The days of smoke from wood fires drifting across olive terraces are upon us. It’s not cold but the air is fresh and the sky is mostly blue and empty. We still go to the beach but not in the same way. The tourists have gone home and Mallorca is settling in for a quiet, peaceful winter going about its business. Now’s the time to explore the island and searching for the holy grail of menu del dia offers the perfect excuse.
Especially as some of the most surprisingly good menus featuring Mallorquin winter classics like sopa mallorquine, potage de garbanzos, rabbit with onion or caracoles (snails) that are simply too hearty to eat at lunchtime in the height of summer are found in cafes, bars and restaurants in tiny villages off the beaten track and unprepossessing poligonos – Spanish indusrial estates – that cater for workers.
Because the beauty of the menu is that it’s offered by eateries of all kinds, my advice to you is to pick a part of the island you’ve never been to and keep your eyes peeled for a menu del dia sign.
Given that a menu del dia can cost as little as 7 or 8 euro, including wine (which, admittedly, can be filthy and demand dilution with Gaseosa lemonade), it won’t be the end of the world if your little culinary experiment turns out to be a disaster. And when you stumble across a gourmet restaurant offering an excellent menu for under 20 euro, you can’t help but include a side-order of smugness with your meal.
Although it’s great if you do find a Michelin-starred restaurant offering a menu del dia, I’d say that it’s probably a lot more fun and much more illuminating to plump for a rough and ready cafe where you’ll rub shoulders with the Mallorquin people who go into hiding over the summer.
The menu del dia myth
One of the most intriguing things about the menu del dia is the myth that has grown up concerning its origins. I’ve always been told, by people who usually know their stuff, that the reason just about every restaurant on the island offers a menu is because of a law passed by Generalissimo Franco in the early 1960s. He decreed that all restaurants offer workers a satisfying, affordable lunch option.
This, it would appear, is actually not true. Rooting around online, researching for this post, I came across the Bill in Barcelona blog. Bill explains that ‘the concept of the menu del día was introduced to Spain on March 17th, 1965, when Franco’s Minister of Information and Tourism, Manuel Fraga, (who was to become known as a hardline Interior minister following Franco’s death) came up with legislation which incorporated the Menú Turístico.’
The law was part of a strategy to make the hotel, catering and related trades more professional and help develop the tourism industry which was proving to be such a goldmine for Spain, Franco and his cronies. It had nothing to do with the well-being of Spain’s workers. By making the menu del dia a legal requirement, Fraga hoped to raise Spain’s reputation as a tourist destination.
Remarkably, according to Bill the law wasn’t removed from the Spanish statute book until 10 January, 2010. So, presumably, up until that date a restaurant could in theory be prosecuted if it didn’t offer a menu del dia. Not that the law’s repeal will make any difference to the restaurants of Mallorca, for whom a good menu del dia is a great way to guarantee a packed dining room at lunchtime.
And another reason for you to explore Mallorca during these winter months. Happy hunting.
Feel free to share your menu del dia recommendations with us at The Deia Olive Press by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.