Barcelona's most spectacular food market, also known as the Mercat de Sant Josep, is an explosion of life and color graced with wonderful little tapas bar–restaurants (with counter seating only). Stall after stall of fruit, herbs, wild mushrooms, vegetables, nuts, candied preserves, cheese, ham, fish, poultry, and provender of every imaginable genus and strain greet you as you turn in from La Rambla and wade through the throng of shoppers and casual visitors. (The market has become such a popular venue that tourist groups of 15 people or more are banned from 8 am to 3 pm, Friday and Saturday.) Under a Moderniste hangar of wrought-iron girders and stained glass, the market occupies a neoclassical square built in 1840 by architect Francesc Daniel Molina. The Ionic columns visible around the edges of the market were part of the mid-19th-century neoclassical square constructed here after the original Sant Josep convent was torn down, uncovered in 2001 after more than a century of neglect.
Highlights include the sunny greengrocer's market outside (to the right if you've come in from La Rambla), along with Pinotxo (Pinocchio), just inside to the right, where owner Juanito Bayén and his family serve some of the best food in Barcelona. (The secret? "Fresh, fast, hot, salty, and garlicky.") Can't get a seat? The Kiosko Universal, over toward the port side of the market, and Quim de la Boqueria, both offer delicious alternatives. Don't miss the herb-and-wild-mushroom stand at the back of the market, with its display of fruits del bosc (fruits of the forest): wild mushrooms, herbs, nuts, and berries.