Fifty thousand people visit Barcelona’s La Boqueria market every day. They enter beneath an arch from which the city’s shield hangs with the words “Mercat St Josep La Boqueria” attached. Antoni de Falguera designed the entrance in 1913, one year before the market had its roof installed. The same roof today covers La Boqueria, which at 45,000-square-feet is Spain’s largest market. Guests go to shop and eat at the 240 vendors and restaurants there, and they can find every ingredient in the Spanish pantry. But the real reason to go to La Boqueria is to eat at El Quim, because that’s where you find the best breakfast in Barcelona.

You see every color under the sun within your first dozen steps in La Boqueria. There are orange mangoes, red tomatoes, yellow chanterelles, green and purple figs, every earth tone in the form of nuts and dried fruits. There is a rainbow of fresh-pressed juices. Stay the course. Pass Vidal Pons (est. 1897) and Soley Roser (est. 1864). When you get to Sprim Fruit (est. 1943), hang a left.

Look for the stall with a flurry of fiery red shirts. This is El Quim, a tiny 30-year-old restaurant with 18 stools that goes through 1,200 eggs a week (it’s closed Sundays and Mondays). For about 20 euros, two of those eggs can be yours, perfectly fried over easy and piled with chipirones—baby squid—that have been blistered in a screaming hot pan with minced garlic and diced chilies. The squid turn purple from the heat. They are flecked with green chives and prove eager to swim again in the dish’s bright yellow yolks. 

Chef and owner Quim Márquez was born in Barcelona. His left arm is covered in tattoos and he wears a thin pair of wire-framed glasses. He got the idea for the eggs and squid dish “about 16 years ago when I went to Via Veneto and ate eggs with baby eels,” he told me, referring to the Michelin-starred restaurant that opened near the market in 1967. But he wanted to use an ingredient that’s cheaper than eel, so he chose llangueta, “a very small fish from north of Catalunya.” Llangueta season is January through March, so you’ll find those on the menu in the winter, but he says he wanted to do the dish with baby squid, which can be found year round.

Sitting at the counter and facing the action at El Quim gives you a good sense of how your huevos fritos con chipirones is being prepared. But you won’t actually be able to see it. This is not like a breakfast counter or greasy spoon in America. There is no clear view of a flat top. No par-cooked bacon off to one side or warm home fries. At El Quim, the action is set on a stage a foot off the ground like a pharmacist’s counter. Even perched high on a stool with your neck strained to steal a peak above a display case piled with tapas and full of fish and beans and vegetables, there is too much commotion to even make out the blue flame that heats the pan. Employees laugh and joke as they prepare your breakfast. The market’s ingredients are hyper-fresh, allowing Márquez to coax such big flavors out of such a tiny kitchen.

Márquez was working at a bar in the market before he opened El Quim in August of 1987. He was drawn to the energy and the early hours of the market, which he calls “a small village inside the big city.” With his evenings free, Márquez is able to explore the city’s food and keep up with trends. He goes beyond jamón, anchovies, and olives, and he pushes the envelope with prawns in Cava, bull tail risotto, and eggs with squid. 

Stools at El Quim slide in and out as guests come and go. When you least expect it, even if you waited five years to eat the dish again as I had and couldn’t be more ready to receive it, an employee will stop dead is his tracks.The others will still be whirling around, but one will stand frozen in front of you with an outstretched arm. At one end is a smile, at the other end is the best breakfast in Barcelona.