Following Tapas Trails on Tenerife

Sitting in the El Marquís de la Noria restaurant in Santa Cruz I didn’t know whether to eat the object of beauty on the plate in front of me, or to put it up for auction at Sotheby’s where I had no doubt it would earn a pretty penny. The finely balanced sculpture of breaded prawn, bacon and caviar on sweet potato resting on an abstract pattern of sauces that Picasso would have been proud of was one of the offerings on the Ruta del Chicharro, and typified why tapas routes are such good fun.

Tapas on Tenerife
Tenerife cuisine doesn’t really boast a history of tapas, but they have become part of the culinary culture over the years. Traditional bars tend to offer four or five different tapas; usually including boquerones (marinated anchovies), tortilla (Spanish omelette), croquetas (fish and potato croquettes), carne y papas (spiced beef with boiled potatoes) and ensaladilla rusa (Russian salad with tuna, potato, boiled egg and vegetables). In restaurants the choice of tapas is greater, but generally they have lacked the imagination of those found in the atmospheric bars of classic tapas cities such as Barcelona and Madrid…until now.

In recent years more contemporary tapas bars have arrived on Tenerife’s restaurant scene. Santa Cruz, the Ranilla district in Puerto de la Cruz and San Telmo in Los Cristianos have all seen the opening of stylish tapas bars that wouldn’t look out of place in Barcelona’s Barrio Gótico.
Whether it’s coincidental or not, during the same period, ruta de tapas (tapas routes) have become more and more popular on the island with many of Tenerife’s municipalities organising them at least once a year.

Tapas Routes on Tenerife
These tapas competitions always follow a similar format and involve participating restaurants (normally 20-30 establishments) creating a signature tapas (sometimes two) and serving it with a glass of beer, wine or water for a nominal amount (around €2.50) during a set period that lasts from a couple of weeks to a month.
The idea is to follow these tapas routes eating, drinking, generally getting merry (one tapas to one beer and the alcohol soon starts mounting up) and having a tapas “passport” stamped. At the end of the the ruta de tapas period, you vote for your favourite tapas and your passport is put into a prize draw ““ usually a meal at one of the participating restaurants.

For food lovers these tapas routes are wonderful fun. Chefs pull out all the stops to create tapas dishes that are original, look incredible and taste sublime. They don’t always succeed and favourites might not necessarily be the tastiest, but that’s part of the enjoyment. ““ I once had ravioli sorpresa which consisted of home made ravioli filled with space dust. It was quite bizarre, but completely unforgettable.
As well as outrageous ingredients, the themes for tapas routes are becoming more and more adventurous. This year has seen a couple of aphrodisiac ruta de tapas, whilst overlapping with the Ruta del Chicharro in Santa Cruz this month was an erotic tapas route featuring risqué dishes with names including sex machine and Caribbean orgasm. There are some easy Graham Norton type double entendres to be had here, but in the interests of decency I’ll resist.

Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, I didn’t have the details for the erotic tapas route, so never discovered what a sex machine tapas consisted of. Part of the attraction of the routes is in exploring diverse places to eat. On the Dorada beer sponsored Ruta del Chicharro that I was following I went from the ultra chic Musuem bar with its retro rattan seating to the traditional La Hierbita with so many nooks and crannies that I swear I got lost twice. With tapas dishes on offer sporting names which don’t give much away – como la hacia mi abuela (just like grandma made it), or el sabor de mi tierra (flavour of my land) ““ it’s not always clear what’s going to be dished up, but that element of surprise also adds a little spice to tapas routes and I’ve never been disappointed with what’s appeared in front of me.

In the end I only managed three restaurants, lingering too long in the warm and welcoming grasp of each, and ten stamps are required to enter the prize draw. No worries, the Ruta del Chicharro lasts until 30th October, so I’ve plenty of time to notch up another seven. All I have to do is decide what to try next – pularda esxisada at Mojos Y Mojitos maybe, or possibly delicia de plátano con bacon at Bodeguita Canario, or even tempura de chicharro con parchita chutney at the Príncipe Kiosko…decisions, decisions, decisions.

Tapas routes are held throughout the year on Tenerife and another with a theme based on Canarian cheeses starts this Friday in La Laguna. Keep an eye on Tenerife Magazine’s ‘Happenings” page for details of future ones.


