Chris and I have just been away for six days in Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. It’s an arid and barren island (in many senses), but we had a great time navigating up and down the volcanic terrain and visiting little fishing villages. And we had a very good time eating too!
The Canary Islands constitute part of Spain – but geographically is only 125 km off the coast of North Africa. And culturally, it originally being a colony, Lanzarote is more similar to Latin America than to Spain itself. These two presences – North African and the Guanches indigenous culture – reveal themselves through the food the Canarians eat. The cuisine can basically be described as food for peasants and fishermen. On the coast, fresh fish is in abundance, and in the mountains there is rabbit, kid, pork, chicken – typically stewed.
A distinctive potato dish was papas arrugadas or ‘wrinkly potatoes’ – potatoes boiled in heavily salted water and served with two types of garlicky, vinegar and oil-based sauces called mojo: mojo picon (red and spicy) and mojo verde (green). Apparently this national condiment spawned the mojo also beloved by South American cuisines from Cuba, Puerto Rico and Venezuela, due to Canarian immigration. I loved these sauces so much, that I brought some ingredients back to make them myself!
We tried to eat fresh fish with every meal. Our favourite dishes were the fish of the day at Mar Azul restaurant – where the waiter just threw down three unidentified but delicious grilled whole fish in front of us, Galician octopus, limpets cooked in mojo and fresh anchovy fillets. Canarian cuisine is heavy on the oil and rock salt, which we had no problem with and set to mopping up with bread.
We tried some wonderful goat’s cheese from the Uga district in three ways – fresh, smoked and matured – served with a quince-like cactus jelly…
There was a chickpea and chorizo stew, and with the chickpeas cooked to al dente perfection it was surprisingly light.
A lovely dish we tried was pork adobo, using a marinating technique also common in South America. Again, vinegar and paprika feature heavily.
One night we ate at an Argentinian and Uruguayan steak house. We had (most probably imported) prime sirloin and rib-eye steaks grilled not over a flame, but almost peripherally by embers from a wood fire.The chef was adamant this was how it done – very nice it was – but a rare steak took about 25 minutes to cook…
One of the loveliest things to do (sadly more for Chris, not for the designated driver – yours truly) was to stop off at bodegas in the mountains, try the local wines and admire the view.We sampled some lovely specimens from the bodegas El Grifo, Stratvs and Rubicon.
All in all it was a fantastic culinary experience and as you might have guessed, I will be attempting some of the Canarian specialities very soon!