The Canary Islands are a rugged grouping of islands off the northwestern coast of Africa that bear the distinction of being some of Spain’s farthest-reaching and most fascinating territories. Formed by volcanic activity, the islands boast the tallest mountain in Spain, a temperate climate, black and white sand beaches, and storied resorts. They regularly attract more than 12 million visitors a year.
The Canaries are truly a one-of-a-kind a destination, and because their history intersects with Spain, Latin America, and Africa, their food is just as unique as the place. Here are seven dishes you have to try when visiting the Canary Islands.
A potage is a thick and chunky vegetable stew made with potatoes, and it’s one of the most common ways people in the Canaries eat their vegetables. The ingredients can vary considerably depending on which island you’re on, but the presence of potatoes is universally guaranteed.
The most popular version is probably potage de berros, which is a watercress stew, and sometimes you’ll even find them pureed.
One of the most interesting foods you’ll eat in the Canary Islands is the ubiquitous, versatile, and highly polarizing gofio. A milled grain that manages to find its way into almost anything — sweet dishes, savory meals, stews, ice cream, coffee — the grain is endemic to the Canaries and has been around since the original people on the islands, the Guanches, used it to form the core of their diet.
Foreigners often struggle with the flavor and texture, but Canarians love it and swear by it. It’s certainly an acquired taste, and if you’re going to eat local food, gofio will be involved. Whether you end up loving it or hating it, it’s best to start preparing yourself mentally for the experience as soon as you purchase your tickets to Spain from Flights.com.
The more quickly you can welcome gofio as a reality you’re going to need to contend with, the better.
3. Papas Arrugadas
A common and popular side dish on all the islands, the “wrinkled potatoes” in this dish are always small and new, but they may be red, purple, yellow, or white, and originally, they were boiled in salt water.
Today, salt is added to water until the potatoes float, and then, they’re boiled until they’re soft. They’re served with a salty crust that’s absolutely delicious. They’re often served with a mojo picon, a sharp-tasting and spicy sauce.
The most popular sauce or condiment on the Canary Islands, mojos accompany everything from fish and meat to potatoes. While there are a wide variety of mojos served at almost every mealtime, they tend to fall into one of two categories: red or green. Both are made from some type of dried pepper, olive oil, garlic, paprika, cumin, wine, vinegar, and any number of different spices.
Mojo picon, which gets its red color from dried red peppers, most often attends meat and potatoes, and mojo verde, which gets its green shade from coriander, parsley, or cilantro, is typically served with fish dishes.
A popular dessert among the Canaries, bienmesabes are named with a contraction of a phrase in Spanish that means, “Tastes good to me,” which should give you some insight into how the locals feel about them. Little more than a tasty paste made from honey, cinnamon, ground almonds, and egg yolks, bienmesabes are often enjoyed with ice cream.
6. Sancocho Canario
One of the staples on the Canaries, of course, is fish, and one of the most popular ways it’s eaten is in sancocho canario. The fish is salted and soaked overnight before being boiled with potatoes, sweet potatoes, and gofio.
It’s served with a type of mojo, and on Tenerife, it comes in a pot. While the type of fish used in the dish can vary, the most common type is parna, which is a variety of bass.
7. Conejo en Salmorejo
This traditional stew is made with rabbit that has been marinated in a coriander sauce prepared with wine, vinegar, garlic, and sometimes, tomatoes. After being marinated, the rabbit is fried in olive oil before being simmered in the marinating sauce until it’s quite tender. Served as a stew, it’s usually accompanied by papas arrugadas.
Visiting the Canary Islands is almost guaranteed to be a truly unforgettable experience. Stick to eating the local fare as much as possible — especially these seven dishes — and your palette will collect just as many memories as your smartphone.