Palma Diary, February/March 2019 – An Englishman abroad
Day 7 – Friday
As it’s the main day of the fiesta today, I elect to stay in Palma. The hotel is only a few minutes’ walk from the main festivities, so It’s really handy. It’s a little overcast and nippy first thing so I pop up the Born for a comforting ensaimada with hot chocolate. I’ve decided to bring the camera out early so that I can take it back to the hotel and then wander about unencumbered later on. As I walk down to the front, I realise I’ve made a mistake. It is absolutely heaving and one can only shuffle along with the crowd. I’ve rarely, if ever, seen so many people in one place and I can’t help reflecting that there must be some villages on the island that are completely empty. I finally reach the brewery section, but it’s impossible to take any decent photos, so I begin to work my way back. I’m just in time to see the giant peasants (or peasant giants – stilt walkers) and I manage to get a few snaps.
I finally get back to the hotel, dump the camera and set off back. It’s still not particularly pleasant in the crowds, but at least I don’t have to fret about the security of the camera. I’ve still got my ‘phone if there’s anything of which I want to take a quick picture.
I work my way up to the square, pausing to talk to some of the brewers on the way, and discover it has been the World Pa amb Oli Championships and the winner and runner-up have stalls at either side of the stage. Pa amb Oli means bread and oil and at its simplest, that’s what it is, but in Mallorca it’s much, much more. It’s not just a popular dish, but has become something of a cultural icon. Indeed, the aforementioned Tomás Graves has written a very informative and entertaining book on the subject.
It’s usually made with the dense local country bread, then rubbed with garlic and scrubbed with tomato (preferably the ramellet or hanging tomato) and doused with olive oil (or the other way round; a fierce debate surrounds this) and sprinkled with a little sea-salt. It is frequently topped with ham and cheese and served with olives and pickles.
Here’s where it gets interesting: over time, bars and restaurants have vied with each other for the most interesting topping or accompaniment – far too many to recount here – and hence the reason for the contest. And so, the queue is shorter for the runner up, so I wait with suitable anticipation. I am not disappointed – it’s deep-fried cod with red pepper and a sweet tomato sauce over pa amb oli, by the restaurant Es Llogaret. Sounds a little odd admittedly, but it’s delicious.
The winner is actually from Ibiza. Can Alfredo’s offering is topped with cheese and peix sec, a type of dried fish from Formentera. I try this one a little later and it’s definitely innovative and it is good, but personally I prefer the one from Es Llogaret.
It’s thinned out a bit now, so I walk back to the brewery section and try a beer from Pere at 4Alqueries. He is what’s known as a gypsy brewer – he doesn’t have his own brewery, but has his recipe produced elsewhere, currently at Sullerica. His products include the island’s first organic beers.
I wander down towards the cathedral idly gazing at the multitude of vendors, then decide to have a glass of red wine at La Drassana before turning in for the night.