This is the second in our series called “Food of the World” and this time it is the turn of Tenerife.
A true island of surprising delights, Tenerife offers authentic cuisine blessed with an array of intoxicating flavours, varying from coriander-based sauces to red hot pepper-infused cheese. Several dishes originally created by indigenous people on the island have marked Tenerife’s cuisine, which has evolved into a blend of traditional cooking and innovative culinary creations.
Simple yet delicious, traditional dishes are characterised by their simplicity, quality and freshness of locally-produced ingredients such as fish, potatoes, tomatoes or bananas. The island’s year round spring climate and fertile land is well suited to the vegetable crops, vineyards, banana plantations and almond trees which have covered slopes, plains and mountainous areas with a picturesque natural tapestry, providing an ideal base for cuisine.
Fish: with a vast coastline and rich marine life, Tenerife benefits from a long fishing tradition as fresh fish and seafood was once the main source of sustenance over many centuries. Fish is often lightly seasoned and baked, fried or boiled, providing a very simple yet flavoursome dish. Popular varieties include parrotfish, grouper, jack mackerel and cuttlefish.
Bananas in Tenerife are easily identifiable by their small size and speckled skin. The island’s ideal subtropical climate allows bananas to stay on the plant for longer, resulting in an extraordinary, intense flavour.
Potatoes are the star product of Tenerife’s cuisine and are often accompanied by “mojo” sauce, which can also be partnered with fresh fish or meat. They come in many varieties including the “papa bonita” meaning pretty potato, “papa negra”, “papa azucena”, “papa cara” and King Edward (pronounced “quin-e-gua” in the Canarian dialect). Potatoes originally arrived from America over four centuries ago and have since played a significant role in everyday cuisine. In fact, the island boasts the largest number of potato fields producing ancient varieties in Europe.
Cheese is another symbol of Tenerife. Approximately 24,000 tonnes of cheese is consumed every year in the Canary Islands, being one of Spain’s largest cheese consuming regions. Roughly half of this amount is produced locally and around 80% of these are artisan farmhouse cheeses, generating an important income for the farming sector. Most cheeses are made with indigenous goat’s milk and in some cases, with sheep’s milk.
One of the most unique products on Tenerife is locally-produced honey, particularly the flower-based honey prepared with endemic floral species. Tenerife’s beekeeping tradition dates back more than 500 years and was once an important source of income on the island. The distinct variety of flowers has generated a spectrum of exquisite floral aromas, which can only be produced with native flowers such as the “Tajinaste” or the Mount Teide broom. Some of the delicate flavours can be combined, producing multi-floral honey.
“Gofio” is another ingredient used in Tenerife’s cuisine that stands out. It is a type of flour made from toasted cereal crops and has become the star ingredient in many dishes in Tenerife and the Canary Islands in general. Kneaded with water or accompanying other dishes like thick soups, its use dates back to the Guanches, the ancient inhabitants of the island. The “gofio” is currently a “Protected Geographical Indication” from the Canary Islands, as stated by the European Union.
In order for visitors to experience the island’s cuisine, a new association called “Saborea Tenerife” (part of “Saborea España”), has been set up to help showcase local produce available at restaurants and events including monthly food fairs.
Unknown by many, although praised by Shakespeare, Tenerife’s award-winning wines are of great quality and were exported to England for over three centuries. Brought by colonists in the 16th century, Tenerife’s wine production began in Los Realejos, and rapidly developed throughout the island resulting in 106 operational vineyards to date. Tenerife’s wine-making tradition has generated five Denominations of Origin (produced in five different wine regions), varying from fresh, aromatic whites, to roses, reds, as well as Malvasia-based wines.
The quality, singularity and variety of Tenerife’s wines lies in the barren volcanic soils, the Atlantic Ocean moisture, the various micro-climates and the ancient vines, which have survived thanks to a long pest-free past. Wine enthusiasts can discover the island’s wine treasures by following wine trails, sampling different varieties at many of the wineries or by paying a visit to “Casa del Vino La Baranda” in El Sauzal, a true wine haven set in a restored farmhouse from the 17th century. Its facilities include a wine cellar, a wine shop, a wine tasting room, a restaurant, exhibitions and an old wine-press located in a pleasant courtyard.
Visitors can also discover the island’s delicacies in markets such as “Nuestra Señora de Africa” (Santa Cruz) and the Market of San Cristóbal de La Laguna (La Laguna). There are also popular local farmers’ markets such as the “Mercadillo del Agricultor” that takes place in Tacoronte and Tegueste, amongst other towns. Edible souvenirs are available in various outlets across the island, such as banana liquor, chocolate-coated almonds, honey and jams, without forgetting the famous “mojo” sauces and the island’s wines.
Treat your palate to some of the island’s favourites:
“Papas arrugadas con mojo”: wrinkly potatoes with “mojo sauce”. “Wrinkling” potatoes is the most common way of cooking potatoes in Tenerife. The distinctive rugged potato skin is the result of boiling unpeeled potatoes in extra salted water or seawater and tossing them with additional salt once cooked and drained.
“Mojo” sauce comes in two varieties: red and green. Both made with garlic, cumin, salt, olive oil and vinegar, the green sauce combines coriander or parsley and hot green peppers, whereas the latter features paprika and red hot peppers.
“Queso asado / queso a la plancha”: fried or grilled cheese, often accompanied by green “mojo” sauce and on some occasions, served with red “mojo” sauce.
“Potaje de berros”: a light watercress soup served with a corncob and “gofio” (a mixture of ground cereals originated from the indigenous Guanche inhabitants). Often associated with egg sandwiches or salads, watercress is a key ingredient in one of the most traditional soups on the island.
“Almogrote”: a rich paste (in terms of flavour) made with cured cheese, red hot pepper, olive oil, garlic and sometimes ripe tomatoes. The ingredients are usually blended with a mortar and pestle and then spread on rustic bread.
“Queso fresco con miel”: fresh cheese drizzled in honey. Light and pleasant, “queso fresco” can be smoked with wood or almond shells and is sometimes combined with honey.
“Barraquito”: a coffee drink including a few drops of grappa, condensed milk and cinnamon.