“Whoo – that’s the best meal I’ve had all holiday.” When a teenage boy tells a waitress that, you know something is very right. When the main ingredient of that meal is a fish you’ve never heard of, in a foreign island far from home, then you know it is probably extraordinary. But more of that later …
The climate, landscape and people help determine the cuisine of every region and the delicious food in Gran Canaria is the product of all that plus a unique eco-system. This volcanic island off the west coast of Africa has succeeded in creating an appetising blend of Spanish, African, European, traditional and contemporary cuisine using the freshest and highest quality local ingredients.
Local fish include stone bass, sea bream,, combtooth blennies, tuna, shark and the huge marlin; adventurous souls go out daily on fishing boats to do battle with these huge sea creatures. Black Canarian pork is a real treat with rabbit and goat also found on island menus. Other meat is imported, most especially for the tourist market. Gran Canaria’s most treasured gastronomic secrets is the sheep and goats’ cheese produced in small quantities. Flor, Mediaflor and Guia cheeses hold the Protected Denomination of Origin label. Possibly the most well-known are the tasty little Canarian potatoes. Served in virtually every restaurant, most families have their own special potato recipes to bring out their lovely flavour. Garlic is another favourite ingredient lending its distinctive essence to a wide variety of culinary delights.
During a week’s family holiday at the luxurious Holiday Club Resort at Sol Amadores my son, his best friend and I went on a fascinating tour into the heart of the island. It was especially interesting as we were visiting places that were off the main tourist route so we got a sense of how the local live. What surprised me most was the varied scenery and how every acre of vaguely fertile land is farmed in some way or other. Large areas of the south-east west coast are used to grow Canary tomatoes, exported to Europe, along with magnificent varieties of peppers, cucumbers and onions. Even in the very harsh, barren areas prickly pears, aloes and various cacti are found, being used in very imaginative ways.
We stopped for lunch in the mountain village of Fontaneles at Restaurant Sibora. In typically ‘rustic’ surroundings ie lots of ornate, highly carved wood, plenty of fading blue-tinted photos of island sights and some VERY quirky objects the use of which defeated us, we had a suberbly simple and delicious meal. A starter of spiky peppery onion soup was followed by silky smooth goats’ cheese, delicate fish fritters and ‘Patatas Arrugadas’ and the restaurant’s red Mojo Picon, made with red peppers and garlic, complimenting the salty, dry potatoes most harmoniously.
Here’s the recipe if you’d like to try it for yourself:
Canarian Patatas Arrugudas (wrinkled potatoes)
2lbs approx of small, clean potatoes (floury, older potatoes are fine) 2 tablespoons coarse sea salt
Place the potatoes in a large saucepan, cover with enough cold water in to cover and add the sea salt. Bring to the boil and cook for 15-20 minutes till cooked and soft. Pour off all the wasre then leave the potatoes to cool in the pan. This is the most important part of the process – a layer of salt will encrust the potatoes. Best served warm ideally with Mojo Picon or other tasty sauce.
*** Edit December 2012. Friend Liz who lives in Gran Canaria adds this to recipe (see Comments below): “I am not sure two spoons of salt is enough – I use a lot more! My local recipe says 250 gr salt for 1 kilo of potatoes. They only take as much salt as they want apparently and they never taste too salty.” Cheers Liz!
The main course was a simple dish of succulent falling-apart pieces of pork in a sweetly herby sauce (rosemary I think) and chunky, crispy chips. The boys finished off with ice-cream and I had a crème caramel, as good as any I’ve ever eaten in Spain. Clean plates all round.
In a nearby village we found a quirky general story selling an enormous range of local foods including cheeses, piquant cured sausages, flaky pastries including Bienmesabe, made with island almonds, lemon and cinnamon, densely scrumptious cakes, spicy sauces, flower-infused honey, fruit jams, red and white wines and the usual very sweet licqueurs that will be relegated to the back of the cupboard once you get home. There was also a veritable pharmacy of aloe products all promising various health and beauty benefits.
In the VERY touristy resort of Puerto Rico it’s easy to find ‘English’ type food and not so easy to get find decent local food. However, it was at Grill Costa Mar (opposite the Fishing Excursion stands in the Port area) that the boys declared their delight at the fishy dishes put before them. This little gem of a restaurant serves supremely fresh fish straight off the nearby boats. After smoked mackerel pate, mayonnaise and garlic bread pate we chose the specials – chunky white marlin, wahoo (tastes a bit like chicken – see photo above) and quite simply the best tuna steak I have ever eaten. Accompanied by some citrusy Spanish white wine and crusty bread rolls it was a sublime meal. It was the wahoo that produced the “whoo” from my son, perfectly summing up the delicious food on Gran Canaria!
We stayed at the luxurious Holiday Club Sol Amadores on Gran Canaria. They are members of the Timeshare trade body Resort Development Organisation. and their owners can stay in a wide variety of different properties around the world.