Tucked away in the Balearics, it’s easy to forget that this little island is part of Spain.
Until you walk into the Mercat Olivar produce market in the capital, Palma de Mallorca. One look at the bountiful produce, rows of hanging hams and tapas joints, and memories of Barcelona’s famous Mercado de La Boqueria come flooding back.
This is serious foodie territory.
This place is packed with fresh produce, much of it sourced from the island. While my friends are cavorting by the beach, I am frolicking between knobbly tomatoes and mountains of jamón.
Before I jump into the serious business of market shopping, I pull up a stool at one of the cafes for a refreshing bowl of gazpacho and side of salsa. I can’t get enough of this chilled tomato concoction, and find that even the pre-packaged versions across Spain are usually damn delicious. Nothing hits the spot better on a hot day.
Once revived, I head for the glistening deli goods. Stuffed olives, goat’s cheese, marinated sardines, salami and marinated vegetables are all calling to me. It’s all I can do not to buy a tub of everything and I limit myself to some giant green olives stuffed with almonds.
The fish market branches off the main market and is one of the most sophisticated I’ve come across. Each stand is packed with the fresh catch of the day, from rock fish to sardines (only €3.80 a kilo, so cheap!).
There are also stands selling perfectly compiled seafood hors d’oeuvres made from smoked salmon and prawns. They wouldn’t look out of place in the Harrods food hall. These are to be enjoyed while standing with a glass of cava in hand from the adjacent bar.
The Spanish have a proper sweet tooth and they’re not shy to show it. Chocolates, candied fruits, caramelised nuts, turrón (nougat), fruit jellies and membrillo (quince jelly) are stacked up high in a riot of checkerboard colours.
I leave my favourite section – jamón ibérico – arguably the finest ham in the world, until last. A range of hams are on offer but the highlight is the jamón ibérico de bellota. This exquisitely marbled ham gets its intense flavour from the acorns (bellota) that the pigs happily forage during their lifetime. The addition of acorns in their diet almost doubles the price of normal ibérco ham, in this case to €79 a kilo.
Those sorts of prices aren’t exactly in my price range but I’m left with burning desire to eat jamón immediately. I ease myself into another market cafe and order a bocadillo with jamón and queso. Yes it’s essentially a ham and cheese sandwich but the Spanish have a knack for turning this simple proposition into a taste sensation.
The jamón and queso come from the market and are freshly sliced; the bread has been rubbed with a clove of garlic and fresh tomato; and the whole thing is lightly toasted so that the filling melts slightly to contrast with the crunchy bread. It should be their national dish. I wash this down with a café con leche and I am in heaven.