started to sell fresh milk and yogurt, too—all for the sake of the goat.

Picón store, Vallehermoso Market (1930)Real Academia de Gastronomía

These are just a few of Vallehermoso's stories, a place that found a new lease on life, without losing sight of its humanity or its place as a neighborhood market.

First-time visitors only have to follow the thread that runs from one stall to the next: the fishmonger will recommend a fruit seller, the fruit seller will explain where to get the best cheese, the poultry seller will point to the best "torreznos," and suddenly, you feel right at home.

Credits: Story

Text: Carmen Prieto.

Image: Vallehermoso Market.

Acknowledgements: Rafael Ansón, president of the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy; Elena Rodríguez, director of the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy; María García and Caroline Verhille, contributors to the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy.

Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy

This exhibition is part of the Spanish Gastronomy project jointly coordinated by Google Arts & Culture and the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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