A Menu of Mallorcan Food Memories

Sobrasada in the supermarket

The ubiquitous sobrasada

Before we moved to rural Mallorca in April 2004, we tended to eat in the hotels where we stayed for holidays here. The cuisine would have been international, rather than Mallorcan, and I didn’t eat like a local until the day we began our lives here as expats.

Our plane touched down in Palma de Mallorca around lunchtime the day that we arrived and we headed straight to Manacor, to try a restaurant recommended as “fantastic value” by a British couple we’d met. In this establishment we would eat a three-course lunch – with wine – for five euros. Five euros! We might have paid the equivalent for two packets of gourmet crisps in a gastro pub back in Oxfordshire. It did, indeed, sound like a bargain and this proved to be the eatery’s real appeal.

Sensory overload hit us as soon as we entered the restaurant. The large dining room was packed with people and the buzz of conversation made me think of worker bees in a hive. Waiters bearing plates aloft weaved between the tables and the customers zoning in on the dessert buffet table. Unfamiliar aromas wafted from the kitchen whenever the door swung open.

A flustered waitress showed us to one of the few vacant tables, where we studied the short menú del día and made our choices before settling back to take in our surroundings. The ambience was different from anywhere we’d eaten out in Oxfordshire, but we had little time to make comparisons: the starters we’d chosen arrived on our table only minutes after the order went through to the kitchen.

For our main course, we ate roast suckling pig – a traditional Mallorcan dish that features on numerous restaurant menus. When expertly cooked, the meat melts in the mouth – and the crackling…well, it crackles in a most satisfying manner.

The quality of any dish depends, of course, on the ingredients used and this is related to the price paid. Having paid very little for our three-course lunch, we were not too surprised by the standard of food we ate that day. Suffice to say that we never went back to this place – which closed its doors a few years later.

The Mediterranean Diet according to Mallorca

One of my first impressions of Mallorcan cuisine was that it was as far removed from the much-lauded Mediterranean diet as Raymond Blanc’s two-Michelin-starred Le Manoir aux Quatr’ Saisons in Oxfordshire was from the above-mentioned eatery.

I could see that olive oil, olives, and tomatoes were healthy local ingredients common to both the traditional Mediterranean and the Mallorcan diets. Combined with the local rustic bread, these ingredients become the popular snack dish pa amb oli (‘bread and oil’). As fast foods go, pa amb oli ticks a few boxes for healthy eating.

But the amount of pork and piggy-derived products in the local diet surprised me. Roast suckling pig is only one example. That ubiquitous Mallorcan coiled sweet pastry known as the ensaïmada? See it being made and you discover that lard is an important ingredient.

Freshly baked ensaimada – a Mallorcan sweet treat (although laced with lard)

Then there’s sobrasada – the cured paprika-flavoured pork sausage that is almost a staple of the Mallorcan diet (and sometimes even makes an appearance in an ensaïmada!). The most common way to eat sobrasada is to spread it thickly on a slice of rustic bread. It would be some months before I discovered that this emblematic Mallorcan product – which has protected geographic status – adds a delicious note when cooked and used in gourmet cuisine.

The role of the pig in the Mallorcan diet became even more evident when we found a good local butcher’s shop, where one counter displayed an array of embotits – cured meats and sausages – all originating from the porker from Mallorca. Pork, lamb, and chicken were pretty much the only options on the fresh meat counter and all had been reared on the island. A neighbour in our valley owned a pig farm and a wagon would pass our house almost daily, taking another batch of squealing piglets to their doom.

Pride in Mallorcan produce

I soon became aware of the importance of the fresh-produce market to Mallorcan shoppers. In Manacor, we often had to dodge the wayward wheels of Rolser shopping trolleys, as we strolled around the stalls admiring the colourful displays of seasonal produce.

Market stall fruit and veg

Seasonal Mallorcan produce on a market stall in November

Early experiences of fruit-and-veg buying at our local market taught me that Mallorcans are rightly proud of their island’s rich bounty of produce. It was a revelation to see shoppers asking stallholders where this fruit or that vegetable had come from before they bought. Not Mallorca? Then the shopper would be unlikely to add it to their straw basket or pull-along shopping trolley.

We have always bought most of our fresh fruit and veg from a family-run greengrocer’s in Manacor’s market square. When we moved here, the shop’s operation was overseen by the elderly matriarch – a tiny but feisty lady in her eighties, with a wicked sense of humour. Her main role in life seemed to be keeping an eye on me to make sure I didn’t commit the sin of buying fruit and vegetables that weren’t cultivated on Mallorca; I needed whipping into Mallorcan-shopper shape. If my gaze lingered too long on plump peppers from the Peninsula, she would shake her head and wag her finger at me, before guiding me by the elbow to the peppers from her beloved island.

