Celebrating midsummer on a Mallorcan beach

On the day of the UK’s EU Referendum we did something we’d never done before – despite living on Mallorca for 12 years. Yes, of course, we voted on the in/out decision (having lived here for under 15 years we were still entitled – and had sent our postal votes several weeks ago). But we also took part in a popular tradition in Spain: la noche de San Juan, held on the eve of the feast of Saint John the Baptist.

This evening – June 23rd – is, for most, a magical celebration of midsummer: a chance to get together with friends or family, head to the beach, light a bonfire or some candles, share a picnic, and generally have fun – with a few little rituals in which to indulge (one of which involves leaping over the bonfire’s flames).

People starting to gather on Playa de Muro for San Juan

People starting to gather on Playa de Muro for San Juan

We chose to celebrate San Juan at a favourite beach restaurant: Ponderosa Beach on Playa de Muro, in the north of Mallorca, which – like several beach eateries – was offering something special. For that night they had two invited chefs – Ariadna Salvador and Pau Navarro – who created two tasting menus (one for vegetarians), with the option of matched wines. There was live music from the local Masé Jara Llinàs Trio and, following that, music was under the control of popular DJ Fernando Gullón.

A relaxed beach setting for summer dining

A relaxed beach setting for summer dining

It’s a place we’ve been to many times during the day for lunch, but this was our first time for dinner (so two firsts for that night then). We enjoyed a leisurely meal, with our toes buried in the sand beneath our table, as we gazed out at the lights around the Bay of Alcúdia and the people who’d brought their own food and drink to eat on the sands in front of Ponderosa Beach, in the light of bonfires and candles.

Having eaten a good dinner of several courses, we weren’t quite up to leaping over any bonfires, but did watch a party of people egging each other on to jump over the flames. One guy (who’d clearly forgotten his swimwear for the obligatory post-midnight dip) bravely – or foolishly – did his leap in the buff. We heard no screams so assume he survived intact …

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We headed home late, happy and relaxed, having felt the magic of this celebration of summer.

 

 

 

From the boat to our table – via Porto Cristo fish market

When we started looking at properties for sale in rural Mallorca, we’d already decided that we wanted to be able to reach the coast fairly easily from our future home.  Mallorca isn’t a very large island so this wasn’t much of a restriction.

From our finca in the Mallorcan countryside we can drive to the coast to the north or east of our home within 25 minutes. One of the several seaside places we enjoy going to is Porto Cristo – Manacor’s port.

Porto Cristo is bustling in the summer – and not just with holidaymakers from abroad. Many citizens of Manacor own second homes here in the port and relocate themselves to their seaside homes – only some 11 kilometres away – during July and August. When we first heard about this we were quite amused: people we’ve known in the UK with second homes usually had to travel a long way to reach them – either in the air or on Britain’s clogged-up motorways.  Folks here may travel only around 15 minutes to reach their home-from-home.

Summer at the seaside

We don’t blame the Manacor folks for moving to the coast. During the two hottest summer months many businesses in Manacor itself close at lunchtime and don’t reopen until the following day. People who relocate to Porto Cristo may have further to travel to work in Manacor but, when the day’s (or half day’s) work is done, they can beetle back to the port for the cooling sea breezes.

Porto Cristo is in party mode for the Festes del Carme each July. Events during the week include a seafood fair (this year on Monday, 7th) and a late-night weekend firework display that never fails to delight the crowds lining the port. These are two events we – and apparently the entire population of Porto Cristo and Manacor – attend every year.

This morning we had an appointment in Porto Cristo. Afterwards, we achieved something we’ve meant to do since we moved to Mallorca: we bought a fish at the small harbour fish market.  You only notice the place is there because a few weathered fishermen are usually hanging around outside. The fish market is open six mornings a week and, in summer, for an hour in the early evening. We’d always thought you had to buy fish in bulk here but, no, they are happy to sell individual fish too.

Wind and rough seas had limited the catch today, but we chose a good-looking Cap Roig (also known as a Red Scorpion fish). We’ve eaten this fish in restaurants, but never cooked – or cleaned – one. I was pleased that one of the lingering fishermen volunteered to gut it for me.  Now all I have to do is cook it this evening . . .

Get your fresh fish here!

Get your fresh fish here!

 

Fresh from the Med

Fresh from the Med

 

 

 

The world’s most expensive soup?

For two people who don’t have a bulging bank account, we’ve done rather well recently as far as eating Michelin-starred cuisine goes:  The Boss and I were invited to the 3rd Safari Culinario at the St Regis Mardavall Mallorca Resort.

The latter was foodie heaven: of the eight talented chefs (six of whom had flown in from Germany) who prepared the evening’s spectacular dishes, five are recognized for their Michelin-starred food. It was an amazing event that should be on the bucket list of any serious gourmet.

