This month, this special supplement is dedicating this issue to the different types of cuisines around the world. A few years ago we wouldn’t even have been able to talk about this as there were no restaurants serving good international food in Palma, or even in Mallorca. When I first arrived, around 2002, there were a few good Japanese places, an Italian and many Chinese restaurants, but the type of Chinese place where they give you a knife and fork and some bread on the side, need I say more… I do however remember discovering a Lebanese restaurant, which was on S’Escorxador at the time but has now moved to Santa Catalina, that served 100% authentic food, and still does! Very good food indeed, the same as I would get in Beirut every time I went, back in the 90s. Aside from this however, if I wanted to eat good food, other than Mediterranean or Spanish cuisine, I had to take advantage of a trip to London – I’d take a Tupperware to the restaurant, they’d fill it up and we’d then eat it here for dinner, sometimes I’d even freeze it so that we could eat it later.
For a bit of a change I also used to go to a vegetarian restaurant in the center of Palma, Bon Lloc. It was something original and different at the time, without being of any particular nationality. It still is very good, and what’s more, they change the menu daily, which is great.
Now, look how much Palma has changed in the last few years, and for the better I think. Nowadays the offer is close to that of any European capital. There are good Italian restaurants, Japanese, Mexican, Thai, Peruvian, Asian fusion, French, Vietnamese, Korean, Israeli, Argentinian, Lebanese, Russian, Greek, Venezuelan, Tunisian, Brazilian, some good Chinese, etc, etc. The one thing that’s still missing is a good Turkish restaurant, but don’t worry, it’ll come!
I also remember going for a glass of wine in some villages, Santa Maria for example (within the DO Binissalem wine region moreover!), asking for a white wine in one of the bars on the main road, only for the waitress to tell me that they didn’t have any… For me, originally from Valladolid, this was unbelievable… Another time they even served me a sherry and asked me if that’s what I wanted… Oh my God! Even in Palma, around La Lonja area, I once had to leave the bar to pour a glass down the drain as it was undrinkable… If you wanted to drink a decent white wine you had to go to some trendy place for tourists, where they’d serve white wine by the glass – but at a price. Long story short, it’s astounding how much things have changed in the last few years. Nowadays, with so many wineries and a good wine culture across the island, you can easily find good wine!
What’s more, with vermouth currently in fashion, one can finally have an aperitif before eating, which I used to enjoy my whole student life, back home, but was basically unthinkable when I first arrived in Mallorca. Pity that I can now only have my vermouth before dinner and not before lunch because of work commitments (my whole life it had always been at lunchtime and after mass on Sundays, as a family).
The food markets in Palma have also experienced this change, following the trend of other big cities, and both the Mercado del Olivar and the Santa Catalina market are full of people eating and drinking at lunchtime. Pere Garau market (where I tend to go) hasn’t endured this phenomenon yet and still only has its two long-standing bars, which are definitely not the definition of trendy.
It’s exactly the same story when it comes to coffee. When I used to live in London in the 80s-90s, every time I came to Spain, I loved the fact that one could get a good coffee in any bar, even in airports. Over time, however, this changed, and until a few years ago it was difficult to get a good coffee. Now it turns out that the boom of coffee lovers and small independent cafes in London and other cities has arrived in Palma. Baristas and places serving good coffee have become fashionable, every week from a different. Accompanying this trend are young people, with beards and (fixed-gear) bicycles.
A similar phenomenon has happened to the different areas of Palma. In the past there was only the La Lonja area to go for a drink, and nothing else. If you felt like going out, you would just go to the Paseo Maritimo, but now? Take your pick! Santa Catalina, las Ramblas, Paseo Mallorca, the Blanquerna area, la Ruta Martiana, S’Escorxador… go for it! Wherever you live, there’ll be an area close by where you’ll find restaurants, bar, cafes with specialty coffees, artisanal and authentic bakeries; same as in Madrid, London, etc., there are a thousand places to go out and they’re all good.
I think that these changes are partly thanks to the foreigners that come to Mallorca, but not those that book themselves into all-inclusive hotels, but rather those that come to Palma for a few days to actually enjoy the city, as these are usually people who travel a lot, are knowledgeable and require certain standards, both in the variety of food and in also in the service, which need to be catered for – Indirectly, we all benefit from this.
Speaking of alternative restaurants, one has to say that there a more and more vegetarian, vegan, raw food restaurants, etc. in Palma. It really is a pleasure to see that there are more and more people conscious of alternative food. Occasionally, although you’re not vegetarian, you might fancy it simply because it’s different from what you make at home, and at the same time you know that it’s healthy, and what’s more, eco-friendly (I think that all, or nearly all, alternative restaurants are eco-friendly in their own way). Juices, soups and vegetable creams, vegetable or cereal pies, etc., an endless variety, often with ingredients that we are unfamiliar with, but always very tasty. Some places offer you a green shot (a concentrated shot of something green or germinating, like wheatgrass) which gives you a vitamin boost. Personally, I don’t eat meat or fish every day and sometimes I can say that I have been a vegetarian for two days! Not necessarily out of principle, just because I often choose juices, seasonal vegetables and grains, and I’m sure that there are many other people like this, we’re called the flexi-vegetarians!
Trying different types of cuisines leads to wanting to cook these at home. Due to this, and to the fact that there are more and more different nationalities living in Mallorca, new shops specializing in foods from different countries have appeared. I love going to Pere Garau and venturing into oriental supermarkets, some of which even have their own butcher inside. Although the labels are in Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, etc., the shop personnel are always helpful. I’ve also come upon other shops, African or South American on calle Manacor, with a variety of interesting products, especially spices, which are available in larger jars or even bulk, than the usual small spice jars. I love walking into these shops and getting lost among all the different products. In Santa Catalina there’s a shop with international products… There’s also a supermarket with a big variety of English products in Costa den Blanes. Believe it or not, even going no further than Ikea and its Swedish products, there are some delicious items, like the Dime cake…
When you see a shop with foreign food, I urge you to go inside, you’ll be surprised and I guarantee that you’ll buy something. I remember walking into a Russian/Bulgarian shop on Avda. Argentina where I discovered feta in bulk, in big blocks of cheese – a delight, which has nothing to do with the packaged feta…
You can now find all types of different products here and there’s no need to bring it in from abroad. Having lived outside of Spain for so many years, and being an inveterate traveler, I know many of these ingredients and rarities, and every time I go, I load up, and if there are new products I just risk it and buy them, even though sometimes I get home and they’re completely inedible!