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The food of Tenerife

The food of Tenerife

by Mónica R. Goya 25 April 2018

Planning to spend some time on the most beautiful of the Canary Islands? Mónica R. Goya introduces us to the most iconic ingredients and dishes to look out for when you’re there.

Everyone has heard of Tenerife’s exotic black sand beaches, its lusciously green mountains and its breath-taking volcanic landscapes. However, inexplicably the food of Tenerife still flies under some tourists’ radar. One of Spain’s most beautiful destinations, Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands and like the rest of the archipelago, is favoured by one of the best climates in the world.

The Canaries’ privileged location in the Atlantic Ocean is key to understanding its links with Latin America and the pivotal role the islands held in introducing new foods brought to Europe from the New World by the conquistadores. Tenerife was the last of the Canaries to be annexed to the Crown of Castile in 1496, only four years after explorer Christopher Columbus discovered America. In this context, Canarian soil became a lab to experiment with some of that never-seen-before produce from across the pond.

From the lusciously green north to the quiet turquoise coast in the south and the highest peak in Spain (Mount Teide) in the centre of the island, Tenerife is home to unique regional dishes made from some of the finest ingredients in the country. Next time you visit, make sure you try the following to get a sense of the real local cuisine.

Potatoes

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According to evidence, the first potatoes grown in Europe were first harvested on Canarian soil in 1567 (they’d eventually get to London in 1597). The tubers still play a major role in the island’s gastronomy and wrinkly potatoes (boiled in heavily salted water) are a staple. Canarian Papas Antiguas (ancient potatoes) were awarded Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status by the European Commission in 2013. There are twenty-nine different varieties protected with names such as negras, azucena or peluca. Don’t leave the island without trying the distinctively flavoursome papas negras. The big picture is worth considering: all these ancient potatoes reflect the expertise of Canarian farmers, who have kept this low-yielding varietal treasure alive for over four centuries.

Mojos

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To understand Canarian gastronomy, you need to understand its mojos (sauces). Two of the most popular ones are mojo picón and mojo verde. The mojos are regulars on Canarian tables, often served with papas arrugadas or fish. While mojo picón is made with red peppers, chilli, oil, salt, garlic and vinegar, and often breadcrumbs and cumin, green mojos are usually made with garlic, oil, vinegar, salt and parsley or coriander.

Gofio

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Gofio belongs to the holy trinity of Canarian cuisine and it’s one of the islands’ most representative ingredients. It is a highly nutritious flour made from toasted cereals, mainly wheat, corn and barley. Established by the guanches – the indigenous people of the Canaries – it is believed to have played a vital role in their diets, contributing to their survival when other foods were scarce. Gofio precedes the Spanish conquest and it is a very versatile ingredient used in sweet and savoury dishes. You could have it for breakfast with milk, mixed with stews, kneaded into a solid as a side with fish or even in desserts such as mousse. Gofio is a precious cultural symbol for islanders, who are tremendously proud of it, however not every visitor is able to appreciate it to its fullest.

Fish

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If you visit local food markets like the one in La Laguna, you will see several fishmongers who specialise in salted fish. This is the star ingredient of a dish called sancocho, traditionally eaten during Easter as traditionally Catholics wouldn’t have meat over the holiday. The salted fish – previously soaked overnight – is accompanied by papas arrugadas, gofio and sometimes sweet potato, as well as mojo sauces. One of the most common fish for this dish is cherne (wreckfish or stone bass), a classic on Canarian menus. Being an island with a longstanding fishing tradition, high quality fresh fish is taken for granted. Some local favourites include vieja (parrot fish), pollock or sardines, served mainly grilled, stewed or fried.

Meat

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When done right, rabbit en salmorejois one of the most spectacular dishes one can try on Tenerife. It is time consuming to prepare as the meat is left to marinate overnight (the marinade usually is made of garlic, Spanish paprika, chilli, white wine, oil, vinegar, salt and herbs such as thyme, rosemary and laurel). The marinated rabbit is then fried until tender and golden.

Additionally, two other regional meat dishes are carne cabra (goat’s meat) from local breeds, and ropa vieja (which literally translates to old clothes). The latter is the quintessential leftovers dish and it involves cooking multiple meats with chickpeas and vegetables.

Rancho canario

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One of the most popular stews is rancho canario, a filling dish made of chickpeas, thick noodles, potatoes and meat and eaten hot. Potaje de berros (watercress soup) is also traditional and its main ingredients are watercress, pork meat, corn, potatoes and pumpkin.

Fruit

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The island is home to a bounty of tropical fruits like bananas, avocados or papayas, which locals grow in their own back gardens. Plátanos (local bananas that have protected geographical indication (PGI) status) are smaller and sweeter than South American bananas found in the UK and are likely the most well-known crop of Tenerife outside the Canaries. Before tourism took off, plátanos had great importance in the islands’ economy and they still play an important role today. Soft avocados straight from the tree and succulent papayas are easy to find in food markets.

Desserts and honey

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Anyone with a sweet tooth should try frangollo and bienmesabe. The latter shares its name with another Andalusian dessert of a different nature, but Canarian bienmesabe is made of almonds, sugar, eggs and milk and it is served as a sweet, syrupy paste. On the other hand, frangollo is a traditional dessert made of millet flour, milk, sugar, eggs, raisins and cinnamon and it can be topped with Gomera’s famous palm honey.

One of the best souvenirs to take home is a jar of Tenerife honey, awarded PDO status by the European Commission in 2014. Beekeeping is an ancient tradition on the island and the array of different types of honey available, from the Teide Broom honey to the avocado tree or the multiflora ones, are a real treat.

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