Ibiza has a reputation for being a party paradise, but there is so much more to this tiny island off the coast of Spain than beach parties. If you love traditional food as I do, you’ll find many wonderful dishes like arroz a banda or bullit de peix, just to mention a few.
The people of Ibiza are fans of fresh food, and the government is more keen than ever to support local and organic agriculture. It used to be common for families to grow their own vegetables and home-make everything from sausages to bread. Today, you can still find some of this knowledge being put to use in restaurants like Sa Nansa, awarded by Madrid Fusion as one of the best seafood restaurants in Spain this year. Using local fish and shellfish and vegetables from his own orchard, chef Pedro Tur crafts traditional dishes like my favourite, arroz a banda, a rice dish that’s so good eaten straight from the pan.
Everything at Sa Nansa is fresh and local, right down to the bread, which is made by Pedro’s mother Francisca Planells. I had the opportunity to watch her making bread in her home in Ibiza, where she prepares loaves for her son’s restaurant once a week. The hard, crusty bread is made in an old-fashioned way using a “mother” yeast that Mrs Planells tends carefully, week after week. She makes her sourdough bread according to a recipe passed down by the women in her family.
Senora Planells has been baking bread since she was twelve years old. Today, at seventy-five, she has the technique down perfectly. After working her dough–a mixture of water, flour and mother yeast–for about a half an hour, Senora slides the plump, elastic loaves into the wood-fired brick oven in her backyard. This traditional method of baking requires perfect mastery of heat and time. The oven fire must be started at least two hours before baking and tended throughout, in order to create a steady, even heat. The floor of the oven is given a quick sweep with a wet cloth to prevent the bottom crust from burning and to inject a little moisture into the air, which helps develop a thick, crunchy crust. The bread spends about an hour in the oven, with a quick flip or two during baking to ensure even cooking.
It looks fairly simple from the photos, but that’s because Francisca Planells has mastered everything from kneading the risen dough–a physical process in which the gas produced by the yeast is “punched” out–to making sure her oven is the right temperature when her loaves are ready to be baked. It takes a deep understanding to produce consistently good bread because even factors like the weather can affect how fast the oven heats and if the temperature is consistent.
Senora Planells could save time and buy bread from the store across from her house, but she prefers to make it herself the old-fashioned way. I was touched to be able to witness this incredibly personal process. As a European, I have always held bread to be a central element of meals, of life, really: good bread is simple and delicious, dependable and nourishing. The way Senora makes bread is also a reminder that the best foods can’t be made without time and attention.
Next time you are in Ibiza, skip the rave and head to Sa Nansa. Order the bread with tuna carpaccio and olive oil. You’ll be tasting a little of Ibiza’s culinary tradition and keeping it alive by choosing to eat locally!