Friday, May 4, 2012

Las Canarias IV: Canarian Cuisine!

Gluttony is my favorite sin, I'll admit it, so I'm always eager to try new things, especially foods that I can share with friends and family back home. In fact, trying new foods is one of my favorite parts of traveling! On our trip to the Canary Islands Rob and I kept pretty busy and consequentially had to grab whatever was available to eat wherever we ended up--and the results were varied. You might remember the photo below, which, believe it or not, was taken at a "Mexican" restaurant. Rob thought he had ordered something like a fajita, but apparently all cuisines come with a side of chips in tourist hell! We had a good laugh at this meal. In the thick of the tourist areas of Tenerife, you will find restaurants of every imaginable ethnicity that all strangely resemble British or German restaurants. If you step outside of the resorts, though, the Canary Islands offer a rich variety of local produce and unique dishes. Here are some of the foods we absolutely loved--

Rob was a little surprised by his dinner!

1.  mojos 

Mojos seem to be the most prolific Canarian flavor--typically coming in "red," which has a little kick, and "green," which is cilantro-based. Rob and I loved them both and deciding which color to bring home was difficult, so we took the easy route and went with both! Mojos can be eaten with bread, on fried cheese, or most traditionally, with potatoes. 

Mojos with fried cheese, yum!

About those potatoes. The best thing to eat with mojo is papas arrugadas, or wrinkly potatoes! There are a variety of potatoes grown on the island, but the best are patatas negras. They're tiny, delicious, and cooked to salty perfection. You dip them in the mojos and eat them with your hands. My favorite patatas were from a traditional restaurant in Santa Cruz with an exceptionally friendly staff.  The waiter patiently listened to all of my ignorant questions and was happy to explain and share his culture.

Me: "How are the black potatoes different from the regular potatoes?"
Waiter: "They're the same, but better!"

He emphasized the word "better." I guess we'll take the black potatoes! The waiter, as I mentioned, was really friendly and brought us both kinds so that we didn't have to take his word for it--The black ones really were better! 

Black wrinkly potatoes, yum! 

Two of my favorite foods are cheese and honey, so Tenerife gets extra points for specializing in both! Goat herding is still a very real occupation here, and you're likely to stumble upon at least a few furry specimens if you explore the mountains. Each island offers a unique variety of cheeses cultivated from their milk. Rob and I sampled quite a few at the market in Santa Cruz--And can I just say yumOne variety even won an award for being the world's best cheese

My favorite cheesy Canarian dish is called almogrote, which is like a kind of paté made with cured goat cheese, olive oil, olives, and spices--Absolutely delicious! I'll definitely be experimenting to see if I can replicate this at home, or at least I'll make a visit to the North Market in Columbus to chat the cheese man up about it!

Goat cheese and almogrote with malba toast, yum!

4. fresh fish

After an intense hike one day Rob and I were famished and eager to make it back to a particularly delicious smelling place that we had passed in Taganana--the place to go for fresh fish. We were not disappointed. Our meal was served Spanish style: Staring at us from the plate with head, fins, scales and all! A little bit messy to dissect, but oh so good. 

Rob and some fishy friends

5. gofio 

The friendly waiter from the restaurant in Santa Cruz also served us up some gofio, the epitome traditional Canarian cuisine that originates in the days of the Guanche. Gofio refers to a mix of roasted grains, and can be eaten a variety of ways--such as in a stew or spread on toast. We tried it in a sort of honey-loaf form that tasted nutty and delicious!

That little brown round is gofio

 6. cookies

Who doesn't like cookies? In the Canary Islands they are traditional product made from grains that comes in original flavors like herbs and pumpkin. While we explored the visitor's center on the island of La Gomera we stumbled into a room where traditionally styled cookies were just coming out of the oven. It smelled so good we couldn't help but indulge. 

 They tasted as good as they smelled

 7. potajes

Potaje can refer to a number of different Canarian recipes, but is essentially a kind of stew. Rob tried a traditional one made with an assortment of meats and vegetables, which would definitely be described as less soupy and more stewy. I tried a chick pea potaje that was delicious. Other versions are made with ingredients like watercress and lentils, and I've read about varieties made with gofio, too. I only wish I could have tried them all!

8. Carne secreto Ibérico

I'm including this one last because I doubt that it's local to the Canary Islands, but when Rob saw "secret meat" on the menu, we had to ask. It's pork that comes from the special black-footed Iberian pigs, the friendly waiter explained. Sounds delicious--We'll take it! What arrived, however, looked more like our "Mexican" dinner: Steak and chips! They must have confused our order, we thought, but we were also pretty hungry. Who doesn't like a good steak anyways? In fact, it was one of the most delicious steaks we'd ever had! 

Thinking that I had confused my Spanish, I asked the waiter again, "Is this the secret meat?" Yes, yes, he assured us. "But, didn't you say that it was pork?" Yes, he said, it's pork. "But, are you sure that's what this is?" Yes, he went on, with a laugh. It turns out that Iberian pig is incredibly delicious no matter how you cut it!

The source of all the cheesy goodness in the Canary Islands!

I'll say it one more time--Canarian food, yum!

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