Food markets have become a tourist attraction in their own right. Mallorca’s capital – Palma – is home to a market (with two adjoining halls) that few foodie visitors to the city will miss. The abundance of glossy, colourful and high-quality fresh fruit and vegetables at Mercado del Olivar, in the heart of Palma, puts typical Northern European supermarket produce to shame. And then there are the charcuterie, cheeses, meat, and amazing seafood stalls to ogle over. I’m sure that many visitors wander around wishing they could shop here on a daily basis.
The Stories Behind the Produce
However, Mallorca’s Mercado del Olivar (opened mid-20th century) is so much more than a feast for your eyes and Instagram feed. Like all produce markets, it’s a window into the local culture of food, history, and society. But how do you open that window and see beyond the tempting produce on display at Palma’s vibrant market?
My recommendation is to book a place on the Palma Market Tour & Traditional Cooking workshop with Deborah Piña, whose small business in the city is called Deborah’s Culinary Island. Deborah was born in Palma to a French mother, and speaks excellent English. She’s also delightful and her passion for, and knowledge of her island’s culinary identity make her the perfect guide and teacher.
The Palma Market Tour
My instructions were to meet Deborah and the other participants at 10:30h at the designated meeting point outside the Mercat del Olivar. Four of us were doing the tour and cooking workshop last Thursday (the maximum number of participants is six, to keep it an intimate experience). The other ladies were German (one of whom lives in Ireland).
Deborah gave us a brief background to the market before leading us in. We visited stalls run by vendors she uses for her own shopping and, as we went from stall to stall, she gave us an informative commentary on what we were seeing, and its place in Mallorcan culinary culture. Along the way, she shopped for some of the ingredients for the cooking workshop we’d be doing afterwards.
A ten-minute stroll from the market took us to the Pane Nostro bakery (a stop for organic bread for the pa amb oli aperitif later), then moments later we arrived at Deborah’s atelier. Her workshop is an original 18th-century bakery, known as Forn de sa Llotgeta; you can still see the ancient ovens used to bake the bread. In this atmospheric setting, we prepared a menu of three traditional Mallorcan dishes that we would eat together for lunch.
The dishes cooked always use seasonal produce, so vary throughout the year. We made a starter of coca – a flat bread that’s the nearest equivalent of a pizza (but much healthier, as it doesn’t feature cheese); a delicious soupy rice dish containing artichokes, sobrasada, and butifarra; then a greixonera de brossat (a traditional Mallorcan dessert made from fresh cottage cheese) served with sweet, juicy strawberries which are already in season in Mallorca.
Preparing the dishes was a fun as well as educational experience, with Deborah giving us helpful kitchen tips as we worked.
Once the coca was in the oven baking, it was time for our aperitif. Deborah had laid out the Mallorcan bread, ramallet tomatoes (to rub on the bread) extra virgin olive oil, green and black olives, pickled sea fennel, botifarro, Menorca cheeses, and an organic sobrasada (from Son Cànaves of Llucmajor). The latter was a delicious revelation and I shall be seeking out this product for use in my own kitchen. Deborah poured us each a glass of Ribas Rosado, made from the Mantonegro grape, which paired beautifully with the sobrasada.
We learnt how to make a sofrito – the flavourful foundation of many traditional Mallorcan savoury dishes. This was the start of the rice dish we would be eating. And finally, we learnt to make the Mallorcan dessert.
Lunch is Served
We sat together for lunch at a long wooden table in a cosy, open room at the back of the atelier. Our dishes were served with an organic red wine from Son Vell in Son Macìa, near Manacor. By the end of lunch, we four participants had shared phone numbers and said we’d keep in touch. We’d all thoroughly enjoyed the Palma Market Tour & Traditional Cooking workshop and bonded through our love of Mallorca and its gastronomy.
A highly recommended experience for anyone who wants to find out more about Mallorcan culinary culture and produce. Although I’ve lived in Mallorca for 18 years now, I learnt a few things I hadn’t known – so this experience is worth doing whether you’re a visitor or foreign resident.
Good to Know
The Palma Market Tour & Traditional Cooking workshop takes place every Wednesday and Thursday morning and must be booked in advance. The cost (including lunch and wines) is 95€ per person. All ingredients are included, and aprons are provided.
Wear comfortable shoes, as you’ll be walking or standing for a large part of the day.
©Jan Edwards 2022