A typicall Mallorcan 'variado'. | Stephanie Schulz

As much as I love Palma's cosmopolitan vibe and eclectic gastronomy, every now and again I want to “do like locals to” and eat at a market stall, squashed amongst the neighbours on their lunch break and curious tourists searching for an original experience. For all my years of living in Palma, I had never eaten at the legendary Bar Joan Frau – till today.

Situated in the vibrant Santa Catalina market in Palma, Bar Joan Frau holds an important place in the thriving culinary landscape of the city. This iconic spot offers an authentic taste of Mallorcan culture and tradition that has been preserved over decades.

The history of Bar Joan Frau is deeply intertwined with the Santa Catalina Market itself, which stands as one of the oldest markets in Palma. Established in 1920, the market has been a hub of fresh produce and gastronomic delights, bringing locals and tourists alike to sample the island's bounty.

Bar Joan Frau has been a part of this rich history since 1966, serving generations of Palma’s inhabitants and constantly evolving to maintain a perfect harmony between tradition and modernity. The bar stands in a prime location of the market, offering a first-hand experience of its bustling life. Its warm lighting and traditional setup offer a comforting and homely ambiance that fosters a sense of community and shared experiences.

When it comes to food offerings, the bar takes pride in using fresh, locally sourced ingredients, many of which are procured from the market itself. Patrons can expect a varied menu that includes traditional Mallorcan dishes. The bar is particularly famous for its delicious Spanish tortillas and savoury tapas, which pair perfectly with a selection of fine local wines and refreshing beverages.
Upon arriving around 1.45pm, I noticed several queues: one for bar stools, another for tables, and a third for takeaway paella served precisely at 1pm and 2pm. I chose the bar stool queue, securing a spot swiftly, and began to observe the frantic pace of the servers in action. While waiting for Steffi, I ordered sparkling water and a half-portion of “variado” (a variety), featuring a few spoons of several dishes, including chopped cuttlefish mixed with finely cubed potatoes seasoned with paprika, “ensaladilla rusa” (I still cannot get over that fact that it featureschunks of tuna in the Spanish version!), “frito Mallorquín” that includes cubed potatoes, peas and liver, a delicious fried meatball, and a soft fish croqueta.

Steffi arrived just as I was savouring my meal. She opted for a modified “variado,” including Russian salad, meatballs in a rich tomato sauce, and “tumbet”, a layered dish of potatoes, aubergines, and courgettes. Though everything tasted divine, I wasn’t fond of the fish croqueta. I would say that was a matter of personal taste rather than a flaw in the dish. Either way, we both scoffed everything down within minutes.

Desiring something sweet to round off our meal, we sought “coca de albaricoque”, a traditional Mallorcan pastry adorned with apricot halves. Despite being nearly out, we were treated to the last couple of corners on the house. As we enjoyed this crispy, sweet and tangy delight, we struck up a conversation with Rodrigo, our bar neighbour. Impressed with our Spanish and interest in the local culture, he affectionately dubbed us locals, saying we were “definitely not guiris,” a compliment that brightened our day further. Both of us will definitely be back!