This week’s adventure takes place in the Balearic Islands, two of them specifically: Majorca (or Mallorca) and Minorca (or Menorca). There are several other islands which comprise the Balearics, most of them are known more for their wild nightlife and fabulous beaches than for their gastronomic temptations.
Spain’s natives have come out of their shells, so to speak, over the past 40 years or so, beginning about the same time as the country was “discovered” by the rest of Europe. Until incorporated into the European Community, the forerunner of the European Union of today, the Spaniards were much more reserved and proper, Spanish society running seemingly on pomp and formality. Plus with the Franco era, the country became much more isolated. The Balearics were also a well-kept secret. When rich Europeans discovered the Balearics, Majorca and Ibiza first became known for the idle rich playboys who steered their yachts into the islands’ gorgeous harbors. Then came the British, quickly followed by the Germans, both groups now considered the scourge of these islands. The British tourists are known for being “lager louts,” while the Germans are known for staking out prime beach spots well before dawn, marking out their large, respective territories with towels, to be claimed after breakfast and to be rigorously guarded the remainder of the day. With the lager louts came more British who catered to the louts by opening bars and nightclubs which, even with today’s more relaxed Spanish population, cause a continual stir with their ‘drink ‘til you drop’ atmosphere. And, of course, the next wave was property developers. All these louts and Germans needed places to stay, didn’t they? Construction was rampant, officials were regularly bribed to allow otherwise illegal hotels and houses, and it’s only been in the past couple of years that these matters have been addressed by the Spanish authorities. None of this is covered in this series of videos, but I feel it should have been touched on to explain the present-day mood of the Spanish, which is that rampant commercialism and tourism do not always make a good mix. The Balearics will never be what they once were, but at least the authorities now seem better prepared for the future health of the islands.
Which is where we come in on this week’s episode, with one of the distinct improvements that came to the islands with the playboys, louts, and Germans, the menu. Claudia and the Iron Chef waste little time in getting to the food. The pair start their day the way the locals do: at a place called Ca’n Juan de S’Aico, which has been around since 1700. It’s famous for its pastries and ice cream. Not just ordinary pastries and ice creams, but the stuff of legend. Another quick aside here, European pastries are light years ahead of most American made pastries for three reasons. First, most European food preparation shops and restaurants use only fresh ingredients. Everything that can be, is made from scratch. The second reason is that all, or nearly all, European offerings are made on-site. Few American bakeries make their own goods these days, the majority of the things being made in a factory setting hundreds of miles away. If not the finished product, the “makings,” meaning that in some cases, the local bakeries at most bake a preparation that’s already made when it’s delivered, except for the actual baking. And the third reason is that American pastries are loaded with sugar as a substitute for the real taste and natural sweetness which comes from natural, fresh ingredients.