First time I noticed Mama Carmen’s was when I went to a “mercadillo”, a monthly second-hand market on Glorieta de Pau Casals in Palma. The café looked so lively; people were spilling out from the interior and overflowing the terrace. I was intrigued and made a mental note to come back some day when it was less busy! Soon after, I heard about this café from friends who thought that it was “great for brunch”; apparently it has “the best, most generous smoothie bowls in town”, excellent pastries and toasts.
So, one Tuesday morning my friend and I agreed to meet at Mama Carmen´s. I was surprised to find that every single table was reserved. Reserved for brunch? This was new! Anyway, a nice waiter came and offered us a table that was free for the next hour. We ordered some rooibos tea and cinnamon rolls. The tea came in cute individual vintage pots with high quality tea bags. The cinnamon rolls smelled great even from a few meters away and tasted even better! Everything was served on a mish-mash of cups, saucers, and plates akin to what you would find in your grandma´s kitchen. The vibrantly painted tables and chairs were all mismatched, but looked really cool. The whole place gave a sense of a lovingly orchestrated chaos.
As my friend and I enjoyed our treats, the terrace filled up with hip youngsters and business types, all chatting animatedly and tucking into beautifully presented food. The smoothie bowls looked like little pieces of art, bursting with colour and healthy ingredients. I came to this place with a slightly cynical attitude, but within minutes I was converted by the authentic tastes, smells and the unique atmosphere! I liked that cinnamon roll so much that I excitedly told my partner about it and convinced him to go back so he could try it while I, of course, had another one! Many places around Palma offer cinnamon rolls, but – to me – none of them smell or taste quite as homely as the ones at Mama Carmen´s!
About half a year after that first visit, and many more since, I sat with Mama Carmen´s owner Ales to hear more about the café and the ideas behind it. Between eating a very late lunch and running back inside to help his staff, he tells me how it all started… This chatty, energetic Andaluz man spent 20 years in fashion, followed by teaching yoga and doing massage therapy, while travelling the world. He tells me that he has always been interested in food, thanks to his late mother Carmen with whom he was cooking since a young age. So, the café´s name is homage to her. During his travels Ales got into healthy, sustainable food, and for a long time he had a vague idea of opening some sort of a café one day, even though he himself hasn’t drunk coffee till the age of 40, as it “didn´t agree with his hyperactive personality”.
When his mother passed away, Ales decided to use his inheritance money for a soul searching trip, from North Europe down to Turkey and finally Morocco. Throughout Europe he started seeing this coffee culture which in Spain, at the time, was in its infancy. In Turkey, more than anywhere, he got inspired by the cafés, by people getting together – known and unknown, locals and the immigrants – and discussing current affairs, politics etc. The idea of a cosy, communal café he wanted to run started to take shape. It was further strengthened by the sights, smells and tastes he experienced in Morocco. While travelling, Ales also collected teapots, cups and many other items that would later – together with treasures he sourced around Mallorca – be either recycled or up-cycled to give the café the feel he wanted.
Ales finally opened his long desired cafe on 26th of May 2017. His food is all vegan, mostly organic, as often as possible “0 km”. The breads he uses come from Rustic bakery from Binisalem, and the focaccia I tried is as good as anywhere in Italy. The cakes, my main point of interest, are made by brilliant pastry chef Zahira Font. Her donuts, pancakes and banana breads are all fantastic and I could write a separate column about each of them. I hear that there will be some special cakes for Valentine´s too. Last year Zahira’s take on famous Austrian Sachertorte was a huge hit, and this year´s surprise is still under wraps at the time of writing this article.
Exactly two years after opening his first café, Ales opened the second plus a health food shop next door. Walking into this space fells like going into Aladdin’s cave full of healthy foods and drinks, from pulses and grains to teas and plant based milks and everything you can imagine in between, piled up all the way to the ceiling. Ales is excitedly showing me what he sells, telling me about many excellent local and international providers he works with. Once again, his huge passion for good food and a community spirit shines through.
When I asked about his plans for the future and whether another café was on the horizon, Ales told me: “No! If I started to expand further or franchise, the place would lose its soul!” And it is clear that, to Ales, the soul and the spirit of these two cafés and one store is sacred.
As for me, as I am writing this column on a grey January day, I promise myself that 2021 will be a year in which I will start eating healthier than ever before. While I will not be giving up chocolates or cakes altogether, I will try to make smarter choices and visit places like Mama Carmen´s more often!
Till next month…
Aside from bringing you a story of one special place each month, I will briefly review a few other places or products that have caught my attention over the previous weeks.
Coffee: Kenzo is a recently opened bar on the Paseo Maritimo (opposite Social) that offers the great Bay coffee with an added bonus of an unobstructed view of the Cathedral.
Chocolate: This month I loved Wunder Worksop´s organic, vegan, raw chocolate with Turmeric and CBD. It is made by Forever Cacao from the UK, from a single origin Criolo cacao from Peru. This perfect little winter treat is available at Mama Carmen´s store.
Cava: While it´s becoming increasingly difficult to find an open terrace, thanks to the current COVID measures, one place where it is always nice to have a glass of Cava and watch the world go by is Nova del Mar at Port Calanova.
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Photos Credit: Mirka Formanova, Instagram: @mirkform_photography and Mia Naprta
Mama Carmen Coffee & Kitchen
Carrer de Cervantes, 21; Palma
Carrer de Rossiñol, 3a bajos, Palma