Finding Rural Tenerife in Santiago del Teide

It’s 9 o’clock Sunday morning, the sky is liquid sapphire and already the air temperature is 30°C. The grey horse in the paddock below my window is pulling up white tufts of dry grass from the baked ground; a hen stutters nervously into the vegetable garden and the bells of San Fernando Rey call worshippers to mass.
It could be a scene from a village in the Cotswolds, but instead I”M in the heart of rural Tenerife in a hamlet that, were there to be such a competition, would surely be a prize winner in the Island’s most picturesque village ““ Santiago del Teide.

Nestling in a fertile valley in the South West hills, flanked by the little hamlet of Valle de Arriba and backed by Montaña Bilma, the Chinyero lava fields and Mount Teide; Santiago del Teide is the place where day trippers turn off to climb the serpentine ascent into Masca. But to pass through this paradise without stopping is to miss one of the most charming rural settlements Tenerife has to offer.
The doors of the picturesque Iglesia San Fernando Rey are always open and opposite, the little kiosk café is the perfect spot to crack a cool Dorada at the picnic zone beneath the shade of eucalyptus trees. And with the opening of the Casa del Patio at the end of 2009, there’s even more to Santiago than just the prettiest of faces.

Beautifully restored by the Cabildo (Island Government), the 17th century former home of the feudal lord of the manor provides sustenance and entertainment in equal measure with riding stables; a tasca; art gallery, craft shop; bodega and Chinyero museum.

Restaurants in Santiago del Teide

The Señorío del Valle visitor centre which includes Casa del Patio, has added a real touch of class to the traditional fare which forms the staple diet of los campesinos (country folk) prevalent on menus in the village. A charismatic tasca with bijou bar, beautiful courtyard and dining room with hand drawn murals of traditional rustic scenes provide the setting for a typical Canarian menu with a good selection of tapas, meat and fish dishes.
The food is all freshly prepared, flavoured with fresh herbs from the kitchen garden and cooked to perfection.

There are a few eateries in the village, all serving variations on the staple Canarian menu alongside the occasional arepa or burger.
The Chinyero restaurant is landmarked by a life sized model of a horse and trap and its spacious courtyard attracts many of the day trippers en route to and from Masca.
Portions are generous and the terrace is a pleasant place to sit and watch the world go by. Just a small, raised outside terrace means that the El Patio restaurant in the village gets fewer visitors but it has ample space inside its traditional dining room and the food is a cut above Chinyero’s.

Rural Accommodation in Santiago del Teide
Standing proud alongside its visitor centre, the brand new Rural Hotel Señorío del Valle in Santiago del Teide opened its doors in March 2010 and exudes rustic charm and tranquility.

The grounds ramble lazily from the vegetable garden and paddock to the courtyard with traditional wine presses and the stables, all populated by the resident horses, hens and ducks. When the caged parrots join in with the morning chorus it’s a regular Granja de Viejo McDonald affair.
Vines are just beginning to creep their way along the stone walls of the hotel, softening the façade with their presence while inside, the decor is an elegant combination of contemporary and traditional.
Mudejar ceilings and polished wood offer a cool retreat from the heat of August but the sight of a large wood burning stove in the lounge area promises cosy winter nights in front of a log fire.

Bedrooms are in a quadrangle surrounding a sun-saturated courtyard with an ornamental pond and fountain. Each room is individually decorated and named after a local flower. I”M in ‘ajinajo’ with views over the paddock, gardens, picnic zone and a landscape that elicits an instantaneous long sigh of relaxation.
Testing the king-sized bed for comfort it’s difficult to pull myself away from this rural luxury but the view beyond the window is beckoning, so it’s on with the factor 25 and the rucksack.

Walking Routes

Beyond the neighbouring hamlet of Valle de Arriba and over the crest of the ridge lie the stunning Erjos Pools, a wildlife haven and natural beauty spot. After exploring the pools on a dragonfly and duck spotting quest, I climb up to the ridge and make my way into the cool shade of the forest to finally emerge with unbelievable views over the Santiago Valley, before dropping back down to the pools.
After an excellent lunch of carne de cabra (goat) at the hotel, I brave the afternoon heat on the little Camino de la Virgen de Lourdes path which climbs the hillside in the centre of the village to a small shrine and fountain.
From my vantage point amidst the heady perfume of honeysuckle and roses I look down on sleepy Santiago del Teide and wish the weekend would last for ever.