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G - 71 : Mallorquin Cuisine

For the past few months, I delayed writing about Mallorquin Cuisine. Wanted to do it closer to the date of sailing hoping that my co-sailors remember the blog. Time has come now. In a good two months, we will be on the boat.

Palma de Mallorca where the Dishes described here can be found in local Tavernas

Never been to Mallorca thus have to describe its cuisine from the memories of the cooking class I took in Barcelona twenty years ago and from several cooking books I consulted. With Mallorca’s rich history, I was looking forward to writing the blog. The island was settled several thousand years ago, colonised by the Phoenicians in the 8th century BC, Roman from 200 BC until the Arabs arrived in 702 AD, was then three centuries under Muslim rules to 1229, followed by 250 years being part of the Kingdom of Aragon and eventually became Spanish with the merger of the Kingdom of Castille and Aragon in 1479. Assumed that Mallorca’s cuisine reflects these many cultures.

Except that it does not. It is Catalan cuisine with several variations. Whilst the island’s marketing material proudly mentions the many cultures in its history, it omits the forced conversion of Jewish Mallorquins in 1435 or the Muslims’ expulsion in 1492. The islands was ethnically cleansed in the 15th century. Those who decided to stay had to convert to Catholicism and give up their old way of life. The converted Jews and Muslims were forced to cook Spanish meals, eat pork and cook with butter instead of olive oil. Police and church watched them closely. Those who left were replaced by settlers from the mainland who brought their own culture to the island. Centuries of culinary tradition were wiped out.

The Jewish and Muslim traditions on the island were rediscovered over the last twenty years - primarily by people from abroad. The respective videos are fascinating to watch. There are still 20’000 Xueta living on Mallorca, the descendant of the once vibrant Jewish community. But most of their culture is lost.

Arros Brut is a Rice based Dish - Its Ingredients change with the Seasons

It is thus not surprising that the Catalan Paella inspired one of Mallorca’s most famous dishes “Arros Brut” which means “dirty rice”. Paella comes from Valencia on Spain’s Mediterranean coast and derives its name from the pan in which it is prepared. Learned how to make it in Barcelona. Our chef explained without hesitation that Paella is leftover food – a poor man’s dish. “Use round-grained rice and add whatever is left in your fridge. Or what is in season.” Arros Brut is almost identical but cooked with excess water which makes it soupier. Ingredients vary by season and can include chicken, pork, snails, rabbit, mushrooms, beans, artichokes and peppers. The dish is seasoned with saffron (if you can afford it), pepper and chilies. Some people add nutmeg and cinnamon – Not so sure how this works though.

Tombet is called by many the Catalan Version of French Ratatouille

Tombet is another food with Catalan roots. It dates back to the 16th century since it is made with vegetables imported from the Americas - potatoes, tomatoes and bell peppers. It also includes aubergines - a vegetable that reached the Mediterranean from the Middle East. The dish is seasoned with garlic and cooked in olive oil. The vegetables are first fried until soft. Separately, tomato sauce is made by simmering ripe tomatoes until they disintegrate. Alternatively you can freeze them overnight - the ice also breaks the cell walls. Fry the garlic cloves in olive oil, add the tomato sugo, salt and pepper and combine with the fried vegetables in a little dish. Bake for a 15 minutes in a casserole or terra cotta pot. Some people compare Tombet to French ratatouille. I disagree. In a proper ratatouille tomatoes should not dominate but balance. In Tombet they do.

Lomb amb Col is Mallorca's Winter Dish

Lomb amb Col is the next dish I want to mention. It is made with winter ingredients stored for the cold season. The dish is made from parcels of pork loin, paprika sausage (sobrassada) and pork sausage (botifarro) wrapped in a lightly boiled cabbage leave. The rolls are then placed in a terra cotta pot or casserole and slowly baked in white wine and tomato sugo with raisins and pine nuts. It is a delightful winter dish.

There are two dishes which possibly have Muslim or Jewish roots.

Frit Mallorqui is made with Animal Parts which can not

be preserved and served on Matancça Day

First is the Frit Mallorqui. Fry potatoes and put aside. Then fry red bell peppers and onions in olive oil with a piece of butter until soft. Add small pieces of pork or lamb entrails like intestines, liver, kidneys, lungs and continue frying – add small tomato cubes and continue. Season with pepper and chilies, add a bay leaf if you wish but do not leave in for too long. Then combine with the roasted potatoes in a large frying pan and continue for a few minutes. This dish was usually prepared in the fall when the farm animals were slaughtered and is made from the meat that could not be preserved. The day was called “Matança”, one of the most important days in the life of the rural community. Recipes for this dish were found in Jewish-Sephardi manuscripts In the 14th century.

Cannot close this blog without mentioning Ensaīmada, a pastry that may have Jewish roots. It became quite popular over the last few decades and can now be found around the world. Made from paper-thin flour- and lard-based dough, it is light and flaky. The paper-thing dough is rolled into a tube, the tubes then assembled into a spiral-shaped round pastry. Fermented for 12 - 48 hours, it is baked at high temperatures. The air from the fermentation expands inside and gives the pastry its flaky structure. Ensaīmada can be eaten with cream or chocolate filling or as salty dish with the islands traditional sobrassada (pork sausage). It is sold in hexagonal boxes and brought home by many tourists. The origin of the Ensaīmada is shrouded in myths. The first written recipes date from the 17th century, but some Jewish sources date it back to the time when King James I from Aragon conquered the island in 1229. It is said that Jewish bakers made the pastry to welcome the new ruler. It is here-say though. I did not find a proper source. A lard-based pastry would definitely not have been made by Jewish bakers – but am sure that there are other fats that could substituted for it.

Ensaiïmada's flaky Layers of Dough make it unique

In my hours of research, looking through dozens of hotel and restaurant menus and cook books, I did not find any genuine sea food dish from Mallorca. Unlike Galicia or the Basque region, Mallorca never have a commercial fishing fleet – maybe it was too dangerous with the Turkish Corsairs roaming the sea in the 16th and 17th century. Would in a way confirm my hypothesis that the Mallorqui cuisine is an offspring of the Catalan cuisine. But maybe am wrong. If you know of any specific Mallorqui fish or sea food recipe, please drop me a note and I will amend my blog.

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