The Mallorcans’ loyalty also extends to eating traditional dishes. They may have frito mallorquín or sopes mallorquines at home, but these classics are also some of the most popular choices on traditional Mallorcan restaurant menus.

Variety may not be the spice of life

In our first few months here, Mallorcan neighbours invited us to their home for a buffet supper for a fiesta, adding that guests usually contributed an ensaïmada for the dessert table. Thinking that my fellow guests would appreciate a bit of variety, I made and took a tarte tatin. Though I say so myself, it looked irresistible – but not as irresistible to the locals as the seven Mallorcan ensaïmadas also on offer.

Whether eating out or shopping for food, doing it like a local gives an authentic taste of Mallorca.

This article originally appeared in the supplement Eat Majorca, published for last month’s World Travel Market in London, by the Majorca Daily Bulletin on behalf of the Council of Mallorca.

©Jan Edwards 2018

Happy New Year from rural Mallorca

Christmas bauble

Our artificial Christmas tree spruced up for the festivities.

When we were planning to move to Mallorca we decided to buy a good-quality artificial Christmas tree in the UK for future use. We were pretty sure that finding a real Christmas tree for our rural Balearic island home would be as unlikely as winning El Gordo (‘the fat one’) – the hugely popular Spanish lottery draw that takes place each year on December 22nd.

We’ve still not won El Gordo (perhaps buying a ticket would help?), but only a few years passed before real Christmas trees started to appear for sale in garden centres and plant shops on Mallorca. They’re not as popular as they are in the UK – where we used to queue in the grounds of Blenheim Palace to choose and buy our tree. But, for the record – if you are planning to move to Mallorca (or spend Christmas in a holiday home here), you’re sure to find a real tree to decorate.

Without a real or artificial tree, all it takes is some imagination (and a bit of time) to come up with an alternative. Yesterday, in the hilltop town of Artà, we spotted a clever Christmas-tree-shaped decoration made from wooden coat hangers, decorated with bright baubles, in the window of a boutique.

But my favourite Christmas-tree-that’s-not-a-tree was this one – seen in a baker’s shop window in the same town. I give you . . . the ensaïmada tree.  The ensaïmada is the emblematic pastry of Mallorca – so what could be more appropriate?

Ensaimada Christmas tree

A tree with a difference!

My next post will be in 2016, so The Boss and I take this opportunity now to wish you a Happy New Year. Thank you for reading Living in Rural Mallorca during 2015!

 

 

Rural Sant Antoni celebrations on Mallorca

The first time we were invited to join some mallorquín neighbours at their farm for a Sant Antoni celebration, I spent some time planning what we should take as a contribution to the communal supper. I settled on a dessert – a classic tarte tatin – and was both surprised and delighted when it turned out to look like the best one I’d ever baked.

When we arrived at the farm that chilly January evening in our early time of living on rural Mallorca, I added our contribution to the long table, which was covered with platters brought by other guests. I gave myself a mental pat on the back for originality when I noticed that my tarte tatin was the only dessert that wasn’t a Mallorcan ensaïmada.

Get with the traditions!

Later that evening, when most platters were left with only ensaïmada crumbs, and my tarte tatin was barely touched (except by The Boss), it dawned on me that it was the tradition to end a celebratory meal with ensaïmada.

We were there again this year, but without a tarte tatin. As usual, the feasting was done at a row of long plastic white tables and chairs set up in the farm’s spacious garage/storage room, decorated with handwritten Sant Antoni-related messages. We shared this space with a couple of cars, and a large flat-screen TV that had been brought out so that guests – who also included a couple of Germans, another English couple, an Israeli and his South African wife, and a dozen or so Mallorcans – could keep an eye on the IB3 TV coverage of Sant Antoni events in Manacor. I don’t think anyone really paid the broadcast any attention: we were having too much fun of our own!

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Some impromptu singing at the BBQ by our hosts and some of their friends

Some impromptu singing at the BBQ by our hosts and some of their friends

Pass the ximbomba

Pass the ximbomba

This is how it's done

This is how it’s done

Sparklers added more fun to our festivities

Sparklers added more fun to our festivities

After a very traditional Sant Antoni feast, a couple of bottles of home-made hierbas (the local herb liqueur) was passed around the table, and it was time for a sing-song and the playing of the ximbomba – an essential musical instrument for Sant Antoni celebrations, which looks a bit like a drum with a stick through the top of it. The playing method is rather suggestive – using a wetted hand to rub up and down the cane stuck into the drum part – and the resulting sound is the sort of farty noise that would have small English children giggling with delight. Several guests had a turn with the ximbomba – which isn’t as easy to play as its simple appearance may suggest. Every effort produced gales of laughter around the table – and prompted another toast with hierbas to the saint whose life we were celebrating. There would be sore heads in the morning . . .

Visca Sant Antoni! Long life Sant Antoni!