Edward Soley (75 years old) could add two decades lying down, exercising his well-deserved retirement, but he has the Boqueria in his blood and he can’t resist the temptation to visit the fruit and vegetable stall that his ancestors forged in 1864 every day. , a meeting point”, he pointed out to this newspaper. Although he has already handed over the helm to his son Jaume, sixth generation Soley, he keeps his passion alive for this Barcelona souk, where he grew up under the counter when his mother was serving. He comes to be another Juanito from the Pinotxo bar, recently retired at 88 years old, who only health has brought down from hyperactivity.

    The seasoned merchant is one of the –dwindling– examples of characters with a long history in the market who officially retire or not continue to wage war on a daily basis between the bustle of buyers and the avalanche of international visitors. In his case there is as much genetics (paternal branch of Boqueria vendors, and also maternal of ‘farmers’) as vocation. With the essential ingredient for the survival of a evolution towards new products and needs, without having to surrender to the tourist toll.

    Thus, under Jaume’s hand, for years they have been expanding their showcases with sauces, condiments, drinks, sweets and preserves, until they reach 2,500 references, specializing in food products from Argentina, Africa, Colombia, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, Chile and other tropical countries. They have hit a target in a city with more and more “mixed-race couples” and a kitchen that reflects the multiculturalism place, reflect. Spicy is now one of his strong points. And also hard-to-find products, from the ‘nap’ from La Cerdanya to Jerusalem artichokes or calabachó, the African limestone.

    Soley jokes when summarizing that he began by “arriving every day by car at the Boqueria” until almost going “in a rocket”, after so many stages that he has lived in the venue. But despite her age, she does not look back at the nostalgia, convinced that the evolution of markets throughout Europe (which he has actively visited) is the same, with 50 or 60% fresh product, as was tradition, compared to the rest processed. And he is one of those who believe that the Barcelona player “cannot be stopped or limited, you have to let it flowbecause it is society that makes it grow”. “It has a life of its own thanks to tourism,” he defends, arguing that the decline in local buyers is not due to the foreign presence but to the fact that “everyone has a supermarket or a greengrocer next door from home”, and even quality markets in the neighbourhoods.

    a few meters away, Carmen Goma has spent 59 of its 78 years dedicated to cod. She has reduced her hours but she resists full retirement, not only because the trade is in her blood and good health allows it. Also because she is critical of the current pension system and the distribution of aid, and she perceives a society with too many “lazy people and no work culture.” In her position cod, which she bought when she was young with her husband, after having been a shop assistant for 12 years in the competition, the days from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. have been common, she says. Her husband was a linotypist and also worked at the stop, to which she has dedicated her life.

    A changing counter

    That period has made him live on the front line major and rapid changes. In the last twenty years it has gone from four marble sinks overflowing with soaked cod, and many others hanging around the perimeter -as some photos display on the walls-, to just one. The rest of the space is now full of oils, salts, preserves and other products that can also be sold to tourism. “This part – the one with the cod, the croquettes and the fritters – is almost as I have assembled it this morning,” she says, lamenting the poor sale traditional. “People now think more about traveling and eating out,” she reasons. They prefer to have it prepared in a restaurant, even if it is frozen, and take the opportunity to point out that “critics of tourism” play that role “as soon as they go on vacation” and seek the same experiences.

    The markets of Santa Caterina and Sant Antoni are too close for the current demand to supply the two salty fishing stalls of La Boqueria, which used to be six, he recalls. However, the establishment is already in charge of his son, guaranteeing continuity and the umbilical cord that links it to the market.

    A few steps separate the sea from the meat in this universe of flavors. Perhaps the offal be the business that leaves less indifferent, between love and rejection of those viscera that are now living a golden moment. When the economy is not good, Menuts Rosa does especially well, as a super nutritious and affordable food, confesses Rosa Gabaldà, daughter of Francesca Gabaldà. The matriarch is quite an institution, in charge of an activity that her ancestors forged in 1900 in the courtyard of the ‘payesas’, until they moved to the interior.

    Francesca, who at 75 has written her working life between La Boqueria, the Torrent del Gornal market and again the first, where she returned 25 years ago, has not had an easy life. After losing her parents, two children, and divorcing her in a short time, she was able to take flight with Rosa with a business turned into benchmark for many restaurants from Barcelona (even with a star) to which they supply.

    Women have lived through the ups and downs of consumption: from the drop in sales due to the temporary discredit of offal, to the boom due to its success among a large migrant population that had it more integrated into their gastronomy, going through the mad cow crisis and the resurgence of the local cookbook with menus. It is enough to see the rhythm of orders of tripe and ‘cap i pota’ from the Pinotxo bar, which it supplies.

    To cook or to heat

    The interaction of both has been key over the years, because although tripe, liver, kidney or heart in all its rawness lead sales and the display case, the daughter -trained at Hofmann- supplies half of the display case with kidneys with onions and pine nuts, cheeks with plums and dried apricots, cap i pota with sanfaina, roasted cua and other vacuum-packed dishes, ready to be licked at home after a few minutes in the microwave. For this reason, she retired a decade ago but continues to look at her position as administrator of the company.

    You have to cross the street to find another local referent, Carolina Palles, in this case wrapped in tulips, lilies, roses and fragrant Christmas eucalyptus. His is the most traditional flower stall on the Rambla, as the press clippings that adorn the interior attest, although its current design is a prototype from 1992. It can be called the 5th generation if you count the first Carolina that sold on a street basis. Then his great-grandmother took root in the most visited street in Barcelona, ​​which would be followed by his grandmother, who even after being widowed fought alone for a business that did not stop even during the civil war, and poses with determination from the newspapers of the time with the doctors Fleming or Barraquer.

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    The five carolinas They can boast of having witnessed the intense cultural and media life of the Rambla. Both generations smile together with mayors and artists, from the immortalized past. It is not surprising that from a very young age the last Carolina (she has no descendants), and with a flower-growing father from Maresme, also flourished next to La Boqueria and made the leap to her counter. She now shares it with her sister Mercè de ella. “I am more of an artist and she also keeps the accounts,” she sums up.

    It is the only florist in the axis where everything is vegetable, without the souvenirs for the masses appearing. He attributes it to a “vocational” path that keeps loyal customers, who buy him a bouquet (now the small flower and the vintage style are triumphant, local whenever possible) who order the ornamentation for your weddings or parties. If the sisters could handle the pandemic and its drought, they can handle everything. “You must like this, because you are in the middle of the street, but I would not change it for anything”. And he announces that when the clock strikes his retirement, he will ignore the alarm and continue flanking the Boqueria. Like Juanita did.