Flavours of Mallorca

On the whole, Mallorcan food doesn’t quite hold its own within the culinary world. That is, Mallorca’s food identity is heavily shrouded by that of Spain; with the Balearic islands being Spanish property, aspects of the culture of Mallorca are often hastily grouped together with Spanish culture, when in fact it doesn’t seem to me that they are a single entity. Of course, in many ways Mallorcan food and Spanish food is very similar, and I don’t mean to pretend otherwise; delicacies such as serrano ham, potato tortilla, gazpacho and sangria are much the same in either country. However, perhaps what differentiates Mallorca most from Spain in terms of food is the fact that it’s predominantly focused around fresh, local and seasonal produce; indeed, owing to its tiny size (it is less than a third of the size of Yorkshire) Mallorca is largely self-sufficient in terms of food. The island has been further diversified and enriched in terms of its cuisine by two thousand years of colonisation; the Romans brought crops such as capers, whilst spices (which would come to flavour Mallorcan rice dishes such as arròs brut) came from the Arabian Moors. During my visit, it was refreshing to see that the somewhat toxic supermarket culture that has – regrettably – torn through Britain over the past decade has left Mallorca largely unscathed; instead, locals tend to shop at their small local grocers, butchers and fishmongers, as well as the weekly markets. Most people buy their bread from their neighbourhood bakery; the little bakery in the village of Fornalutx – close to where we were staying – made delicious crusty bread, croissants, cakes, and of course ensaimadas (the island’s famous spiral pastry), and would be more or less sold out of their goods by 10am.

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Beautiful salty jamon served with sweet melon and figs; a gastronomic match made in heaven.
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Inspecting the local produce in Soller.

Where to eat:  Admittedly, I didn’t do an extensive tour of the island during my visit, but Deia is certainly a culinary stronghold of Mallorca; enjoy refined and creative dishes at Restaurante Sebastian, which is strongly influenced by local, seasonal ingredients. If you’re in the mood for a little more decadence, try the michelin-starred Es Raco d’es Teix; it can be pricey for dinner, but offers outrageously value at lunchtime, with a 5-course meal for just €38. Sóller, on the other hand, is renowned for its sweet citrus (Louis XIV of France is said to have refused to eat oranges from anywhere else) but also produces the most amazing local olive oil; the great Ruth Rogers once said that when she first tasted Italian olive oil she didn’t believe there was only one ingredient, and such was my reaction to Sóller’s olive oil, so fruity and complex was its flavour. Towards the west of the island lies the port of Andratx, the heart of Mallorcan seafood, where fish such as sea bream, monkfish and even giant tuna are caught and freshly cooked on a daily basis. The best tapas can probably be found in the old town of the capital Palma, which is peppered with tiny tapas joints; the city’s Mercat de L’Olivar (the main retail produce market) also includes a number of traditional tapas stands.

What to avoid: When abroad, it’s always difficult to tell if the pokey restaurant you’ve just sat down in is an authentic gastronomical gem or actually just a grotty dive. Indeed, part of the fun of travelling is taking this risk (and often it’s a risk well worth taking). However, particularly touristy areas and resorts tend to serve cheap British food or anglicised versions of their own. Otherwise, my general rule of thumb is to steer clear of any establishment which feels the need to include photos of the food on their menus.

What to eat: If you’re in Mallorca, do try as much local and traditional food as you can if you want to get a real flavour of their culture. Mallorca’s silky, salty jamón is a must; huge legs of it can be found hanging up for sale almost anywhere (although I’d recommend you request they slice it thinly for you rather than attempting it yourself; you’ll be chewing for hours on thick-sliced ham). In summer, fruit such as peaches and green figs are as abundant as they are sweet and plump with flavour. Almond trees grow all over the island, and Mallorcan almonds are some of the sweetest I’ve tasted; try to taste both the blanched, salted variety and ones candied in brown sugar and vanilla (though they’re dangerously moreish…). Other delicious things to try include:

– Spanish cheeses: often made with sheeps milk, such as manchego

– Ensaimada: a hybrid between a pastry and brioche, this delicacy is most often eaten for breakfast. They can be plain or topped/filled with fruit, but should always be generously dusted with icing sugar.

– Turrón: a traditional toasted almond nougat, sometimes made with honey.

– Local olives

– Red prawns (the best come from Sóller)

– Sobrassada (spreadable sausage spiced with paprika)

– Sangria

– Iberico pork

– Gazpacho: a deliciously refreshing chilled tomato soup (if you can’t find it in restaurants you can buy it from supermarkets in a carton, which is – surprisingly – also very good).

 

Whilst Mallorca is probably best known for its sun (the island enjoys 300 days of sunshine a year), it’s also becoming an epicurean destination that is well worth a visit!