Rustic style and tasty
Over the decades the Canary Islands have become a paradise holiday destination for hundreds of thousands of European holiday-makers seeking reliably fine weather, long sandy beaches and swimming in the clear sea. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that all major tourist resorts boast of restaurants and pubs featuring a simple but cosy atmosphere. They serve the favourite dishes of all countries from which holiday-makers arrive on the island and may take the form of an Irish pub, an Italian pizzeria or a German wine cellar. Those who really want to acquaint themselves with the genuine cuisine of Canary Island residents must go inland away the seaside.
Local restaurants can be divided into three groups: Simple small pubs with good home-made food, big restaurants serving seafood and grilled specialities on weekends to whole families from the neighbouring communities and gourmet temples, offering well-to-do international guests finely prepared Canary Island dishes.
Canary Islands cuisine originates from the rural kitchen of Spanish and Portuguese immigrants, interlaced with Latin American specialities. Better-off households used to cook the produce of their own farms as well as from ingredients imported from overseas. Hearty meat dishes and sweet desserts are still the mainstay at mealtimes.
In coastal communities the cuisine is primarily based on simply prepared seafood. Poorer working families used to depend on gofio as their staple food. Gofio, roasted flour made from wheat, maize or sweet peas, is one of the few foods inherited from the Canary Islands' ancient inhabitants.
Every household would have their own recipe of a typical sauce called mojo, which has four basic types: hot mojo with chilli marinated in olive oil and vinegar (mojo picón or mojo rojo), green mojo marinated with herbs (mojo verde), garlic sauce (mojo de ajo) and saffron mojo with oregano and garlic (mojo de azafrán).
A wide choice of tapas, snacks popular throughout Spain, is available in all restaurants and day snack bars. Menus are indeed varied and rely heavily on all the ingredients used by local cuisine. They include local cheeses with olives, ham, vegetables, fish and meat in tasty sauces.
mojo de ajo
Thick soups and hearty meals from one pot
On the Canary Islands soup is often served at homes and in restaurants before the main course. On offer are all sorts of fish soup as well as potajes, i.e. vegetable soups with potatoes; they are mostly cooked until very thick. Pumpkins, cabbage and legumes are other frequently used ingredients. Sopa de berros (watercress soup) is a popular daily soup. Sopa de garbanza (chickpeas soup) is often as filling as a main course.
sopa de garbanzos
Stews cooked in a pot play an important role on the Canary Islands. Puchero canario contains as many as seven types of meat cooked with tomatoes, carrots, onions and sweet peas. Added to them are beans, white vegetables, pumpkin, ears of maize and yam, all stewed in meat broth. The condiment contains crushed garlic cloves, pepper, cloves, oil, and to enhance the taste, a bit of smoked meat and chorizo, smoked red pepper salami. Pear and other fruits may also be added.
You should first eat meat and vegetables. Then you take some gorifo flour from a bowl and mix it up with the rest of the liquid to roll small balls that make for a delicious and filling side dish. Finally, you take a spoon and eat up the soup saturated with all sorts of tastes and flavours.
Other one-pot meals include sancocho, a simple vegetable stew, typically served with bits of meat or fish, usually dried, and olla potrida, a stew in most cases comprising beef, smoked sausage and vegetables.
Marinated rabbit with potatoes boiled in sea water (conejo en salmorejo con papas arrugadas) could be described as the national dish of the Canary Islands. A rabbit is put for at least one night in a marinade of garlic, parsley, oregano, thyme, paprika, pepper, salt, oil and vinegar. The rabbit is then stewed in a ceramic pot as long as it takes for the meat to almost go off the bones. During cooking, the rabbit is basted with wine. A side dish is made from small unpeeled potatoes boiled in seawater, which makes them shrink and assume a white patina of salt.
It is only natural that in the the fishing villages everywhere on the Canary Islands people are served fresh fish; in upmarket restaurants they allow you to choose your own fish to make sure it has been just caught. A typical offer includes sea hake (merluza), monkfish (sama), sole (lenguado) and a fish called vieja. Add to those tuna (atún) steaks, swordfish (pez espada) and shark (tiburon). You should also taste sea bream coated in salt (dorada a la sal). If you prefer something small, you can have some octopus (pulpo) and squid (calamares) picked as tapas. Crayfish (cangrejos), prawns (gambas) and crawfish are caught at a depth of 700 metres. Those who do not know cod should try this fish by all means.
Before coffee and cognac, the local people would treat themselves to a sweet, usually calorie-rich dessert (postre). Also rich are flambéed bananas. The richest of all, however, are turrón de gofio, an almond cake made from honey, maize flour and figs, bienmesabe, a cream made from eggs and almond, and afrangollo, a desert made from maize and milk. If you have not got a sweet tooth, you can help yourself to some fresh fruit.
Smoked and plain sheep or goat cheese is made on all the Canary Islands. Such cheeses usually have a strong and slightly salty flavour. Almost everywhere you can order plain goat cheese called queso blanco. Queso de flor is a fine speciality cheese made with flowers. It is produced on the island of Gran Canaria in the village of Guia from fresh sheep and cow milk. The cheese made with violet blue artichoke flowers is available at three stages of maturity: tierno (soft, young), semiduro (semi-mature) and viejo (mature). A large selection of cheeses is usually available at the market, and travelling around the island you can also buy some cheese direct from the farmers.
Mineral water (aqua mineral) from the Canary Islands is good and available con gas or sin gas , i.e. as carbonated or still. Fruit juices (zumos de fruta) are usually served freshly squeezed, and milkshakes (batidos) are mixed with ice or fruit.
The delicious and not too strong Canary Islands beer (cerveza) is also to be recommended in moderation. With the main course you might enjoy some wine from the controlled wine regions of Tenerife. Quality wines imported from mainland Spain are also available and are less expensive than the local ones. You can choose between vino tinto (red), rosado (rosé) and blanco (white). As for dessert wines, you should try ron miel, honey rum, and the banana liqueur crema de banana. Restaurants owned by vineyards frequently offer a home-made spirit, Aquardiente de Parra.
After the meal, to promote digestion, you can help yourself to café solo, similar to an espresso. A larger coffee is called café doble. Coffee with a little milk is called cafe cortado.
In the holiday resorts, exotic cocktails are a natural item on the menu. Bartenders serve all known types of mixed drinks - from Planter's Punch through Singapore Sling to Bloody Mary - and bring them, decorated with sparklers, all the way to the guests' tables. A simpler, but no less good, is a drink originating in Cuba and called Mojito cubano: Havana Club rum and Irish mint.
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