Finding good tapas bars in the Canary Islands isn’t as easy as on the Spanish mainland, but that doesn’t mean that wonderfully tasty tapas doesn’t exist.
The Canary Islands are Spanish provinces, but their location near the coast of West Africa and their history means that, although Spanish in name, they have an identity that is quite different than that of the Spanish peninsular.
On Tenerife, for example, a mix of Guanche culture (the island’s original primitive inhabitants), South American emigrants, and the potpourri of nationalities (Spanish, Portuguese, Italians, British, and Flemish) that settled and developed the island following the Spanish conquest in the 15th century have resulted in a unique culture.
It would be prudent to think that the cuisine in the Canary Islands would reflect this mix and that an exciting culinary tradition would have evolved. But, strangely, this didn’t happen, and the traditional cuisine found on the islands is more akin to basic peasant food, basically grilled meats, fish, and hearty stews.
However, the rise of tourism has brought more and more European visitors who were familiar with Spanish tapas over the last few decades. So the more savvy restaurant owners adapted to give the visitors what they were looking for, and more and more tapas dishes started appearing on menus.
Now, most traditional bars offer a small selection of tapas dishes. In the more cosmopolitan areas, smart tapas bars similar to those found in Barcelona and Madrid have sprung up.
Any bar owner will tell visitors that they serve tapas to get visitors through the door of their establishment. Still, it is always worth checking out the menu to make sure that restaurants actually do offer some tapas commonly found in the Canary Islands.
Papas Arrugadas with Mojo Salsa
A specialty of the islands, these are literally wrinkled potatoes served with a green cilantro sauce and a spicy pepper sauce. Sometimes they are also served with ali-oli, deliciously addictive garlic mayonnaise.
The classic Spanish chunky egg and potato omelette. Also good with ali-oli.
Usually tuna, potato, vegetable, and egg mixed into a not particularly appetizing-looking mound. It tastes a lot better than it looks and is served in just about every traditional Canarian bar.
Exquisitely tasting small squid fried in olive oil. Squid dishes come in various sizes; the next one down is chopitos fritos – tiny squids that are dipped in flour and deep-fried.
Pimientos de Padrón
Small green chillis fried in olive oil and sprinkled with rock salt. One in ten of these are supposed to have a kick like a mule, but it depends where they were grown. If they come from Padrón they will; if they come from Tenerife they won’t.
Small filleted marinated anchovies.
A paste made from cheese, garlic, and chillis. It is a specialty of the island of La Gomera, where some are so pungent that even the most devoted strong cheese love may be tested.
Small deep-fried croquettes made from fish and potato.
Most restaurants serving tapas will also have Serrano ham and a selection of cheeses. Where it’s available, opt for cheese from the island of El Hierro or Arico on Tenerife (voted the best cheese in the world in 1998).
In the last few years, local councils in some locations have started to hold ‘rutas de tapa’ (tapas routes) at various times of the year. This is the best time to sample the Canary Islands’ tapas as participating establishments dish up wonderfully imaginative tapas and a glass of beer or wine for only a couple of euros.