A while ago we ate in a restaurant which had one of those map place mats. It wasn’t the typical Tenerife map you find in quite a few trad and casual restaurants, it was more interesting in that it highlighted areas by their gastronomic specialities in jaunty, cartoon fashion. The one which amused and impressed me most was Garachico which had a picture of a pizza above the historic town. The people who put the map together really knew their stuff. Anyone who knows Garachico very well, or who regularly reads the Real Tenerife, will know why a pizza was used for Garachico and not something more traditional.
I said it was a while ago because I can’t remember when exactly. If I could I’d be able to locate which of my photo folders held the picture I took of the map, and be able to see what Tenerife gastro-goodies it showed for other places, which were going to be the subject of this piece. I can’t. So, instead of spending hours searching through folders, I thought I’d list some Tenerife specialities we connect with certain areas.
Santa Cruz – parrot fish
Whenever I think of parrot fish (vieja) I connect it with Santa Cruz. This is despite us never having actually eaten parrot fish in Tenerife’s capital, or that the residents of Santa Cruz are called Chicharreros because of a love of eating cheap mackerel. But on our first visit to the city we picked up a booklet from the tourist office which stated “You cannot leave the city without trying delicacies like vieja, the favourite fish of Canary Islanders”. The connection between the fish and the city has stuck ever since.
Acentejo – chestnuts
The fiestas for San Andrés in November may have chestnuts roasting on an open fire in towns and villages on Tenerife, especially in the likes of Puerto de la Cruz and Icod de los Vinos; however, it’s the leafy hillsides above Santa Úrsula, La Victoria, and La Matanza which are the real homes of the chestnut. These, and the other parts of Acentejo, are where trees mostly leave their treasures. So much so, the area celebrates a Mes de la Castaña (chestnut month) which includes chestnut tapas and castaña show-cooking exhibitions.
Masca – cactus
Our first memories of visiting Masca involved trying a glass of cactus lemonade and watching a man send a cockerel to sleep by rubbing its belly (I had to think carefully about how to word that). It was all quite surreal. Last time we visited we tried the cactus cake. Cactus and Masca are just a thing.
La Orotava – gofio
La Orotava is the capital of gofio mills on Tenerife; there are at least two still in operation, supplying locals with their toasted flour. We learnt all sorts of things about gofio and its uses from a mill owner there. Apart from that, we’ve eaten gofio amasado in the town’s restaurants, had it thrown at us (in a nice way) at romerías there, and bought gofio energy bars from our favourite molinero (miller).
Adeje – chicken
Often in resort areas you might have to travel quite a distance to sample local specialities in authentic settings. But Adeje Town is right behind the biggest resort area on the island and is the place to try pollo al ajillo (garlic chicken). We’ve taken many folk to the town to smack their lips on a portion, including visiting travel writers, and the crunchy, savoury chicken has gone down a treat with the lot of them. You can keep your KFC, Adeje’s is better.
Teno – cheese
There are a few areas on Tenerife producing excellent cheeses. Teno is our favourite, partly because of what goes into buying it. We’d climb a steep track, cross a few gorgeous barrancos, and eventually end up at Bailaderos, hoping the cupboard-sized shop that sells our favourite chunks was open. Getting there on foot, and trying it in the area where it’s made adds to the flavour I’m sure; not that it needs any help, given it’s flavoured by the aromatic wild plants and herbs of lush Teno valleys.
Puerto de la Cruz – sardines
The saying goes you should never eat sardines when there’s an R in the month, which is why the Sardinada, a sardine-fest in Puerto de la Cruz, in July is the perfect time to tuck into them. I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve queued for plates of sardines, sesame bread, and beakers of red wine over the years at the Sardinada and every one of them was a joy. In truth, the sardines could be hit and miss as the crowds are massive and the frying process could be rushed, but the atmosphere was always delicious.
El Sauzal – honey
An interview with the director of the Honey Museum at El Sauzal opened our eyes (and mouths) to the wonderfully diverse range of honeys to be enjoyed on Tenerife – flavours which included avocado, fennel, heather, tajinaste, and chestnut which became our favourite honey of all. El Sauzal’s reputation as Tenerife’s honey centre was cemented when a swarm of bees took up residence in our garden some years back. A quick call to the Honey Museum resulted in a local beekeeper turning up to take the swarm off our hands in exchange for some honey. A very decent result for us.
This is the great joy of trying local specialities wherever you travel. Regularly they come served with a little (or big) experience which helps lock their flavours away in your memory for a long, long time.