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A SHORT HISTORY OF MALLORCA’S CULTURAL GASTRONOMY

Looking at the island’s history through its food, we can perhaps understand its complexity, influenced by many of the cultures passing through the island, leaving behind their costumes and traditions and contributing to build the pillars of today’s gastronomy in the island of Mallorca. Evidence of the first human settlement in the island is some 5000 years ago in 3000 BC. However it was around 1500-1000 BC, a period that has been given the name Talayotic, when the first concentrations of houses and villages appeared, and buildings mainly with a defensive purpose (talaiots) spread out around the islands. The new social hierarchy allowed the specialization of community work and it was then that the gradual complexity of the rituals, including family cooking started to develop. It is believed that since then,
snails (a total favourite among locals) and acorn flour bread form part of the local gastronomy. The Greeks and the Phoenicians set up trading posts on the islands and brought with them olives, with the precious secrets of making olive oil, the essential garlic (from Egypt) and the “all i oli” (garlic sauce and oil). All elements that along with bread, will always be present in any family or restaurant table. The Romans arrived to the Mallorca lead by Consul Quintus Caecilius Metellus and his powerful fleet. In just 2 years he had conquered the Balearics renaming the island “Balearis Major”. They introduced the vinegar, the glorious wine (thank you!), the cheese, the bread, the honey bread, the honey wine, and the fantastic almond. They shared the love to eat snails with the locals and developed dishes that are still eaten today; like the cooked snails of Gavius Apicius (a recipe dated back to year 25 a.C). By the 10th century, under the Moorish rule, Mallorca lived one of its most prosperous ages; with palaces, mosques and gardens built, along with a blooming period in arts, education and agriculture. It was time to enjoy the wonders of the almond milk, the nougat, of new fruits and jams, and fig bread. Their contributions to the island’s heritage with technological innovations such as windmills, became and still are one of the most representative elements of the island’s landscape. After of the persecutions of the Almohad Caliphate in Spain (1146), the number of Jews increased, as well as their engagement in agriculture and trade of the island. They passed on a culture that will remain very present in time, along with a list of dishes that rooted well within the local culture. The popular stuffed pastry Cocarois is one clear example of Semitic
origin, since the Jews consumed them in their Easter celebrations. At the beginning of the 13th century, the Christians wanted the control of Mallorca, key to all the maritime and commercial traffic in the western Mediterranean. The 5th of September 1229 a young King James I of Aragon and a 150 strong fleet with more than 15.000 man set sail from the Catalonian coast willing to conquer their purpose. The
31st of December of the same year, the island annexed to his Kingdom of Aragon. The king’s priorities were a rapid church-building program and the Christianization of the island population. It is said that the disposition of Mallorcans for pork meat and its derivates (including the saim , the pork fat used to bake ensaimadas) comes from this period when the converted Jews and Muslims, in a try to show their devotion for their new religion would eat the forbidden pork in all its forms every day. With the colonization of the Americas in 1492 new foods were introduced to the local cuisine: potatoes, corn, pepper, peanuts, prickly pears, turkey… And with them one of the pillars of the Mediterranean diet and key ingredient of the Mallorcan cuisine: the tomato. The local variety ‘Sa tomàtiga de Ramallet’ has two amazing qualities: it’s highly resistant to drought and it can be preserved naturally from one year to the next without losing its properties and delicious flavour.
During the 17th and 18th centuries the island cuisine had a twist, it started experimenting with different ingredients and created dishes as the Toast with sobrassada and honey; pickled cheese; the “greixonera” (traditional clay pot) of fish and stuffed zucchini; or stewed pigeons with eggplant and pomegranate. We must not forget that in the past, gout was regarded as a badge of nobility, a talisman and even an aphrodisiac… By the early 20th century many Mallorcans immigrated to other countries; especially France, Germany and Belgium, from where they brought new fashions and traditions, amongst them the Art Nouveau (modernism in Spain), the pâté, and the passion for chocolate. Having looked at the history of the island, with its share of settlers, invaders and conquerors, we can perhaps understand why Mallorca has such a creative and resourceful cuisine. Along with the generous supply of fresh, local and seasonal produce from its generous land and the pristine waters of the Mediterranean Sea, the people who lived here left also a culinary legacy; contributing to the creation of a gastronomic paradise, where the island and its Cuina Mallorquina continue to delight locals and visitors alike.