Ciao for now, Italy. After years as the world’s healthiest country, the European nation has ceded its top spot to a dark horse contender: Spain.
According to the 2019 Bloomberg Healthy Country Index, Spain’s combination of a produce-rich diet, love of olive oil and focus on enjoyment gives it a boost above its Mediterranean neighbors. That’s not a surprise to chef Nico Lopez, Madrid native and head of culinary development at new Hudson Yards food hall Mercado Little Spain.
Back home, Lopez tells The Post, “Everything happens around the table.” Coming together over fresh, homemade meals — which typically consist of seafood, vegetables, fruit and rice — is as natural to a Spaniard as grabbing a takeout pizza to a New Yorker. The idea for Mercado is to offer that same experience to busy Manhattanites.
Built as a traditional Spanish market (but given an American supersize treatment, at 35,000 square feet), Mercado Little Spain offers sit-down meals, snacks, drinks and an assortment of produce and pantry items. Whereas many stateside Spanish restaurants adapt dishes based on tamer tastes and US ingredients, according to Lopez, that’s not the case at Mercado, where nearly all ingredients are imported directly from Spain and traditional recipes are followed to a T.
That’s not to say that all options are healthy, per se — the hall counts a pastry shop, ice cream stand and churro station among its many counters. But Lopez says that the balancing of light and heavy is part of what makes a Spanish lifestyle so sustainable.
NYC-based dietitian Maya Fuller feels the same way. “When I look at these dishes, I want to start screaming, it’s so fantastic,” she says. “[The food] is a mixture of protein, fats, carbs and flavors, rather than [so-called superfoods]. It invites you to sit with your community and eat a real meal.”
Here are the healthiest dishes to try at Mercado — and at home.
Gazpacho at Frutas y Verduras and Spanish Diner ($9)
The cold, tangy soup is Lopez’s favorite healthy meal, for good reason — packed with raw vegetables, olive oil and a little bread, it’s both filling and refreshing. “I love gazpacho because it’s relatively easy to prepare, and you can swap the vegetables out [for your own tastes],” says Fuller. “It usually has tomatoes, cucumber, maybe some pepper, and that mix is going to give you a nice set of antioxidants, like lycopene.”
Oily olives at La Barra and Bar Celona ($2.50)
Olives are everywhere at Mercado, served as tapas at the restaurants and bars and in oil form in gazpacho, ice cream and more. “With olives, you’re going to get some vitamin E and monounsaturated fatty acids, which help reduce inflammation . . . and reduce the chance of heart disease,” says Fuller. They can also make a meal more satiating, which curbs overeating. “We’re accustomed to olives that come in a can, soaked in sodium, but when you think about how people eat olives in Spain, it really does add a different flavor profile to a dish,” she says.