The Market of El Carmen is a renovated historic market with the addition of a bar that we heartily reccommend
The first time I had any contact with the Mercado del Carmen in Málaga, it had already been reformed. We were having dinner in a small terrace with the church of Nuestra Señora del Carmen just behind us, and I knew it because of the Semana Santa processions. When the waitress came to take our order, I realized that this was not just any bar. The bar at the end of the renovated Mercado del Carmen, is in fact, an extension of the marketplace, and even in the evening, the waitress and cook will tell you what fresh fish are available, and the chef will suggest ways that it might be prepared: grilled, lightly fried, etc. How often does that happen? I had to find out more!
The Mercado del Carmen is located in one of the oldest fishing neighborhoods in Málaga, “El Perchel.” This area was one of the first areas outside the hispano-arab city walls. It was born out of necessity, so that the city residents would not be bothered by the smell of fish drying (an unwelcome consequence of the growing fishing industry). It gets its name from the fact that the fishermen would use “perchas” (hangers) in order to dry the fish. In its early days, it was considered a marginal neighborhood and it wasn´t until the end of the 19th century that the upper classes began to come to the area for fairs and traditions.
And, for over 140 years, the Mercado del Carmen has been a place for the people of Málaga to buy fish caught fresh and brought in that morning from the port. The old Market was closed in 2010, but the new, renovated marketplace boasts the same good quality seafood and a little bar where you can order up the catch of the day along with an ice cold beer.
The first time I visited, the market was closed, but I returned on a separate occasion to watch the vendors in action. I have always been fascinated by markets, even when I was a little girl and we went to the Pennsylvania Dutch Market to buy produce. I remember being too short to see the counters properly, and the smells of Lebanon bologna (a kind of sweet salami), ham, and cheese, as well as the fresh and earthy smell of vegetables brought straight from the farm. As I grew older, my fascination with market places has continued. I am always sucked in by the action, the smells, the sounds and people bustling about, and the air of confidence that the people running the stands seem to have.
The renovated Mercado del Carmen is not one of the bigger markets I´ve seen, but it does have lots of room for fresh seafood and local products. Here you canfind all sorts of high quality vegetables, fish and shellfish from the Sea of Alborán, select meats, artisan breads, spices, extra large eggs, and more. The prices you find in the market are reasonable, and the people working there are always friendly and attentive.
The bar is found in one corner of the market, through a set of double doors, and although the indoor portion is very plain (a few tables and a bar) the outdoor terrace is a perfect place to enjoy a summer meal. We visited with a big group, and had a great time trying lots of different “raciones” (dishes to share) and tapas. Among other dishes, we tried: Salad with boquerons cured in vinegar, spicy shrimp skewers with little toast rounds spread with ali-oli sauce and the fried fish “catch of the day”.
There is something authentic and raw about the atmosphere of the Mercado del Carmen that sets it apart from other markets cum eating venues that I´ve visited (see our article on el Mercado San Antón in Madrid). While the outdoor area is gorgeous, with small white lights and the historic church as a backdrop, the waitresses and recommendations of the chef remind you that this is the real deal. You have come to eat fish in the fisherman´s neighborhood of El Perchel, and if your experience is anything like ours, you won´t be disappointed. A visit to El Mercado del Carmen is ruskommended with 5 boquerones.