Ropa Vieja is probably the Canarian dish whose name I like the most. In Spanish it rolls of the tongue nicely and even sounds vaguely exotic. But I’d love to watch the face of someone in a traditional Canarian restaurant who opts for the menu in English when their eyes run down the offerings to arrive at ‘old clothes’.
I’d never thought of that until I saw it on a menu in the Anaga Mountains. What on earth would people make of a dish called old clothes? It’s a great name but it doesn’t exactly set the juices flowing.
“How do you fancy some old clothes?”
“Mmm, sounds delicious.”
Ropa vieja is a traditional dish that was made up from leftovers from ingredients used in other meals. A second hand dish in effect… old clothes.
In many ways ropa vieja is like a lot of the stews you find on Tenerife and the Canary Islands; a mish mash of meat, veg, herbs and spices. But locals claim that over the years it has taken on an identity that separates it from the likes of puchero. And then they’ll tell you it’s rarely the same from one place to the next. I’ve eaten it twice in recent months and neither looked or tasted like the other.
Basically, ropa vieja is a mix of chickpeas, chicken, beef or pork, potatoes, tomatoes, onion, garlic, stock, wine, thyme, bay leaves, paprika, parsley and wine – give or take a few various other ingredients. The chicken is shredded giving the whole thing a bit of a messy look.
It’s mostly found on menus in traditional Canarian restaurants in the hills. The dish in the picture was at La Cueva in Chinamada and was smothered in chips just to add to the shambolic appearance.
I don’t think ropa vieja is the best of Canarian stews but it’s worth trying at least once, even if only so you can tell folks you’ve eaten old clothes.
Jack is co-owner, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to lots of other places. Follow Jack on Google+