Eight chefs, one exceptional dinner, no power cut.  L-R: Martin Fauster, Otto Koch, Christian Juergens, Thomas Kammeier, Thomas Kahl (Es Fum, Mallorca), Marc Fosh (Simply Fosh, Palma de Mallorca), Eckart Witzigmann, and Iker Gonzalez

Eight chefs, one exceptional dinner, no power cut.
L-R: Martin Fauster, Otto Koch, Christian Juergens, Thomas Kammeier, Thomas Kahl (Es Fum, Mallorca), Marc Fosh (Simply Fosh, Palma de Mallorca), Eckart Witzigmann, and Iker Gonzalez

But none of these culinary superstars offered what could have been the world’s most expensive soup. I’d already made that, back in the spring . . .

A chilly May

Every May my father and his brother (my Uncle Ray) come to stay at our finca for the first of the two holidays a year that they have with us in rural Mallorca. But this year’s spring holiday was rather different to ones they’ve previously had: it was the coldest May here (and in other parts of Spain) since 1985.

Usually, they’d spend quite a bit of time relaxing in the steamer chairs on the terrace, soaking up some vitamin D (well they do live in England, where sunshine has become a bit of a rare commodity). Ray – who tans easily – would normally remove as many clothes as he could (within the bounds of decency) to build up that enviable just-back-from-holiday golden glow. But not this year. Over the eight days they were here, only one day was warm enough to relax outdoors. Sweaters and long trousers were pressed into service, and much time was spent indoors reading, listening to music, and chatting.

One day was particularly bad. A howling north wind, rain lashing down the windows and a top temperature of 13 degrees Celsius (we’ve had it warmer in January!) confined us to the house. When the ever-optimistic Ray (“It looks like the sun’s trying to get through”) gave up dreaming of a tan that holiday, I knew desperate measures were called for.

In the soup 

I would make carrot and cumin soup for lunch – soup being a wonderful comfort food. A delicious aroma was soon wafting through the house. At the appropriate moment, I poured the hot soup into our Kitchen Aid blender (recently back from Palma where it had been in for repair) and pressed the button to set the blitzing in motion. Or not. The instant I switched the thing on, the entire electricity system died.

Long story short, our dependable electrician came out on an emergency visit and returned later that afternoon when he’d been able to find the required new part for the fuse box. A rather complicated and expensive part that cost more than 300 euros.

Now that’s what I call an expensive lunch.

May your New Year’s Eve grapes be seedless . . .

A native Mallorcan grape variety, Callet is for wine - not for New Year's Eve. Buy small, sweet and seedless grapes for easier gulping!

A native Mallorcan grape variety, Callet is for wine – not for New Year’s Eve. Buy small, sweet and seedless grapes for easier gulping!

For our first New Year’s Eve after moving to rural Mallorca (2004) we decided to do something we hadn’t ever done in the UK: go to the capital to see in the New Year. We booked ourselves into a very reasonable small hotel in Palma (Hotel Cannes – alas, no longer open) and took the train into the city from Manacor.  The country folk were heading for A Big Night Out in the City!

Much to our surprise, the return journey was free of charge – although the ticket man on the train insisted on giving everyone a ‘free’ single journey ticket.  At the time, there were no automated barriers in either station, so this seemed slightly quirky; we wondered how much it had cost to have these special tickets printed . . .

Whining about dining

We planned to eat out and then go to Plaza Cort, in the centre of Palma, where there’s a real party atmosphere on New Year’s Eve – with live music, plenty of revelry, and these days the presence of the Balearics’ TV station IB3. To our surprise, we found that most restaurants in Palma were closed, and after trudging the streets – stomachs rumbling – we finally found an Italian restaurant with one free table, which we commandeered without even looking at the menu. We were desperate – having been on the verge of gobbling down the 24 grapes we’d brought with us for the Spanish tradition of downing one grape each time the clock chimes at midnight.

The food wasn’t memorable, but we went on to have a great night in Plaza Cort, dancing to a lively band. It was 2.40am when we finally returned to our hotel to catch some sleep before our return train journey home.

Showtime! 

The journey was a long one: the train was packed (with free travel, no surprise), and stopped at every station and, unusually, there was music playing throughout the carriages. After a late night and a few glasses of cava, the driver’s selection (we imagined this was his privilege for working on New Year’s Day) of rousing show tunes made sure that we didn’t fall asleep during the journey. We couldn’t complain though: our journey again cost us nothing and we had another ‘free’ ticket to show for it.

When in Rome . . . 

The next year we decided to check out the celebrations closer to home, among the locals.  At 11pm we went into Manacor with the aim of having a drink in one of the numerous bars, before assembling at the church with the throngs of locals. It would have been a great plan if all the bars hadn’t been closed. We thought of past New Year’s Eve celebrations in the UK – all somewhat livelier than anything we’d seen – or have seen since – in Mallorca.

As we wandered around the deserted town centre, clutching our bags of grapes, we remembered friends telling us that New Year’s Eve is usually a family celebration for Mallorcans, taking place over a special meal at home (hence, many restaurants are closed for the night).  Finally, at 11.45pm the bar next to the church opened its doors: we bought ourselves a drink and watched as, slowly, groups of people began to assemble outside the church, where a band had set up their instruments on a wooden stage and was in the process of tuning up.

