When I told a few of my colleagues that I was visiting Mallorca on a food trip, their expressions ranged from a wry smirk, to incredulous and on to ‘the woman’s gone mad kind of look’. Well, I hadn’t, I knew that I would find plenty of gems to reveal to them and to the magazine who had commissioned me.
Accompanied by my trusty ‘genius with a lens’ we flew into Palma, a flight of only 2hrs 45mins from the UK. Making wide sweeps over the north of the island, the pilot put on the fasten your seat belts sign and hot footed it down (rapidly may I say) into Palma Airport. But I was still marvelling at the tremendous landscape in the north, not the built-up metropolis of the south, where we could actually see what I called ‘Bottleneck Beach’, the sun worshippers were so close together! I already knew that I couldn’t wait to get back to the north, with the rugged and glorious Tramuntana Mountains, dotted with small villages, ‘fincas’, shepherds huts and some luxury villas and hotels (the latter was in the minority). Celebrity homes abound – think Michael Douglas, Rafael Nadal, Pierce Brosnan, Claudia Schiffer, Suzi Quatro and many others. Richard Branson, the aviation entrepreneur, once owned ‘La Residencia’ hotel, but sold out to a group in early 2000. Deia, where it is located, should be on your list of places to visit in the north.
Visiting the North of Mallorca
I had a feeling about the north and could not wait to get back there. Fortunately, we were staying there most of the time, with one night in Palma to ‘experience’ the food delights on offer. The moral of my story is ‘avoid the beaches of the south and go for the towns and villages inland and mainly to the north’, that offer so much more.
Majorca during the late ‘60s and ad infinitum was given a bad rap, mostly pointing to the British tourists who arrived in their droves by package tours and who sought ‘fish and chips’, ‘Eeenglish Brekfast’ (never spelt correctly then), and ‘Typhoo Tea’. Well, you can still get all of those things to make you feel at home, but Majorca is so, so much more. Anyone mention paella or spit-roasted suckling pig? But do not worry vegetarians and vegans, (particularly soup lovers), you have a culinary mountain of dishes to choose from.
We had taken an early flight, which took us into our hotel, safe and sound by 8am! No checking in before 2pm, so we dumped our bags and headed straight out onto the bustling Palma streets, heading towards the first foodie paradise we could find – and we did. Needless to say, I can smell a market from a mile away!
Visiting the Markets
I would like to take the opportunity of thanking the delicious Mallorquin man, who advised us to go to ‘Mercat 1930’ – this venue is an example of how the gastronomic market trend has hit Palma hard and fast, and the city now boasts two of these hot spots to choose from. In fact, you can go to a market any day of the week, in some town or another! It is very much ‘street’ as opposed to luxury with so many stalls all under one roof, offering not just Mallorquin dishes, but also others from worldwide, such is the availability of top-notch produce. Here, vermouth bars and sherry bars cohabit together, along with a mixture of tapas style dishes to sumptuous grilled meat and fish platters. Don’t forget, you can buy virtually any foodstuff you require if you are on holiday where you need to cook. Not your typical markets, but you can wile away hours and hours at both the Mercado Gastronómico de San Juan and Mercat 1930. Opening hours are extensive, whether breakfast or through to late night tapas or snacks.
In Search of Tapas
Meandering through the back streets of Palma revealed so many delights. We stopped off at a small tapas bar, packed with locals, some eating late breakfast and others with tables full of early lunchtime tapas. It was tapas for us all the way, so we chose the all-inclusive mixed selection – great choice of ‘pinxtos’ and tapas consisting of hot and cold specialities of spicy ‘gambas’ (prawns), ‘patatas bravas’ (diced potatoes in a deep tomato/chilli sauce), deep fried calamari with aioili, ‘albondigas’ (meatballs), ‘croquetas’ (potato croquettes with ham and cheese filling) and of course, ‘pan con tomate’ with Iberian ham – I just love this and frequently make it at home. It is akin to a slightly soggy bruschetta (the tomatoes are rubbed into the bread surface, as is garlic), but the depth of the tomato flavour is beyond imagination, sweet but still a deep earthiness.
A quick word about the ‘Ramallet’, a Majorcan grown tomato, brought in from South America in the 16th Century. They are sown onto a string and hung to deepen the flavour, and it works. I could eat them by the bucketload! They roast beautifully too.
