A Taste of Mallorca
Mallorca has much to offer—beautiful turquoise water, soft sandy beaches, secluded coves, towering limestone mountains, citrus groves, charming villages, and ancient architecture. Exploring the many picturesque places can really work up your appetite. Here’s an introduction to some Spanish cuisine and dining establishments that especially impressed me during my trip to Mallorca in the Balearic Islands.
Let’s Talk About Bruno
I’d only ever eaten Spanish tapas in the U.S. before, so my first real introduction to the food of the locals was presented by the cheerful waitstaff at Bruno Restaurant in Port Calanova, Mallorca. The dining room windows allow a clear view to the stunning Mediterranean Sea below and the well-maintained marina with 172 moorings for sailboats and yachts. While sipping a glass of cava (sparkling wine) and perusing the vast menu, you can overlook the renowned National Sailing School, where students learn dinghy sailing, practice kayaking, paddle surfing, windsurfing, or go jet skiing or flyboarding. Deciding on sea bass for my entrée, I settled back into my plush dining chair beneath a large rattan mirror with splaying fronds.
I had never considered ordering an entire plate of tiny green peppers before, so when the waiter set down a family-style serving of steaming, blistered Padrón peppers, I thought, “How many of these are we actually going to eat?” Turns out, we ate them all, and there was much more to them than I had anticipated! They were juicy, savory, and somewhat of a gamble, as while most are mild in flavor, it is said that about one in 10 can turn out to be as spicy as a jalapeño. The Spaniards around the table shared a theory on how to tell which of the peppers were spicy based on the twistiness of their stems, but the testing of this theory proved it might just be legend. These pimientos de Padrón are grown in northwest Spain, in Galacia. Their simple preparation includes only olive oil and sea salt. My original question should have been, “How many of these are we going to eat in one mouthful?” (For my friend across the table, the answer was 5.)
Crispy, fried calamari with spicy aioli sauce and a beautiful seafood paella (a saffron-flavored rice dish originating from Valencia)—both garnished with bright lemon wedges—were delivered to the table. My fresh sea bass was set in what tasted like a warm curry sauce, with broccolini, potatoes, and meaty mushrooms—a flavor combination I’d never sampled before but that my taste buds immediately appreciated. We wrapped up the meal with a chocolate lava cupcake and vanilla bean ice cream, and café con leche (espresso with a lot of steamed milk) or a cortado (espresso with a little steamed milk). Refreshed and satisfied, we made our way past the simple but comfortable lodging rooms available for sailing students, and back outside into the salty harbor air.
Surround Yourself With the Exceptional
Tucked between a Baroque 14th-century convent and a Gothic church in the city center of Palma is the comfortable, contemporary Sant Jaume luxury design hotel. Its modern, high-ceilinged lobby and multi-level lounge are a surprising change of scene from the narrow, cobblestoned street outside. A full bar, rooftop solarium and plunge pool, sauna, spa tub, and numerous spa treatments are available for guests. Sant Jaume’s in-house restaurant, Cantina Panzá, serves tapas, market-fresh seafood, beef, and pork meals, as well as “comfort food” like paella and stews.
And what a spread for breakfast! Homemade jams, chilled juices, freshly baked bread rolls, chocolate-filled croissants, seasonal fresh fruits served in small clear-glass jars, organic eggs cooked per your request, and local cheeses and meats, including the sliced Ibérico ham delicacy. At the breakfast buffet, I worried I was selecting too many foods I would normally eat in the U.S., so I asked the waitress what local palmesanos (residents of Palma) would choose from the spread. She immediately pointed out the glass canister of smashed tomatoes that I had initially ignored. A mixture of fresh, ripe Ramallet tomatoes (native to Mallorca), flavorful olive oil, and salt, this “pan con tomate” is a bright red-orange color and soaks into bread like it knows they’re the perfect match. This variety of small “winter tomatoes” were historically grown in the summer and then strung up to be dried on hooks hanging from the ceiling. Later, they were mixed with olive oil to be consumed during the winter as “survival cuisine.” The flavor is rich despite the simple ingredients, and I enjoyed it more than the Nutella-filled pastries, if you can believe it!
Mallorca is also famous for its powdered-sugar-covered sweet bread called the ensaïmada, a spiral-shaped pastry made with sweetened yeast dough and pork lard, often enjoyed during coffee hour alongside a hot drink, although I made sure to try it each morning at Sant Jaume’s breakfast as well.