Our grapes at the ready, we joined the crowd outside and duly welcomed in the New Year. After the church bells had rung and we’d gobbled down our grapes, the band struck up and we joined in the dancing. But by 12.20am most people had wandered off home, leaving a not very large group of young hardcore partygoers still throwing shapes to the music. We ambled off to our car, making our first New Year’s Resolution: Do something different for the next New Year’s Eve!

Of course, this time of year is not all about partying. It’s a time to share with loved ones, to reflect on the year behind you, and make plans for the one ahead. However you spend your New Year’s Eve, enjoy it, and may 2013 be a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year for you and, if you’re a blogger, a successful one.

Molts d’anys – as they say in these parts.

Another tap bites the dust . . .

In all the recent excitement of having our rural finca in Mallorca re-roofed, we were tolerating – rather than tackling – a small domestic irritation. And, like many problems we’ve had since moving to the Mallorcan countryside, it was water-related.

Here be a dragon

When we first moved here, the kitchen was little more than a room containing an old stainless steel sink, a gas-powered fridge/freezer (don’t ever go there), some pine shelves and a small pine cupboard topped with a slab of marble. Oh, and of course there was the gas cooker, which – for reasons you can probably imagine – I christened ‘the dragon’. Who needs eyebrows anyway?

Within a few months we’d sourced ourselves a fitted kitchen, which transformed what would have been Delia Smith’s worst nightmare into something any of Mallorca’s five* Michelin-starred cuisine-producing chefs would be happy to do a turn in. (Oh, I wish!).

We chose a very stylish kitchen sink, with the appearance of stone, and a smart matching tap. Rather expensive but, we thought, you don’t replace such things every five minutes. However, the water in Mallorca is very hard and contains a lot of cal – or lime – and it’s a pesky nuisance when it comes to clogging up water-using appliances, including taps.

Cal claims another victim

In February 2011, the kitchen tap started spewing water everywhere like a fountain in a force 10 gale. We called Cito, owner of the local plumbing firm we’ve used since we bought the finca. We’re such regular customers that Cito treats us like best friends; if he sees us in town, there’s always a frenzy of kissing and hugging. So when Cito declared that our tap was beyond repair, we knew it wasn’t just a ruse to sell us a new one, rather than repair the existing one.

Plumber Miquel Angel knows our kitchen very well indeed

We took his recommendation and bought one that cost more than we really wanted to pay, but were assured that the manufacturer was a good one. The shiny chrome version (alas, the one that had matched the sink was no longer being manufactured) was duly installed.

Water, water, everywhere . . .

Some six or seven weeks ago, we returned home to find a large pool of water on the kitchen floor. We couldn’t blame Minstral, our Birman cat; he’s never yet been caught short on the way to his litter tray. It didn’t take long to realise that the water was leaking from a joint on the tap, running along the back of the worktop, under the dishwasher and then cascading onto the floor. Our very own indoor waterfall . . .

Not wanting any further disruption from workmen, we lived with this situation throughout the roofing job by wrapping a sponge around the base of the tap to soak up the leaking water. Not ideal. On Monday this week we finally called in Cito and, on Tuesday morning, Miquel Angel – one of his employees – came to sort out the problem. Once again, it seemed that the tap was unrepairable and a new one was fitted. The good news is that Cito believes the leaky tap probably had a manufacturing fault, so he’s returning it to the company for repair or replacement. Meanwhile, he’s only charging us for the labour. Now that’s what I call service . . .

FOOTNOTE

Michelin-starred cuisine at Es Fum restaurant in Costa d’en Blanes, Mallorca, prepared by chef Thomas Kahl . . . sadly not for my lunch today.

Yes, you did read correctly: Mallorca has five restaurants with Michelin-starred cuisine. The latest awards were made in the Michelin Guide Spain & Portugal 2013 last evening in Madrid.  And there are also three restaurants with the Bib Gourmand, offering “high quality, affordable cuisine.” The island also has around 60 wineries – a number of which produce stonking prize-winning wines – and a host of products loved by gourmets way beyond our shores. Mallorca is often negatively portrayed in the British tabloid press, but please believe that there’s more to this Spanish island than the resort of Magaluf and its well-publicised problems. The great gastronomy is just one of the many reasons to visit Mallorca.

Pass the ladder, it’s time to get off my high horse . . .

Mallorca in July 2012

Taken on my iPod: Yummy pud at Las Terrazas (Thomas Baar's images in the magazine are much better!)

Taken on my iPod: Yummy pud at Las Terrazas (Thomas Baar’s images in the magazine are a lot better than this!)

One of the publications I’ve been writing for regularly on the island – the lifestyle magazine abcMallorca – has just published its July issue and, whether you live here or are spending your holidays here, it’s a great summer read.

My contributions to this latest issue included the restaurant review for Las Terrazas at the Hotel Bendinat – a must-visit if you’re in Mallorca on holiday this year, and a report on the property market for the first half of the year. It’s a buyer’s market!

abcMallorca is available for sale at kiosks across Mallorca, or buy it on www.amazon.co.uk