That’s enough on Palma, although there is so much else to say, but we had a date the next day with a driver to take us on to our stop, Soller, and back to my comfort zone of the north of the island. The hotel we stayed in was quite small and ‘boutiquey’ and surrounded by pine forest – the backdrop of the mountains was only a stone’s throw away – but that’s tomorrows story. We had a relatively ‘quiet’ evening, ate off the hotel grill, (still drooling over the herbed lamb cutlets) accompanied by a ‘few’ glasses of wine, then it was sleep time, ready for our journey the next day…
The stables were located just inside the foothills of this stunning landscape of the Tramuntana Mountains. Our guide hurried us along, as we had little time to waste, so horses suitably picked akin to our relevant experience, we took off up the weaving journey to our overnight destination, halfway up, about 5km, which we were told would take about 3 hours!!! Our guide, Joaquin, knew the route so well and spoke impeccable English (and French and German!). Gaston was the fourth member of our party, a delightful donkey or ‘burro’, that carried all the camera equipment and did not say much!
Our hosts ran a converted shepherd’s hut with three bedrooms, beautifully and traditionally decorated, and a kitchen with a fairly basic oven and hob, but outside was a hand-built grill/oven and seating area, where the food activity took place. You can stay here and learn Spanish dishes for quite a small cost in comparison to other destinations. You could smell something wonderful cooking on the grill or was it the outdoor wood-fired oven? The outside table was bedecked with olives, walnut and almond nibbles and some carafes ready for the wine on offer.
After feeding and watering our trusty steeds (Gaston looked suitably unimpressed with his offerings), we washed up, changed and sat out on the patio soaking in the scene around us. All you could hear was the spitting of the meat as it cooked away, and the cicada symphony in the background!
Hosted by husband and wife, Juan and Isabella, we were smilingly served with amazing efficiency. Globe artichokes, stuffed with zucchini, garlic, walnuts and a soft goats’ cheese, alongside a ‘menestra de verduras’ (Spanish soup), packed with Manzanilla olives, white beans, green beans, onions, garlic, sherry vinegar and some type of cabbage – OMG! It was amazing. Whoops, sorry, I forgot the melange of herbs too.
After the starters, a meltingly tender and deep flavoured lamb shoulder was served, with simple boiled potatoes tossed in herbs and a large bowl of salad. To be honest, words cannot describe the lamb, all I can tell you is the name of the dish, ‘paletilla’. Slow roasted for 5 hours, you can just imagine the flavour, with the sauce made from red wine, thyme and other mountain herbs. Salad appeared, but not as we know it – a selection of leaves, a lot of which I did not recognise, lightly sautéed baby turnips and roughly torn bread, soaked in garlic and olive oil, locally produced.
Isabella had made some little puddings, resembling panna cotta but with a caramel sauce – a little like the Spanish ‘crema Catalana’. Soft and melting with an incredible almost burnt toffee flavour, it was just the right size.
We were desperately in need of forty winks, but out of courtesy, I accepted an offer from Isabella to nip into the village to pick up ‘end of day pastries’. The most glorious little ‘pasteleria’ was well worth my aching legs making the journey! Vanilla cream and apricot doughnut style ‘two bites’, a fig tart and some ‘ensaimada’ – a typical Mallorquin breakfast bread. I had a feeling that we would see the latter again for breakfast – and I was right! Pastries here are an art form – look for ‘cocarrois’’, the local name for anything sweet!
Needless to say, we slept like proverbial logs, after Danny, my photographer, showed us some of the shots he had taken during the day – not just the food, but stunning views from the mountain. I wished it had been February, when the whole area is full of almond blossom and apparently a spectacular sight to behold. Danny would have been in his element.
Breakfast was, as I suspected, ‘sobraisada’ with the bread we had purchased. It’s like a Mallorcan sausage with herbs and spices – Isabella (who makes it herself) had pan fried ours with honey and served with steaming cups of coffee and some sweet cookies with almonds, grated orange zest and raisins. Joaquin had disappeared overnight with horses and donkey in tow to pick up some other guests before he took us back down the mountain to the sea.
We really enjoyed our time ‘up the mountain’ but returned to Palma that day for some more exploring. The fish market was a must do – ‘Lljota del Peix’ is where all the restaurants and hotels buy their fish. You can buy dolphinfish, swordfish, hake, prawns, squid, two types of tuna and something called scorpionfish, which is considered a delicacy (let me know if you try it!). Go early if you want to visit, it is really busy and fish sells out fast. Lunch was at a small restaurant nearby (apparently the passion of the local fishermen), and we had the speciality of an ‘unknown’ local catch, baked in a salt crust. Simply wonderful! We think it was sea bream, known as ‘dorada a la sal’ (salt baked) – do not worry, you cannot taste the salt at all. The predominant taste is the fish, and the herbs that are stuffed inside the cavity before it is crusted and baked. Something marvellous happens inside the crust, which is mixed with egg whites and water to make it stick and bake hard. Cracking into it is full of expectancy!
Unfortunately, it is homeward bound, but do try Mallorca – the food is great, the people hospitable and the weather just wonderful. Whether shopping for food or eating it, you will love Mallorca and I wish I could have revealed more of the culinary delights this island has to offer.