A trip for tasting: the top 10 traditional foods of the Canary Islands

Planning a holiday to the Canary Islands? Check out our essential culinary guide to the must-try traditional foods of Tenerife, Lanzarote, La Gomera and Gran Canaria.

Eat like the locals in the Canary Islands

The fine dining scene in the Canary Islands has transformed in recent years with Tenerife blazing the trail to bring a new wave of cuisine focused on rediscovering age-old traditional Canarian recipes for thoroughly modern restaurant experiences. Freshness and authenticity are the buzz words for today’s discerning consumers for whom dining is as much about the experience as it is about the quality of the dishes on the menu.

On Tenerife, the island known as ‘Eternal Spring’, thanks to its gloriously temperate year-round climate, innovation is riding high with all eyes on the Padrón brothers’ latest culinary venture - Maresía, at the new Royal Hideaway Corales Resort. Juan Carlos and Jonathan Padrón, the dream duo behind the restaurant El Rincón de Juan Carlos, which earned a Michelin star last year, are preparing to elevate traditional island fayre to a whole new league.

Restaurant critics of international renown and locals alike are hungry for the official opening of Maresía, where the brothers will unveil their dishes inspired by childhood memories of the island and its rich traditions in a sumptuous dining room styled to celebrate and connect with its local identity.

For many British travellers, Spanish food is synonymous with tapas, paella and the catch of the ocean. So, what are the foods and dishes that are unique to the Canary Islands and ripe for reinvention by these talented chefs?Situated close to the west coast of Africa, The Canary Islands were for centuries the crossroads between Europe and America, creating a melting pot of cultural culinary influences, in addition to its volcanic soils that give its home-grown produce such a unique flavour.

Traditional Canarian food can be described in two words: simple and delicious. With the emphasis on freshness, everyday Canarian dishes comprise grilled meats or fish (tuna, parrot fish, vieja, swordfish, sea bass), soups, stews and vegetables - many of which are surprisingly hearty.

The best way to discover an authentic culinary experience is to eat like -  and eat with -  the locals. Head to downtown tavernas, family-run restaurants in villages off the tourist track, and sample street food and café fayre when you’re out sightseeing to taste the delicacies and traditional dishes they love the most.

Yes, you can, of course, nibble your way through a sumptuous feast of tapas dishes - the quality and sheer variety of which is a match for Madrid and other mainland destinations, with the offering in Tenerife particularly good, but leave room for the fruits of these islands! Check out the Canary Islands Tourist Information website for travel tips for each island.

Top 10 must- try dishes Canarian dishes

  1. Papas arrugadas
We say potatoes, they say ‘papas’…As we Brits love our spuds, the fact that potatoes feature large as the favoured accompaniment is a welcome treat. However, the island’s potatoes are nothing like those we eat at home. The volcanic earth and climate in which they are grown produces smaller potatoes with a unique texture and taste. ‘Arrugadas’ translates as ‘wrinkled’, and the traditional way to serve these potatoes is boiled in their skins, salted and dressed with a generous topping of mojo picón – a delicious spicy sauce made with garlic, olive oil, red or green pepper, cumin, salt and vinegar. It’s also often served on its own as a snack, washed down with a chilled glass of beer or wine.
  1. Rancho canario
Feeling ravenous? Dip your spoon into a bowl of this local speciality of a soup that’s so hearty the spoon will stand up by itself. It’s a delightfully thick noodle soup made with chicken, pork and chick peas, varying selection of vegetables - and potatoes, of course.  Satisfying, it surely is.
  1. Ropa Vieja
The names of traditional Canarian dishes make fun an added ingredient. This one – Ropa Vieja, means ‘old clothes’. But fear not, no old rags are ever added to the pot! It’s a stew made with chicken, pork or beef with vegetables, including garbanzo beans, and you’ve guessed it, potatoes. Its name comes from the fact that it’s traditionally made with leftovers.
  1. Pollo al salmorejo and Conejo al salmorejo
Sample the lighter side of Canarian fayre. Pollo al salmorejo is a delightful garlicky marinated chicken dish, cooked in white wine and seasoned with cumin, oregano, paprika and thyme. Conejo al al salmorejo follows the same recipe but with rabbit meat.
  1. Baifo
Visit the Canary Islands at Christmas and there’s a high chance you’ll encounter Baifo - which is the name for a young goat - on your travels. This dish made from marinated goat meat is steeped in aromatic herbs including oregano, bay leaves and thyme, as well generous amounts of garlic.
  1. Adobo de cerdo
Ready for a taste of bacon? Adobo de cerdo is shoulder of pork in a rich, piquant sauce. The sauce or ‘adobo’ is a tasty marinade of paprika, oregano, garlic, salt and a generous slug of sherry vinegar. The slow cooked pork meat is so tender it falls off the bone.
  1. Gofio
Not for the feint-hearted this one but it’s the dish that resonates with the history of the Canary Islands and its people like no other. Gofio is a flour made from roasted grains of wheat, maize or corn whose uses seem infinite and sometimes bizarre: it’s used to make many foods from dumplings for soups to ice cream. It’s not the easiest taste for the foreign palate to sample but the for the locals, this ‘superfood’ packed with healthy vitamins and minerals was a life-saver during the Spanish Civil War.
  1. Sancocho canario
The dish is made with a fresh whole-cooked fish, salted and spiced and served with a medley of the dishes listed above - gofio and papas arrugadas with mojo picón. The Canary Islands on a plate. Ta-dah!
  1. Queso de cabra
Cheese, please? Quesa de cabra is goats cheese, the two most delicious varieties of which are Queso Majorero, produced in Fuerteventura and Queso Palmero, made on the island of La Palma. If you like your cheese smoky, Tenerife scores top marks for its smoked goat’s cheese from Arico.

  1. Bienmesabe
What’s not to love about a dessert whose name literally translates as "tastes good to me"? Dip your spoon into a bowl of Bienmesabe - a sweet, soft puree made with ground almonds, egg yolk, sugar, lemon zest and cinnamon - and smile. Made on Gran Canaria, which is famous for its almond trees, it is usually served with ice cream or cream. 

The buzz about Tenerife’s bees

Love a little honey in your herb tea or on toast or yogurt for breakfast? Don’t miss out on sampling Tenerife’s extraordinary range of delicious nectars. The most unique and exquisite is arguably the honey made with pollen from the tajinaste plant, which blooms from May to June in the Mt Teide volcano crater. Other varieties include multi-flower coastal, hill and mountain honeys and special honeys from chestnut and avocado trees. A sweet treat to take home as a gift or to enjoy yourself.

The nectar of La Gomera

While Miel de Palma literally translates as ‘honey of Palma’, confusingly, it’s not a honey and it doesn’t come from the Canarian island of La Palma!  It’s a sauce made from the sap of palm trees and it’s made on the island of La Gomera. Miel de Palma is used as a versatile cooking ingredient and it’s  also a delicious condiment served with cheese, meats and sweet desserts on all of the islands.

Book your summer holiday in the Canary Islands now - and enjoy 20% off selected breaks for summer 2018.