In a previous article we were quite excited about the food on Seabourn Encore.
Perhaps we saved the best till last, because we actually played a very minor role assembling one of our favourite feasts.
We were allowed to tag along with David Rodriguez, Seabourn Encore Executive Chef de Cuisine, who we met earlier, as he went ashore to buy the best produce the Palma markets could provide for his Spanish extravaganza in the Colonnade that night.
Palma Majorca. Magnificent cathedral… not bad markets either.
David meets us right on time. A small group of Seabourn Encore passengers have responded to the invitation to Shop with Chef. The luggage compartment to our minivan is open and David’s assistant Jonathon is loading up a large shopping trolley and a couple of big plastic tubs.
Having no idea what the morning might bring, we are intrigued.
We drive around Palma, a largish town, but like most European cities laid out well before the greedy demands of the motor car. Our driver exhibits considerable skills zooming from the quay on multi lane roads down through myriad cobbled twisters to finally present us with the front of the Mercat de l’Olivar, one of two in the centre of the city.
We head inside, David striding confidently, we following, headsswiveling at the overflowing cornucopia of produce aisle after aisle.Jonathon rattles along behind.
Is this the world’s best ham?
First stop is one of the ham counters. Legs are lined up. As David negotiates we learn the heirachy of Spanish ham.
A black band around the hoof means the leg comes from 100% pure Iberica pigs fed solely on bellota, acorns.
Red means the pig is 50% Iberican, fed on acorns.
Green means 50% Iberican heritage, fed cebo de campo, a mixture of acorns and pasture.
White is 50% Iberican pigs fed cebo, pasture only.
They are all aged for between 24 and 36 months.
The 100% is priced at E180 per kilo. We taste a sliver of the E130 leg.
David pulls out a wad of notes that could choke a pig. He peels off more than E500 for a leg which is placed gently in a bag like a linen violin-case.
He explains: “Nothing goes to waste, the fabulous meat will be a feature of tonight’s feast, the bones go into stock, the fat is used to top a terrine.”
A man on a mission
There are multiple stores for every item. David homes in on his favourites. There is only one small hiccup. The black mussels at three fish counters are too big. The girl kindly directs him to another shop in the next aisle.
These are little, and perfect for our chef. In minutes he is chatting, selecting, paying chunks of cash and filling the tubs on Jonathon’s trolley. Four rabbits for the paella. E41’s worth at E6.90 each. Chorizo Jaen (E9.95) likewise. 5 kilos of rice. 5 packets of saffron. Manchego cheese with olives. We taste cheeses with ajo negro (black garlic), trufa (truffles) and boletus (exotic mushrooms).
We pause for a coffee, on David, at Arabay – roasters since 1952. Really good coffee.
Fish next. Then olives of course
Off we go again. We buy gambas at E40 a kilo. We need 4 kilos.
And 5 kilos of small squid. E90. A slab of tuna. David prefers yellowfin to blue.
He buys calamari from Malaga. Big ones, which David says remain soft as you cook them. In a soup small ones go hard.
We pass one quite small shop, stacked with spices in bulk. Big tubs, tiny tubs. Every colour, like a giant artist’s palette. Every name we have heard of and many we haven’t, even allowing for the language. There are more than 20 kinds of pepper.
At a seriously impressive olive counter with a quantity and variety we have never seen, we, who are of course by now experts on everything, are asked to taste. “They must be local.” We select three; some yellowgreen and glossy black ones from Mallorca and some dark green ones from the mainland. We buy three kilos of each. Also five tins of rich green olive oil.
Bread, oh yes!
To the panaderia. Long loaves, fat loaves, short loaves, short fat loaves. Pastries. Pies. Desserts. David buys some of his favourite pastries to share around.
While we are munching, we watch the girl behind the counter.
TML is a fond collector of everyday human skills. This is stirring stuff. The lady next to us buys three things. A long baguette. A short loaf. A small pastry.
The girl behind the counter wraps all three in a blurring swirl of paper. Baguette into a long bag like a speeding bullet. A quick fold and a twist seals it. Small loaf into a square brown bag. Another quick fold and twist. The pastry in to a branded white bag. Double fold and crimp. All secure and presented. Paper skills worth an Oscar, but everyday dexterity here in this market.
Time to go. Fresh produce can’t sit still
Talking of speeding bullets. Suddenly David has us back in the bus. Jonathon stows the precious cargo.
“Back to the ship, driver. I need to cook now.”
That night we are at the Colonnade really primed for the Spanish spread of a lifetime. We score a table outside, the lights of Palma sliding behind. Seabourn Encore moves smoothly into of the world’s great sunsets. How good is cruising!
We are a little smug maybe that we were there at the beginning and played some minor part in this feast.
We taste everything. Never disappointed in ourselves or David and his team.