“Tapas isn’t a Tenerife thing. It’s Spanish.”
Like sangria and flamenco, that’s true.
“You don’t really find authentic tapas on Tenerife.”
That statement, on the other hand, is completely inaccurate.
In Spain, a tapa is traditionally a small snack, used to stave of hunger between meals. How it came about remains disputed, but the most plausible explanation involves a tapa (lid) of ham or cheese placed on a glass of wine. The reason for that is also the cause of much debate. It’s was either to keep flies out of the drink (but not off the food), or strong Serrano and sweaty cheese lids helped disguise the taste of poor wine. Whatever the truth, eating tapas has become massively popular and tapas now encapsulates a range of dishes which have evolved way, way beyond their humble origins.
Like both drinking sangria and watching flamenco dancers, eating tapas in a Spanish destination is a holiday crowd-pleaser and subsequently you’ll find restaurants in purpose built-resorts with tapas menus. But although the food might be decent, the experience won’t have much in common with picking at pintxos in a bar in Barrio Gotico in Barcelona. Which is probably why we regularly see or hear the comment about there not being authentic tapas on Tenerife.
But Tenerife shouldn’t be defined by what you find or don’t find in its purpose built resorts. They exist purely to ensure happy holidays for visitors. The Tenerife world outside them is quite different. In that world it isn’t difficult to find wildly diverse places to try a tapa or two, surrounded by like-minded locals.
Pop into most ‘local’ bars in any traditional town and you’ll generally find a glass cabinet (the tapa) with a few trays of tapas underneath. What’s under the glass usually tends to be the same limited selection of tapas. You’ll probably also find a blaring television screening bad soaps or the same news item over and over, a couple of grizzled geezers propping up the bar and, if you’re lucky, a stand selling cassettes of Latino music. These places might not fit the average holidaymaker’s idea of going to a bar for tapas, and the tapas may not be the best you’ll ever try, but they’re 100% authentic.
Bus and petrol stations
Petrol stations are especially good places for tapas. Most have a cafe attached which is invariably packed with locals. Santa Cruz bus station does really good, basic tapas. The bar there is more likely to be populated by bus drivers as it is travellers passing through. It’s authentic but, again, maybe not what tapas-seeking visitors are looking for.
At Tenerife’s agricultural markets you usually find stalls selling wine and a small selection of tapas. One side of the Mercado de Señora de Africa in Santa Cruz is lined with little kiosks such as this. Sharing counter space at one with a Chicharrero is a seriously authentic way of trying a tapa. A bit less intimidating is to pop to the underground fish market where there’s contemporary as well as traditional tapas, and a bit more elbow room in which to eat them.
If a fiesta doesn’t have pop up stalls serving pinchos morunos (skewers of marinated pork) it’s not a proper fiesta. There are always food stalls at fiestas serving traditional snacks, which is basically what tapas are. At some, like Noche en Blanco and San Andrés, you get a greater selection of tapas than at others. An essential part of a Tenerife fiesta for us involves propping up a bar with a plastic cup of wine in one hand and a small plate of whatever is on offer in the other.
The problem with most of these suggestions so far is they require visitors to venture into what might be completely unfamiliar territory; places where non-locals are few and far between and the local accent is thick and difficult to understand even when you know some Spanish. It took us time to build up confidence to dive into a thick throng of locals surrounding fiesta kiosks in off the beaten track places. But the more we did it, the easier it became… and we always ended up with a memorable experience.
However, anyone seeking an authentic Tenerife tapas experience doesn’t have to go quite so seriously native, simply visit one of the bigger traditional towns or cities. In the likes of La Orotava, La Laguna, Santa Cruz and even Puerto de la Cruz, which might be a tourist resort but it’s one which is also a traditional working town, there are plenty of very good tapas restaurants with the sort of ingredients a lot of people want when they go seeking a tapas experience. There are tapas restaurants in pretty squares, on historic streets and located inside colonial buildings; some are traditional (think rows of hanging hams) whereas others are ultra contemporary with more imaginative menus to match. There are even chain tapas restaurants such as Lizarran, where you choose your pinchos (small, open-topped sandwiches with various toppings) held together with cocktail sticks and then present the pincho-less sticks to the cashier when you want to pay the bill.
If there’s anyone still in doubt about the availability of authentic tapas on Tenerife there’s one other way to try lots of tapas, follow an official ruta de tapas (tapas route). These are held throughout the year and all across the island and are a super way of trying unusual tapas as well as discovering good new restaurants and bars.
On an island where people might not expect to find authentic tapas there are actually an awful lot of places where you can eat tapas in a very traditional setting.
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+