Finding Haggis on Tenerife Shows The Island’s Different Faces

How can anyone not like haggis? It’s full of flavours that dance a spiced up Highland Fling on your tongue. I’d forgotten how good it actually tasted. This is a national dish to be proud of and I won’t leave it another eight years before I enjoy its savoury seductive flavours again.

Every year we vow to celebrate Burns Night with haggis and tatties and a wee dram even though neither of us are whiskey drinkers (or even whisky drinkers…oops) and a sip sets off a gurning competition. We’ve had a 10 year old bottle of Glenmorangie for over 8 years (which I suppose makes it and 18 year old bottle) whose volume is reduced by measly measures that would have had my father disowning me. But every year our celebration of Scotland’s genius poet is let down by a lack of a haggis. The wee creature has proved an elusive fellow in the north of Tenerife.

This year Burns Night happened to coincide with a visit to the south of the island so we decided to try our luck at Iceland in Los Cristianos. Iceland in Chafiras seemed probably a better bet but we had a tight schedule (i.e. everything had to done before siesta time… not ours, everyone else’s).

It was a gloriously sunny January morning and as we drove up through the banana plantation to the TF5 motorway we were seen off by a covey of partridges on one side of the road and a herd of goats keeping the weeds at bay on the other. As we turned onto the main road with Mount Teide larging it over the La Orotava Valley we drove passed a sign for a guachinche and three cafe restaurants where Tinerfeño workers stop off for coffee and a bite on their way to work.

I mention this for a couple of reasons. The first being because it’s a mighty pleasant way to set off on a journey and the second is that when I say I occasionally suffer from slight culture shock when  we arrive in one of the main southern resorts I’m really not being pretentious. I’m also not dissing the southern resort…it’s just a fact.

Take the approach road to Los Cristianos. Leaving the TF1, the first human we passed was wearing sports shorts and didn’t have a shirt on. He was making the most of Tenerife’s winter sun and who can blame him. But the sight of someone walking about without a shirt on the outskirts of a town just seems odd, probably because it’s not an everyday sight for us.

The difference became more marked when we parked outside of Iceland in the town and I ventured inside in the vain hope that they might have haggis. The last time I was in a supermarket where all the customers and staff were English speakers was when we were back in the UK in summer last year. The time before that was in Iceland in Chafiras. The time before that was in a small supermarket in Los Gigantes where they didn’t know what a bocadillo was. It freaks me out, it feels out of place…but that’s only in relation to what I’m used to. Others may think ‘what the hell is he harping on about?’

For a second I was thrown and I hesitated before approaching an assistant. I’m so used to 99.9% of shopping transactions being done in Spanish that the simplicity of being able to ask in English if they had haggis threw me off balance. Mind you I’ve no idea how I would have begun to describe haggis in Spanish.

The assistant was incredibly helpful. She apologised for not not having any fresh haggis and then played a blinder by telling me they stocked tins of the stuff. It was a result. It might not have been perfect but for the first time in Tenerife we could look forward to almost a proper Burns Night dinner.

Then we moved further south west and met a friend who had recently had to spend time in the hospital in Candelaria. Her lack of Spanish didn’t go down well at the hospital where a Nurse Ratched-esque member of staff had scolded her for not knowing any of the language spoken on the island she was living on.

It’s easy to criticise ex-pats for not learning the language here but in our experience when you try to speak Spanish in a resort area, more often than not waiters and others will reply to you in English. It happened in Playa de la Arena when we stopped for a tapas lunch. Our side of the ordering conversation was done in Spanish; the waiter’s was completely in English. He was friendly enough but he simply refused to answer in Spanish. How can people improve their Spanish when faced with this? Then when you come face to face with officialdom it’s a completely different matter and a massive shock.

Generally speaking this doesn’t happen outside of the main purpose built resorts. Often people don’t seem to be able to speak English but when visitors (or ex-pat residents for that matter) try to talk to them in Spanish, they thaw and even if all they know is a little bit of English, they’re much happier communicating in a sort of Spanglish.

Over the years we’ve learnt that engaging with people in Spanish brings down barriers, resulting in a very different experience. We’re not fluent by any means, but we can converse… up to a point. Because of where we live and what we do it’s essential.

Our trip to find haggis on Tenerife took us around the island and revealed, as it always does, how very different parts of Tenerife are from other parts and why it can appeal to people with all sorts of varying tastes.

Personally I love the fact there are such extreme variations… otherwise I wouldn’t have been reacquainted with the culinary delight that is the chieftain o’ the puddin-race.

Slangevar!

4 Comments

  1. I’m glad that haggis can be found in Tenerife, otherwise once we move there I would have had to return to Scotland for Burns Night!
    It is annoying for those of us trying to learn Spanish when you try really hard and they just reply in English!
    One of the difficulties we’re finding as well is that when we do encounter those in the villages in Tenerife who don’t speak English their version of Spanish is not the same as the one we are learning! Will we have to relearn when we get there?

    • LOL. We were exactly the same. We went to the Spanish Institute in Manchester and had two teachers over a year; one from Barcelona and one from Madrid. First attempted conversation on Tenerife and we were convinced we’d been taught the wrong language. It took us 5 years to drop the ‘th’ from words. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully understand what some people in the hills are saying (you have to be able to identify actual words to do that).

      We started to drop the ‘s’ here until a Basque friend told us off and said ‘If I went to Glasgow would you expect me to try to speak like someone there?’

      Since then we make an effort to leave in the ‘s’ but still a few ‘graciah’ and ‘doh’ creep in.

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