Dinner in Cantina Panzá offered a steaming jar of steak tartare with wafer-thin crackers, the tastiest patatas bravas (spicy potatoes) I’ve ever sampled, and battered codfish croquettes. Fully satiated and re-entering my hotel room at night, the bed was always neatly tidied, towels refreshed, and the attentive staff even took care to line up all my shoes in a neat row. Thanks, Mom! I also must mention that the bathroom was equipped with a hair dryer, flat-iron hair straightener (hotels rarely have this!), roomy white robes, cork-bottomed disposable slippers, a loofah, a packet containing eco-friendly personal items like a bamboo toothbrush, cotton swabs for face and ears, and a nail file. The thought that went into preparing these room amenities is astounding and is so appreciated by travelers who like to pack light.
A 5-minute walk from Sant Jaume brings you to the main shopping street in Palma, Passeig des Born, lined with luxury brand shops like Rolex, Louis Vuitton, and Hugo Boss, and other fashion favorites like Zara, Mango, and H&M. It really is an ideal hotel location for easy access to the city center, and it has everything you could need for a comfortable and pampered stay and dining experience in Mallorca.
Cook With a Cultural Approach
Ready to try your hand at creating an excellent, home-cooked Mallorcan meal? Deborah Piña’s sustainable gastronomy cooking classes at Deborah’s Culinary Island provide hands-on experience preparing traditional, homestyle Mediterranean meals using simple but flavorful quality ingredients. Along with her friend, Vanesa Matas, Piña teaches family recipes, culinary traditions, and uses seasonal ingredients from the island’s food calendar, pairing fresh produce, oils, cheeses, and meats with tasty organic wines like Ribas Rosado from Bodega Ribas in Mallorca. While we sipped jasmine- and citrus-infused water and snacked on smooth, skinless almonds, artisan cheeses, meats, bread, currants, and olive tapenade, Piña and Matas talked us through the night’s dinner preparation plan.
Wearing striped canvas aprons, we used a fork and our hands to make a simple coca dough from olive oil, water, flour, baking soda, and salt. After partially baking the dough, we added chopped vegetables, raisins, and spices to the top, and then further cooked the flatbread. Olive oil and salt flakes topped it off, creating a tasty appetizer or snack that I will definitely make again here at home!
Piña introduced the main dish as Arroz Meloso de sobrassada y alcachofa, a savory rice stew made with sobrassada (spicy sausages) and artichokes. She said, “We have a very rich culinary rice heritage. Most people come to Spain and they expect that we’re going to have a fried rice, a paella. It’s nice to see that in Mallorca we also have our very typical recipes that are also very rooted in the agrarian world, and so we’re going to cook with very simple and humble ingredients that will afford a lot of flavor.” The final product, served piping hot, was a “hit-the-spot” comfort food that made me jealous of all the Mallorquins that got to grow up eating it!
Sitting around a rustic wooden table with uniquely mismatched chairs in a stone-walled dining room converted from a vintage bakery, we feasted on our last dish, old-fashioned stuffed pastries called rubiols, typically made for Easter meals. A half-moon-shaped pocket of cheese curd, egg yolks, sugar, cinnamon, and lemon zest, this crimp-edged dessert rounded out our family-style dinner. After this fantastic cooking experience, I made it a point to find good-quality olive oil (marked with the d’O Oli de Mallorca sticker declaring “Denomination of Origin” and fulfilling the European Union’s requirements and seal of guarantee) to bring home to my own family, for future homemade dinners.
You, too, can exercise your chef skills and practice preparing the dishes Piña taught us to make! Please click here to view her recipes.
Meander Through a Mallorcan Market
Mercat de l'Olivar is a traditional market in Mallorca offering vegetables, fruits, fish, poultry, meat, shellfish, and cheeses since 1951. A stroll through (try the virtual tour on the website!) will reveal the many stands displaying colorful produce, sobrassada, baked goods, olives, nuts, fresh fish, flowers and plants, spices, and many gastronomical delights. This is the largest and most visited market on the island, with its 115 kiosks that are popular with locals and tourists alike.
Indulge in an Artful Dining Experience
Quadrat Restaurant & Garden at the Hotel Sant Francesc in Palma’s Old Town is a treat in 5-course fine dining. This elegant hotel with a striking modern art installation of twisted hot pink plastic suspended high above the courtyard provided top-notch wait service with a candle-lit white-table-clothed dining experience. Each course was paired with local wines from Mallorcan vineyards, and the meal was a mosaic of hot, cold, spicy, savory, sweet, crunchy, creamy, and colorful combinations. After dinner, be sure to visit the rooftop terrace, which offers a stunning panoramic view over the rooftops and to the magnificent Palma Cathedral. Especially gorgeous at sunset, this peaceful space is ideal for relaxing with a digestif at the rooftop pool bar.
Mallorca offers a multitude of dining options and historical, island-specific delicacies and dishes to enjoy. Make your island visit and your restaurant and meal selections unique to you by exploring whatever entices your palate!
By: Alison Ramsey
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