The great advantages of Soller‘s Saturday market are that it’s a short drive away from Deià and the fresh vegetables and artisanal produce are far cheaper than delicatessen prices. It’s not the largest market on the island but that’s to its advantage. Everything you might want to try, from island wine to strangely-shaped sausages is right there in front of you.
Even if you don’t have anything you especially need to buy, I urge you to visit for the experience.
I’d suggest you begin your marketing at Soller Saturday market inside the tiny but more than adequate covered market – great fish stall – and then wander up the temporarily colourful, bustling street towards the main square.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve schlepped home laden with bursting bags, only to discover that the one item I really needed – wind-dried figs from the tiny village of Lloret de Vistalegre, let’s say – is notable by its absence.
So, I planned my morning’s shopping at Soller’s Saturday market over coffee in one of the bars in the town’s covered market carefully. I chose the bar purely because it had a cosy terrace on which I could write my list in the glorious early morning sunshine.
Surprisingly, or perhaps not given Soller’s historic French connection, the croissant was butter-rich and flaky. By which I mean it was not the traditional Mallorquin kind. It was delicious, but I was a little bit disappointed that it didn’t break up into hard shards and didn’t taste of lard.
Over the years I’ve come to love the Mallorquin croissant, which is really one in name only. This may be because I feel that eating them is somehow authentic and connected to the island’s history. Pretentious, moi?
Apparently so much Mallorquin pastry uses pig fat because, when the Jews here were being persecuted back in the 14th century, they added lard to their food to prove they weren’t Jewish. The word ensaimada apparently translates as ‘enlarded’.
This is a bit fanciful but, indulge me. Because Mallorca’s Jewish people were often bakers, I wonder if that made it easier to add the lard and convert islanders to what is a pretty strange taste when it’s first encountered. This may also be the reason why Mallorca’s cakes not made with lard are far better than those you’ll eat in any other part of Spain.
I’ve seen more than one bakery on the mainland called Patisserie Mallorca.
After I’d made my list, I sauntered among the little old ladies and marketed, as the Americans call it. I like the term. It gives gravitas to what might otherwise be called shopping.
I’ve learned that the way to know you’re buying the best is to only go where the little old ladies go. I lurk behind them while they squeeze tomatoes and, after they’ve gone, point nonchalantly at the lumpy reddish-green Mallorquin beauties while smirking.
Don’t be put off by the appearance of Mallorquin tomatoes. They’re far tastier than the glossy red, round varieties grown for export and perfect for pa amb oli. Towards the end of the summer, Mallorquin tomatoes can become so scarce they’re hidden below a stall’s cornucopia of produce. You have to ask for them specifically.
With pa amb oli on my mind, I picked up some excellent queso de cabra – goat’s cheese – from a stall that appeared to be run by a father and son. They also had a fine selection of sausages that looked like hanging alien body parts, so pungent they scented the air all round the stall.
I no longer eat meat, although I find it hard to resist sobrasada, basically an incredibly rich, paprika-spiced spreadable chorizo. If you are carnivore, I urge you to try sobrasada. I’ll even buy it for you as long as I get to watch.
Forgive me for yet another digression but did you know that the Mallorquins used to and may still categorise foreigners into bottifara and sobrasadas, depending on the colour they go when they tan? Bottifara is the very dark sausage. Sobrasada is bright orange.
Alongside the produce at Soller Saturday market are a scattering of stores selling mystery-brand shoes and clothes, leather goods, handicrafts, traditional Mallorquin pottery and fabrics. One stall in particular seemed to say something almost profound about modern Mallorca.
In front of a display of Indian-themed sofa or bed throws featuring Buddhas and rows of elephants was a stack of cushion covers sporting bad, machine-produced versions of the characteristic Mallorquin robes de llengües or cloth of tongues design. There was a time when you’d have only seen this design in seriously traditional Mallorquin homes and restaurants. Now it’s everywhere.
Begin your marketing at Soller Saturday market inside the tiny but more than adequate covered market and then wander up the temporarily colourful, bustling street towards the main square.
I admired the entrepreneurial spirit of the stall owners but couldn’t help feeling a little wistful at the way Mallorca’s rich culture had been reduced to visual shorthand. But, then again, there was something about this juxtaposition of two different sets of designs that was also a tribute to the island’s adaptability.
It’s said that the original inspiration for robes de llengues came from travellers on the Silk Route that connected the East to the West who rested awhile in Mallorca.
Even if Mallorquin markets appear to represent something timeless, they’re also a testament to the fact that the only thing that’s permanent is change.
I arrived in Soller square, home of one of the most beautiful banks I’ve ever seen, sat outside a satisfyingly dark and gloomy bar – no turquoise and white plastic here – and took another coffee accompanied this time by a proper Mallorquin ensaimada. Praise the lard.
Soller Saturday market gets going around 8 a.m. so, if you want to take advantage of following in the footsteps of little old ladies, get there early. The covered market is very easy to find. Aim for the bottom of the main square and follow the line of market stalls round to the right.