Dining Options in Palma: From Historic Bakeries to Majorcan Vermouth Bars in the Balearic Islands

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fokus keyword Palma's culinary scene

This feature has been composed by National Geographic Traveller (UK).

On a blistering, bustling Saturday lunchtime at Mercado de Olivar, chefs move with the precision of a ballet, operating behind ice-cooled counters that quickly melt away. Scallops crackle in steamy vapors, then make their journey from the hotplate to my dish, served in an elegant shell duo, glossed with garlic-infused olive oil. After enjoying two luscious bites, I’m prepared for the next culinary experience.

Despite being part of the Balearic Islands, celebrated for their beach resorts, Palma’s culinary scene is remarkable and can rival any city in mainland Spain. Much of this is attributed to the local, year-round community of about 1.3 million people, with Palma being home to almost one-third of them. Tourism has enriched the area and attracted migration, and Palma’s appealing climate, convenient beaches, beautiful squares, and cultural history (including being the former home of Spanish artist Joan Miró) have made it the fifth most expensive city to reside in Spain.

Palma’s gastronomic diversity mirrors its prosperity, but alongside modern culinary trends, there is a strong push to resurrect traditional Majorcan cuisine. I spent the next morning exploring the work of Tomeu Arbona and María José Orero, a local couple aiming to rejuvenate ancient island recipes. They call their food initiative ‘archaeological gastronomy,’ and it has led to two cookbooks and a flourishing bakery, Fornet de la Soca, in Palma’s historical heart.

“Before the influx of tourism in the 1960s, Majorcans primarily dined at home,” María José reveals to me as she pauses from serving pastries to numerous customers. The growth in tourism created an explosion of restaurants and bars but also a decline in traditional food preparation. “They thought tourists wouldn’t enjoy Majorcan dishes, so they began to create more global offerings,” she clarifies. Tomeu’s initial step in his project was to engage with older island communities and document their recipes, which found their way not only into his books but also into their bakery.

These recipes are historically free from butter, reflecting the pig-dominated agriculture of the island. “The cocas [Majorcan flatbreads] and empanadas have Jewish roots from the medieval era,” she adds. “We adhere to the original recipes.” However, many visitors are most drawn to Majorca’s scrumptious sugar-sprinkled ensaïmada pastries.

Other attractions like Deborah’s Culinary Island offer traditional cooking workshops and market tours.

Inside the bakery’s underground area, decorated with ornate tiles and slender metal trays, I witness a staff member skillfully molding dough into the classic coil of this pastry. “We produce 200 small ensaïmadas and 50 large ones daily, and they sell out each day,” she informs me as I watch, entranced. The ensaïmada I purchased was airy, chewy, and delightfully sweet, filled with clove-spiced pumpkin jam and pumpkin seeds.

Palma’s ancient street layout harks back to the medieval era, influenced by the Muslim Al Andalus city that controlled Majorca for three centuries until 1229. In the medieval section, I find another bakery, Forn de sa Llotgeta, characterized by stone arches, tiled floors, and ancient wood-fired ovens.

Here, I engage in making coca, a well-loved local flatbread snack, with Deborah Piña, formerly a Majorcan food presenter on Balearic TV. Now, she has transformed this 18th-century bakery into a culinary workshop, focusing on the food heritage of the island.

“The Majorcan population takes immense pride in their products,” Deborah says, displaying ingredients like ‘red cheek’ Majorcan apricots, the renowned island cold cut, sobrasada, and xeixa flour from an age-old Majorcan grain. “It’s among the most digestible wheats, with minimal gluten content,” she mentions, tasting an apricot. “Would you like to try? Our fruit is very sweet.” Deborah educates me about the strict seasonal diets that Majorcans adhered to for centuries, and she shares the mission of María José and Tomeu at Fornet de la Soca, aiming to resurrect forgotten culinary traditions.

“Since coca is a customary dish, each person or family has a unique recipe,” she notes. Deborah’s version is rooted in tradition — made simply with extra virgin olive oil, water, and xeixa flour. We prepare the ingredients, creating a dish that is wonderfully thin and crispy.

Old recipes are brought to life at Fornet de la Soca bakery, such as roscón de Reyes.

Sobrasada is an essential element in Majorcan cuisine, tender and spreadable due to the high fat content of the local black pig and the humid climate’s influence on the curing process. It’s a versatile ingredient, used as seasoning, consumed cold, or spread on bread. It adds a rich flavor to our coca, giving a perfect blend of Mediterranean sweet and salty taste.

