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A few weeks ago online Bulletin readers were asked to name their favourite Mallorcan dish. I was surprised (and delighted) to read that frito mallorquín came out tops by a wide margin.

Within a couple of days of arriving in Palma many years ago I went to Celler Sa Premsa and ate my first ever truly Mallorcan dish…and it was frito mallorquín.

I fell madly in love with it right from the first forkful and I have been having a passionate relationship with it ever since. It’s the Mallorcan dish I know best of all.

There was time, also many years ago, when a page designer and I took a mid-morning 45-minutes break and slipped out for a frito mallorquín at bars on our doorstep at the old Bulletin offices in Calle San Felio.

We tried every bar and restaurant in the immediate area and then started to go further and further afield until we were visiting places as far away as the start of Calle Manacor, out on the Avenidas at the Puerta San Antonio end.

Frito mallorquín, more than any other dish, is always different and all cooks are able to do their own quite distinct version of it. Even so, over the years I have observed there is a very mallorquín version of frito mallorquín.

In this variety, the lights of the lamb or the pig are cut up rather small and they are slowly sautéed together until very tender and moist, having soaked up flavours from the sofrito.
There is always an abundance of thinly sliced potatoes that look rather like small chips. But we cannot call them chips because they aren’t cooked like chips.

They are also done over a low heat, more or less gently sautéed, almost poached, so that they remain whitish and soft. The potatoes in a good frito mallorquín are never crisp and golden. If they are, then you’re not eating an authentic frito mallorquín.

The cuttlefish pica pica was nicely piquant.

All dishes of really fine frito mallorquín have something else in common: a similar taste, what I call the frito mallorquín taste. It is produced by the cooking process, the slow sautéing of the lights that produces an overall succulence, plus the contribution of the onions, spring onions, ramellet tomatoes and one of the island’s favourite herbs: snipped fresh fennel leaves.

Although I have come cross the occasional born and bred Mallorcan cook who doesn’t use fresh fennel leaves in a frito mallorquín, for the vast majority of islanders the taste of fennel is an absolute essential. A frito mallorquín without fennel is like an alioli without garlic: it’s not an alioli.

The frito mallorquín made by Mari Carmen Serrano was in the true Mallorcan style: even in the above picture, it looks like an authentic frito mallorquín.

But like the proof of the pudding, it’s in the taste that you know the frito mallorquín is an authentic islander.

The bread and olives.

The taste of Mari Carmen’s was spot on, with tiny snippets of fennel leaf lurking under pieces of lights or sticking to bits of fried potato.

As everything had been slowly sautéed, the little bits of lights were juicy, tasty and tender, the potatoes lusciously soft and plentiful.

This was a frito mallorquín of the old school, and the technique passed on to Mari Carmen by her mother, came from Mari Carmen’s grandmother. That’s how authentic recipes survive.

If you’ve never eaten a frito mallorquín, this is an excellent one to begin with. And if you’re one of the Bulletin on-liners who said frito mallorquín is your favourite Mallorcan dish, then this one will enthral you.

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I’ll certainly be returning to continue with my on-going passionate relationship with this native islander.

Mari Carmen knows how to add a bit of hot chillis

Although the people of Sa Pobla on the north of the island are fond of adding strong touches of hot chillis to their dishes, Spanish people in general (with the exception of the Basques) are not very interested in the hot stuff.

Even so, you’ll come across a few tapas, such as patatas bravas and pica pica, which are famous for giving the tastebuds a good burn.

Mari Carmen in her kitchen.

I was pleased to see that Mari Carmen doesn’t believe in turning up the spicy heat. The people of Sa Pobla would have made fiery versions of the frito mallorquín, callos and cuttlefish pica pica.

But Mari Carmen kept the hot chilli taste so far away in the background that it was only noticeable in the aftertaste. Some people like it hot, but most Spaniards don’t. I’m delighted that Mari Carmen is one of them.

She is also very good at getting her cooking times right. Most people cook callos (tripe) to the nth degree and it comes out baby-food soft. The connoisseurs want their tripe with a kind of al dente bite so that it needs a little chewing. That’s how Mari Carmen does it, and her tripe was one of the best I’ve had.

It was the same with the cuttlefish pica pica. Not only were the chillis kept in a very secondary role, but the diced cuttlefish was nicely cooked, so it didn’t have the stale overdone taste that spoils so many other versions.

But she was a bit off beam with the ensaladilla because it was too anaemic and austere. It is made with a very white alioli and lacks a few brushes of colour.

She could brighten up the ensaladilla with the green from a few peas, a touch of shiny red from roasted peppers and spots of dramatic black from chopped Majorcan panssides olives.
Mari Carmen and her husband Juan Roman opened this bar exactly two years ago…you know what that means. They had to close within a few days of the opening because of the pandemic.

But they were among the lucky ones: they managed to survive the confinement and as they have a pavement terrace they were eventually back in business.

But Mari Carmen didn’t rush the return to normality: she started off serving food only on Thursdays and Fridays. And it was a single special dish of the day.

These dishes— oxtail stews, salt cod with veggies and a superb pigs’ trotters, among others — were so popular that regulars were phoning not only to reserve a table but also ordering a couple of portions of the blackboard special.

Mari Carmen recently added daily tapas, which is what I had two weeks ago. But I’ll be returning soon because she is about to start a menú del día. I don’t know the price or anything about the dishes she’ll be doing but I’ll be trying it and reporting back.

The verdict

There are dozens and dozens of bars all over the island that also function as restaurants and most of us (including myself) get to hear of only a small number of them. Make a note of this one and be sure to try it. Mari Carmen Serrano is a cook of the old school who is self taught (with the considerable help of her mother) and is well steeped in Majorcan culinary traditions. Her frito mallorquín is an excellent and authentic version of this island speciality. If you’ve never eaten frito mallorquín then you should start with this one. If it’s a dish you already know, then you’ll want to add this version to your list of favourites.

The tripe had a gentle al dente bite.

Her cuttlefish pica pica, a light stew with a nice touch of piquancy, is tender and delicious. Her callos, one of the best tripe dishes I know of, was superb. On the other hand, her ensaladilla was a bit anaemic and needs a bit of colour in the form of green peas, snippets of roasted red peppers and some chopped black olives. You should reserve a table for the Thursday and Friday specials and make a note that opening times are from Monday to Saturday and 9am to 5pm.

The place

Nuevo Bar Luan, Avda Tomás Villanueva y Cortés 5, Son Oliva, Palma. Open from Monday to Saturday from 9am to 5pm. Although they have an outdoor terrace and a smallish indoor eating area, it’s best to reserve a table at the peak time lunch hour. And if you’re especially interested in their Thursday or Friday special, then you should also place an order for it.

The bill

  • Frito mallorquín, €8.50
  • Callos (tripe), €9.50
  • Cuttlefish pica pica, €8
  • Ensaladilla, €4.50
  • One large caña, €1.70
  • Two small cañas, €2.80

Total cost with VAT: €35