Finding African influences in Tenerife and Canary Islands gastronomy

When we first started travel writing social media was a term of the near future, travel writers didn’t inhabit cyberspace, and blogs hadn’t yet become mainstream. Subsequently, there were far fewer sources of detailed destination information online. When researching, we spotted very quickly that much of the information we read came from the same limited sources. Information lifted from guidebooks peppered numerous websites. Some of it was good, some of it wasn’t. When the source got something wrong, that same mistake was repeated over and over and over again. One example related to which movies were filmed on Tenerife. For years travel guides (both in print and in human form) incorrectly informed visitors that Star Wars and Planet of the Apes were filmed in Teide National Park. As a result, when we researched the places we visited on Tenerife, as well as using other sources, we popped into libraries to shore up our own experiences/perceptions with locally archived facts, history and anecdotes.

Film crew, Teide National Park, Tenerife
Film crew in Teide National Park.

The travel writing world has changed in the intervening 15 years. There are now, on the face of it, multitudinous sources available at the press of a button. But the same old patterns still exist. Many of the travel articles you read about Tenerife, or any destination for that matter, will not be original. Too many will be written by people who haven’t visited the place they’ve written about or experienced the things they write about. The information included will have been gleamed from elsewhere. It’s not difficult to spot this as similar sounding sentences pop up all over the place. One common one is that Tenerife and Canarian gastronomy is a mixture of Spanish, African, and South American cuisine. You’ll see this referenced in numerous travel articles about Canarian food, and every time I read it I know the words which follow have been penned by someone who doesn’t really know Canarian cuisine.

Arepas, La Laguna, Tenerife
South American street food, found even in small towns on Tenerife.

Sure, there are many dishes on the menus in traditional Canarian restaurants which are common on the Spanish mainland, and the South American influences are there to be found as well. But what about Africa? What exactly are the local concoctions which might have diners remarking “that’s just like that dish we ate in Essaouira/Banjul/Dakar/ Mindelo…”?

African feast, Santo Antao, Cape Verde
A Cape Verdean feast, for two.

It’s one of those Tenerife travel ‘facts’ churned out over an over again. The island’s markets and supermarkets might share some of the same fish, fruit, pulses, and vegetables found in the markets of the lands not so far away to the east. There might be messy ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ stews and busy fish and seafood rice concoctions, but you’ll struggle to find dishes on menus which reflect the ones eaten in West and North West Africa.

Migas and fish, Andalusia, Spain
Migas and fish in Andalusia.

As well as having notched up god knows how many Canarian restaurants on all the islands over the years, we’ve eaten at traditional restaurants in Morocco, The Gambia, and Cape Verde – all African countries which are relatively near to the Canaries. Yet, in Canarian restaurants we haven’t seen variations of the likes of Moroccan tagines, Cape Verdean cachupas, or West African spicy jollof rice on any menus. In fact, we tasted far more evidence of Moorish influences in the food we ate in villages in Andalusia; unsurprisingly, given the Moors ruled parts of Spain for 800 years. In the centre of Lisbon, thanks to links with former colonies, West African food is relatively common, and certainly far easier to find than it is in the Canary Islands.

African meal, Lisbon
Spicy and creamy African cuisine in Lisbon.

Despite the proximity of the African continent, the likelihood the islands’ original inhabitants came from North Africa, and the superficial claims of many a travel article/website, Canarian gastronomy surprisingly doesn’t bear much resemblance to that found on the fascinating land to the east at all.

So far, most of the above is deduced from our personal experiences, and on the ground research.

Tagine, Marrakech, Morocco
Tagine in Marrakech.

But talking of research, let’s bring this full circle. Like I mentioned at the start, we like to confirm our own findings/perceptions by checking them against credible sources. The food & drink section of our The Real Tenerife guidebook is fuelled not only by our own experiences but by info gleaned from numerous interviews over the years with farmers, vineyard owners, specialist producers, and local chefs etc.

Cachupa, Sao Vicente, Cape Verde
Cachupa for breakfast in Sao Vicente, Cape Verde.

In this case that credible source is a West African organisation dedicated to educating people in the Canary Islands about the ‘richness’ of the culture, life, and gastronomy of the lands they represent. In a document specifically about gastronomy they write this:

“One of those multiple riches is gastronomy, one of the great unknowns to Spanish society.”

Tellingly, one of their aims is to ‘bring the cuisine of the continent to their neighbour’.

They wouldn’t have to do that if it was already there.

About Jack 434 Articles
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 Facebook

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