While Palma witnesses a resurgence of its traditional gastronomy, it is also a hub for modern Spanish food, featuring two renowned restaurants with British connections. British chef Marc Fosh has designed a superb tasting menu in his restaurant in a 17th-century missionary, while Eddie Hart’s contemporary tapas bar, El Camino, is credited with revolutionizing Palma’s tapas culture.

At lunchtime, I find El Camino crowded, with tourists being turned away without reservations. Inside, the atmosphere is vibrant, and the standout dish is a rich squid ink Spanish omelette adorned with crispy shrimp and aioli.

Palma, along with other Spanish cities, is rekindling an affection for vermouth. At La Rosa Vermutería, I sample house-made 5 Petalos vermouth, later attending a tasting class led by mixologist Angel Pérez at Brassclub cocktail bar. Each of Majorca’s four artisanal brands is distinctive, with a range of flavors and aromas, highlighting the island’s botanicals.

Lastly, the beach beckons me for a final view of Palma’s stunning bay. A party begins to unfold, and as I feel the sand between my toes, I realize that a trip to Palma offers a rich blend of experiences.

A Glimpse of Palma’s Culinary Delights

Marc Fosh

Marc has called Spain home for over two decades, and his admiration for Majorca is evident in his restaurant’s dishes.

Fornet de la Soca

This bakery focuses on recreating Majorcan cuisine from forgotten recipes, using ingredients like sobrasada and pork fat instead of butter.

La Rosa Vermutería

In the heart of the old town, this cozy venue specializes in Spanish wines and vermouth, with a curated selection and house-made versions.

El Camino

A modern, stylish tapas bar delivering fresh and unique flavors that has become a must-visit destination in Palma.

Deborah’s Culinary Island

Offering an array of workshops and experiences, this is a place to immerse yourself in the history of Majorcan cuisine.

Palma’s food scene is as multifaceted and intriguing as its history, combining modern tastes with ancient traditions. From historic bakeries to Majorcan vermouth bars, it’s a gastronomic delight that appeals to food enthusiasts, historians, and those simply looking to experience the rich local flavors.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about fokus keyword Palma’s culinary scene

What is the main focus of the culinary scene in Palma?

The culinary scene in Palma focuses on a blend of traditional Majorcan recipes and contemporary dining experiences, including bakeries, tapas bars, vermuterias, and unique local dishes like sobrasada.

What efforts are being made to revive traditional Majorcan food?

Locals like Tomeu Arbona and María José Orero are working on reviving traditional Majorcan food through their concept of ‘archaeological gastronomy’. They have released cookbooks and run a bakery specializing in ancient recipes. Culinary workshops and other restaurants also contribute to this revival.

Where can visitors try traditional Majorcan dishes?

Visitors can explore various eateries and workshops such as Fornet de la Soca bakery, Forn de sa Llotgeta bakery, and Deborah’s Culinary Island to try authentic Majorcan flatbreads, ensaïmadas, and other local specialties.

What are some contemporary dining spots in Palma?

Contemporary dining in Palma can be enjoyed at renowned spots like Marc Fosh’s Michelin-starred restaurant and El Camino tapas bar, both offering modern takes on island classics.

Is there a trend of rediscovering vermouth in Palma?

Yes, Palma is seeing a revival in the taste for vermouth, with establishments like La Rosa Vermutería offering house-made versions, and Brassclub cocktail bar providing tasting masterclasses, all using locally sourced botanicals.

How can visitors explore the blend of culinary traditions in Palma?

Visitors can enjoy a mix of traditional and modern culinary experiences through market visits, cooking workshops, dining at a blend of heritage bakeries, tapas bars, and trying out vermouth tastings. There are options to suit varying tastes and budgets.

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5 comments

Mary S August 18, 2023 - 10:34 am

have been to Majorca and i can vouch for the ensaïmada pastries, they are heavenly! Great read

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Lucas R August 18, 2023 - 7:02 pm

really? a love letter to the islands produce. never read something like this before good job, National Geographic Traveller!

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James T August 18, 2023 - 8:29 pm

Great article! loved learning bout the food culture in Palma. Makes me wanna visit soon

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Kevin_D August 19, 2023 - 1:54 am

didn’t know Palma’s food scene was so rich and diverse. gotta plan my next trip there. nice article by the way

Reply
Sophie H August 19, 2023 - 3:15 am

Amazing detail. Makes me feel like I’m already there. Majorcan food seems amazing Can’t wait to try sobrasada de Mallorca

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