Shopping at a local market, rather than driving to an out-of-town supermarket, is just one way to improve your green credentials. abcMallorca shopped at Palma’s Mercat de l’Olivar.
The words Més a prop, més fresc are on posters everywhere here, reminding shoppers that the more local the produce, the fresher it is. That’s not the only benefit. Buying local produce reduces what’s known as “food miles” – an environmental term coined in the UK in the ‘90s, referring to the distance food is transported from its place of production to the consumer.
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Apart from these two very good reasons, Palma de Mallorca’s largest covered market is rich in sensory pleasures: delicious aromas, impressive displays, and the sound of lively banter among customers and traders, or those propping up the market’s several bars. Trudging the aisles of a giant supermarket, in the wake of endless Muzak and Tannoy announcements, can’t compare . . .
Even current food trends are catered for within Mercat de l’Olivar. In the vibrant fish hall – the haunt of camera-toting tourists – recent addition Ostras is a neat bar serving oysters with wine. Ready-made dishes – savoury and sweet – are offered at Nou 9. And there’s a choice of sushi bars. Yosushi is the business belonging to Thomas Wilden, who has worked in restaurant kitchens in London, Switzerland and his native Germany. “The weather here is nicer,” he replies, when asked why he gave up being a two-star Michelin chef in his homeland.
In the main market hall there are ingredients to create your own Japanese cuisine, as well as spices from all around the world. Especias Crespí has a smart little walk-in shop, stocking a good range of packaged spices; Los Sabores del Mundo has a more ethnic look, with a colourful array of loose spices. A range of ready-to-eat gourmet treats is on offer at the modern deli Kiana.
Ecological fruit and vegetables are hard to find: “They don’t last as long, or look as appealing, as non-ecological produce,” Catí, an experienced stallholder, explains. The smart D’Origen, specialising in local produce such as fresh pastas, olives, vinegars, salts, preserves, wine and spirits, does offer a small selection of eco fruit and veg.
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Businesses trading here since 1951 – when the market moved from its original open-air location in Plaza Major – include Can Gelabert (purveyor of loose sweets, dried fruits and nuts), now run by the founder’s grandson, Francisco Gelabert. He tells us that back in the day (before supermarkets), “people used to queue outside before six in the morning, waiting for the market to open.” Francisco’s brother Miquel’s nearby fruit and vegetable stall also opened in 1951.
Market shopping involves less product packaging than in a supermarket. Many shoppers take their purchases home in baskets, reusable carriers or Rolser trolleys. Plastic bags are still the norm on many stalls, but top marks to Ismael Cuenca e Hijos for putting their fruit and veg into paper bags. Need a shopping basket? Xamba, run by Catí Rotger, has been in the market for 35 years, selling animal sundries and loose pet foods . . . and Mallorcan straw shopping baskets.
You can browse for ages around the many stalls selling meat, charcuterie and dairy produce – and be tempted by the delicious aromas of golden-skinned chicken and rabbit turning on a spit-roast. On the other side of Bar Paco (a stalwart since 1952) – where they maintain the Spanish tradition of ringing a bell when someone leaves a tip – is the artisan business Can Jaume, dating from 1927.
Their large, well-lit butcher’s stall bustles with a steady stream of customers; Jaime Aguiló – who runs the family business – is kept busy at the butcher’s block and advising on the best cut of meat for customers’ needs. His knife skills are mesmerising to watch, but he’s had plenty of experience: he started at the age of 12, working part-time when school was out. The business was named Carnicería Aguiló until some eight years ago, when Jaime renamed it Can Jaume in honour of its founder.
Bestsellers are porc negre, from free-range Mallorcan black pigs, and ecological beef, sourced from a farm in Consell: “Our customers are people who have a good palate and like to eat well,” Jaime explains. Organic chicken is popular, “but there’s not enough of it produced on the island.” On the subject of ecological produce in general, Jaime has firm views: “It’s not necessarily the best because there are different levels of quality. Whether it’s eco or not, what matters is that the produce is of the best quality possible.” His meat certainly looks top-notch.
Vegetarians can also enjoy the Can Jaume commitment to quality. Pulses (cooked and dried) are among the products sold on their other stall, along with ready-made dishes and a range of store cupboard items.
It’s easy to spend a whole morning wandering around Mercat de l’Olivar, browsing, buying, and soaking up the atmosphere over a snack or drink. And if you really can’t find what you want, there’s always Mercadona on the upper floor!
Mercat de l’Olivar is open Mondays to Saturdays, 07:00-14:00 hrs