Cook Like a Local: Traditional Menorcan Food
With a plethora of restaurants offering everything from pavement-side tapas to glorious dining with coastal views, Menorca won’t disappoint for a culinary experience. However, perhaps you have chosen to stay in your Menorcan holiday home for an extended period of several weeks. Or perhaps your residence is occupied for an entire Summer or even all year round. In this scenario, eating out every day is not an option. So how can you reproduce great local food in the comfort of your kitchen?
The key to understanding Menorcan food is to understand its history. Essentially, the food derives from peasant or survival cuisine. It’s simple, straightforward and ingredient focussed. Dishes are a tradition rather than a written record. Indeed, the first written references of Menorcan cuisine are only found from the late nineteenth century. You can find influence of the island’s history of occupation seasoning local cuisine, from Arabic spicing to puddings and desserts which nod to the British and French.
Land and Sea
Naturally, as an island, the sea plays a huge part of the traditional cuisine of Menorca. From whitefish to molluscs, seafood crops up in dishes everywhere: paella, oven baked or in meatball form. This is great as you can source fresh fish to bake at home so easily; the freshness of the ingredient making is significantly easier to cook well. On land, vegetables and meat are typically seasonal. Locally farmed pork or rabbit are a great place to start. The summer season brings locally grown courgette and aubergine along with a plethora of green bean types which make a wonderful side.
Cured meat forms the basis of a lot of tapas or light meals. Stock up on a variety of local sausages from food markets as they are a fabulously flavoursome and flexible ingredient. The sobrasada is famous among Menorcan sausages: cured pork that is typically red in colour from the paprika in it. In winter it is eaten roasted and in summer raw and with bread. Oliaigu is a cold tomato soup that was historically eaten for breakfast but is now usually consumed at lunchtime. It consists of water, oil, tomatoes, green pepper and garlic so is simple to construct at home.
Lobster stew has become a modern classic in Menorcan food, although can only be enjoyed fresh during the spring and summer. This is because of fishing restrictions on the local variety of lobster, only allowing it to be caught between March and August. The lobster should be live but you can request your fishmonger to prepare it for you. Stew with fried onion, garlic, tomatoes and peppers in an earthenware pot and serve with bread. The name Caldereta de Langosta comes from the wrought-iron cauldron where the stew was cooked on board fishing boats.
Drawing influence from the island’s history, the Pudin de requesón Menorquín is an iconic local dessert. It is a baked cottage-cheese pudding, served hot and topped with raisins and pine nuts. It is often served with a layer cookies, which are more like a dunking bun than a biscuit as you’d expect it.
If home baked puddings feel like a chore, just make sure that you keep a stock of biscuits from the massive variety that populates Menorcan bakeries or pastelerías. Many biscuits are flower shaped; Pastissets are lemon flavoured, Crespellines are filled with jam, and Macarrones de la Ciudadela are small white cookies made with egg white.
Unmissable Menorcan food are items that you should keep in stock at home. Menorcan mayonnaise is the original and the best. For snacks, meals and even dessert, local Mahón artesano cheese is the go-to ingredient. With different varieties made with either unpasteurised or pasteurised cow’s milk, sea salt blown into grazing pastures gives the cheese its distinct saltiness. The ageing of the cheese impacts its flavour with the mildest, tierno, maturing to semi-curado and then curado cheese which has a very strong, slightly spicy flavour.