We’ve written about tapas routes on Tenerife before, but you don’t need to wait for an organised ruta de tapa to tap into the island’s version of the classic and extremely sociable Spanish way of snacking.
There are plenty of excellent tapas bars and restaurants around the island – a far better variety than when we arrived on Tenerife over a decade ago.
Where are the best tapas restaurants on Tenerife?
At the moment Puerto de la Cruz probably offers the most diverse selection of tapas bars within a relatively small area (around the old town). Every time we go into the town, there seems to be a new and intriguing looking place. La Laguna has perked up its tapas scene of late, especially with the opening of the San Pedro gourmet market, and Santa Cruz also has some good places to try tapas. But, like a lot of things connected with the city, they’re more spread out.
In truth, you can find good tapas dishes all over Tenerife. However, for me, part of the attraction of eating tapas is the surroundings. It might be psychological, but tapas seems to taste better in an atmospheric historic courtyard, converted fisherman’s cottage overlooking the sea, finca on a hillside or trendified town house that wouldn’t look out of place in Barcelona. Basically, the traditional as opposed to the purpose built.
What to look for on a menu
What is generally thought of as tapas comes in a variety of sizes and occasionally with different names on Tenerife. Trying some can be as simple as wandering into a Canarian bar and pointing at a selection of dishes in a glass cabinet on the counter. Sometimes you even get a little complimentary ‘snack’ with your cerveza, but not usually of the type of ‘tapa’ that’s was once common in mainland Spain.
Most of the time you’ll be faced with a tapas menu… or not. When we first came to Tenerife, we’d ask if restaurants had a tapas menu. I can’t remember anyone saying they didn’t. Instead, we’d be shown the starters menu. Not quite the same thing.
What you have to look for is a menu that actually has a tapas section. Alternatively, look for a raciones menu. Raciónes are like big tapas portions. Anywhere with raciones usually also offers ½ raciones which are closer to tapas size. Another word used quite a lot on Tenerife is picoteo – food to pick at, to share. In other words, tapas.
The most popular tapas on Tenerife
Although there’s been an increase in speciality restaurants serving more imaginative and diverse tapas, most of the time, wherever you are on Tenerife, tapas menus tend to have a similar look to them. Tortilla española and papas arrugadas (the island’s speciality wrinkled potato) are everywhere – although with papas arrugadas not all are the real McCoy – so not exclusive to tapas menus.
These dishes, on the other hand, are to be found mainly in establishments with tapas menus.
Churros de Pescado
These are a must try – small goujons of white fish encased in batter (a crispy, herby one if the restaurant is good). Fabulous on their own, they’re even better when dipped in the little bowl of alioli (garlic mayonnaise) that often accompanies them.
I’m using an umbrella term as there’s a variety of cheesy choices on good tapas menus. If drinking a glass of red, a tabla de quesos (cheese board) is the perfect partner. Go for Canarian cheeses as the islands produce some real belters. Alternatively, the cheese used for queso asado and queso a la plancha (fried/grilled cheese) doesn’t pack a powerful punch but is livened up no end by being drizzled with mojo rojo, mojo verde and honey.
If you have cheese and wine, you really should have a tabla de jamón serrano and/or ibérico (thinly sliced cured hams) to complete a seriously tasty trio. There’s been an increase of speciality jamón bars and delicatessens in Tenerife in the last few years so not too difficult to indulge in some authentic jamón and wine tasting.
Menus identify boquerones as anchovies, but they taste nothing like the salty version found on pizzas. These are simply tiny, filleted fish which have been marinated in garlic, olive oil, white wine vinegar and herbs. Perfect for picking at.
Croquettes are nearly as common place as tortilla. Although they are supposed to have fish, ham, chicken fillings, many taste more like flavoured potato than anything else. It’s worth seeking out croquetas caseras and also places that are a bit more adventurous with their croquetas. We’ve had wonderful spinach, blue cheese and even beetroot croquetas in various bars around Tenerife.
Another tapa that comes in various forms. Many people automatically opt for calamari but chipirones (small squid) are more tender and have more flavour whilst chopitos (tiny, fried squid in batter) are like the seafood version of Bombay mix.
I’ve no idea why a salad said to have been created in Russia is so popular in Spain, but you can get this savoury mix of tuna, mayo, peas, potato, boiled egg and carrot (that’s the basic version) everywhere. It looks a bit of a mess on the plate, but I’m often drawn to ensaladilla rusa.
Pimientos de Padrón
Green Padrón peppers fried in olive oil and sprinkled generously with rock salt. By now everyone knows that one in ten should be as hot as the inside of a furnace, but here in Tenerife they rarely are. Every so often though one will catch you with your guard down and when it does… yowza. Moreish whether spicy or not.
Octopus is another very common tapa on Tenerife and usually shows up as a zingy salad in Canarian bars. Personally I prefer pulpo a la gallega where it comes on a bed of potatoes and is sprinkled with paprika. Best of all is when the potatoes are mashed. Octopus and mash is a heavenly combination.
Meat and Potatoes
Finally, this one can be more like a small meal than a tapa, but a variation of it regularly features on tapas menus. Carne con papas is as it sounds – meat with potatoes. More flavoursome is carne fiesta which is spiced pork and far tastier. Either way, you normally get potatoes or chips so really a bit too filling for tapas.
The list could go on and on. Think of these more as an introduction to tasting tapas on Tenerife than a definitive list.
Jack is co-editor, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to online travel sites and travel magazines. Follow Jack on Google+