January 19, 2011
Discovering the Cuisine of Majorca.
ISLANDS R MOI
My mother had a poster on the back of the bathroom door when I was young, of a woman foraging through a brass market. “Majorca” was written across the top.
The name confused me. Yet, I remember letting it roll around my tongue. I loved the sound of it. Some years later, I learned of its origin in the Belariac Sea. Now I was headed there, at the invitation of a friend.
Mediterranean islands float my boat. Yet, these Majorcan islands are not off the coast of Italy, my home away from home, but off of Spain in a neighboring sea.
Pleasantly surprised, the food on Majorca is super. I won’t say superb, as it would give the wrong impression.
There is an attention to the food that is most definitely “Mallorquin” and distinguishes itself from mainland Spain. Everything is most definitely local. When they say lechona, they mean the suckling pig from the farmer down the road. Tender, juicy, and drippling with crackling fat, the tradition is to dip it in aioli, a garlicky mayonnaise.
I knew I was in trouble. Five days on this island would be all I could take.
The covered marketplace near our neighborhood of Santa Catalina in Palma, offered an array of local fare. There were three stalls that stood out and grabbed me instantly. The first was the corner café for caffé con leche. It was a long and narrow bar that barely had room for the barista and yet it had small wooden tables inside. It strikes me how we love to be in the thick of things. Men were drinking already at 9:00 in the morning. A couple were discussing intimate stories.
While stirring spoons of sugar into their coffee, while my friend and I bellied up to the bar. Old bars tell stories and bartenders know exactly what you want if you come a second time. They place things in front of you without asking. You don’t challenge their intuition, you gesture "thanks" with a nod. Old men inevitably stand around with a cane, a hat and a dangling cigarette. Their clothes are still from the 50s.
The other stalls are no less intriguing. One couple sells dried local figs, soaked in anise liquor, wild fennel and honey from the shop owners bees. We ate our weight in them, before coming face to face with a lady in a sweet apron making doughnuts. If I told you that I don’t make a habit of eating such things, you wouldn’t believe me. I don’t. But here, it’s a must. It’s what they eat and have eaten for ages. We are privileged to visit the other side of the world and be in their cities and homes. It’s a good excuse anyway to eat quite succulent and normally fattening food.
We all know that when we travel, calories don’t compute the same.
October rain came and fall descended on the sunny island. Three sweaters and a scarf sufficed to take a drive to the Santa Maria del Cami for the open-air Sunday market. Not only the market draws a Sunday crowd, but so does the Cathedral with the blue dome. A house along the road between the two was strung with a curtain of red pepper ristras. I bought natural sponges and dark beeswax candles. We didn’t buy Jamon or cheese. Or bread. We have been eating pombolly (bread with garlic and tomato rubbed on it) and jamon and cheese at every meal. And this day, we were driving up in the hills to eat wood-fried oven roasted lamb at Es Verger, a family run farmhouse restaurant.
A soft terraced hill of gnarled olive trees and brush came alive with a bit of moisture. The road made switchbacks almost to the top. The smell of sheep was heavy in the air. We could even hear the bells. A crowd of people were gathered around the door of what looked like an old general store, with sheep staring on from a neighboring stall. Inside, a 10-year-old boy was working the cash register of a bustling room full of tables and people in what looked like an old barn. Plates of food were being served from pots being pulled in and out of an old wood fired oven. A grey-haired woman the height of my shoulders was in charge, minding a lower oven of coals that kept a bowl of roasted potatoes warm. At least 200 people were sitting at long tables in various rooms of the barn. We sat up in what must have been the old thrashing room.
Bottles of homemade red wine came to the table along with hand-cured olives with herbs and alli-oli. It was the best and most garlicky aioli to date. I had been avoiding eating too much of the stuff, but this rustic scene inspired me to forget and I got caught up, swathing my bread into it, scooping large heaps onto my bread just like the Mallorquin. We were hungry for the roasted lamb and it was taking a while.
When we finally got our plates, we dove in. The wine already had us singing, but now we were full of gusto. Our friend and driver Tomas, showed us how it was really done. Afterwards, bones were piled high and just like the olden days, we fell onto our stretched-out arms on the table in a veritable food coma. We sobered up with a walk on the Comino del Castillo. We needed fresh air and the ride down was zig-zaggy and tight.
Paella was no small thing at Club Nautico in Porixol, yet it was a bit pallid, but tasty enough. Eating it in the sunshine is a must, especially with some nice vino tinto. A strong traditional dish, everyone has their way of preparing it. I find restaurants heavy handed. I prefer to have it in someone’s home. That being said, saffron rice cooked in a seafood broth, topped with shrimp, muscles, clams and savory chorizo must not be dismissed.
A walk on the beach was in order and it wasn’t just around the bend. Tomas drove us to the southeast of the island to the Solobrar of Campos, where the salt mines are. These salt mines come from 130 reservoirs of saline water that provide a home to a wealth of vegetation, birds and wildlife. The flor de Sol delicious and sun-dried, has a particular flavor, no doubt something special from the Baleriac Sea.
Further down a small winding road, we arrived at the beach. I couldn’t wait to take off my shoes and take a walk on the cool sand. Summer must be wonderful here in Majorca. We drank local beer while the sun went down. A sailboat passed in front of the sinking sun.
Our days in Mallorca had come to a bright red round end.