The cuisine of the Canary Islands is perhaps seen as a backwater of Spanish cuisine, but the food experience of the archipelago is central to an enjoyable stay here. There's an abundance of Spanish food with Latin American influences and inflections and the Canarian dishes that are unique to these islands. In reflection of the tourist demographic, international choices are widespread while one island – Tenerife – has six Michelin stars between five restaurants.
Vegetarians & Vegans
The Canary Islands may seem like paradise to some, but they can be hard going for vegetarians, and harder still for vegans. Although this is meat-eating country and you will find your choices (unless you self-cater) a little limited, there is a growing range of options and a growing number of flexitarian choices too.
Salads are a staple, and you will come across various side dishes such as champiñones (mushrooms; usually lightly fried in olive oil and garlic) and berenjenas (aubergines). Other possibilities include menestra (a hearty vegetable stew), pimientos de padrón (small grilled peppers sprinkled with rock salt) and, of course, the ubiquitous papas. Some dishes that you might expect to be vegetarian – like stews made with garbanzos (chickpeas) or lentejas (lentils) – have often been cooked with meat, so it's best to ask before ordering. Vegan (and almost vegan) restaurants include Burger Mel on Tenerife and Restaurante Etiopico Afrika on Gran Canaria.
Eat & Drink Like a Local
Canarian cuisine is all about using simple, fresh ingredients and doing as little as possible to them: grilled fish served with a zesty herb sauce, crinkly boiled potatoes with salted skin, juicy grilled goat, sliced tomatoes drizzled with olive oil, and freshly picked fruit for dessert. Feasting is year-round, but menus change with what's available.
Year in Food
The Canary Islands’ warm climate means fruit and vegetables can be grown year-round. It also guarantees terrific variety in local produce, with tropical fruits and exotic vegetables.
- Spring (March to May)
Almond trees are in blossom across many islands, splashing the mid to lower hillsides with flowers; other fruit trees are in flower.
- Summer (June to September)
Mangoes are in season from the later summer, joining plums, oranges, peaches, apricots, apples, avocados and pears in filling markets.
- Autumn (October to November)
Papayas are at their fullest best; bananas too. The smell of roasted castañas (chestnuts) is everywhere and the fiesta of San Andrés sees Tenerife wine cellars open for new wine tastings.
- Winter (December to February)
Orange trees are harvested between October and May and tomatoes spill from markets. The traditional Christmas feast is on Christmas eve (La Noche Buena). Street stalls feed revellers during the Carnaval in Santa Cruz de Tenerife.
Meals of a Lifetime
Casa Efigenia Charmingly rustic and welcoming introduction to La Gomera cooking, with a long pedigree.
Enriclai Get your bookings in early, as there's only four tables at this enticing Santa Cruz de La Palma restaurant.
La Cantina One of Lanzarote’s very best, adding a creative modern spin to local ingredients in traditional, whitewashed surrounds.
Llévame al Huerto Far-reaching and diverse flexitarian menu and adorable looks too.
Texeda Brewery & Restaurant Worth a trip to Tejeda alone (if you needed another reason).
La Cabaña Mediterranean-fusion dishes served in a swish dining space.
Tas-k Winning tapas choice hidden away behind the Los Gigantes harbour.
Guannabi Sensational in all respects, with a focus on superb rice dishes, but the whole shebang is as alluring.
- Chocolate con churros Deep-fried doughnut strips, dipped into rich hot chocolate that a spoon could stand up in. They're a Canarian favourite for breakfast or an afternoon snack. Many churrerias are very local, traditional affairs.
- Papas arrugadas Canarian wrinkly potatoes are unavoidable; usually served with mojo (spicy sauce).
- Tapas Superb snacking in a huge variety and widely available.
- Bocadillos Bread rolls filled with jamón (cured ham) or other cured meats, goat's-milk cheese or chorizo.
- Tostada com tomate Toast or bread with tomato puree, olive oil and salt.
- Castañas (chestnuts) Served roasted hot on street corners in autumn.
- Ice cream and gelato Widely available from heladerías and gelaterías, often handmade using natural ingredients.
Dare to Try
- Almogrote A pungent form of cheese paste from La Gomera. Hard, mature cheese, pepper, chillies, tomatoes and olive oil are mixed into a paste in a pestle and mortar and then spread on toast.
- Morcilla dulce canaria Sweet black pudding made from pig's blood, pork, lard, sweet potato, sugar, raisins, almonds, cinnamon, nutmeg and aniseed.
- Chorizo de Teror Very smooth paste-like chorizo containing ample amounts of fat, paprika, salt, spices, garlic and lean meat. There's a red and a white version (the latter without paprika). The chorizo is usually spread on bread or toast or as a filling in a bocadillo. Best eaten at the source in Teror (Gran Canaria).
Canarian cuisine owes much to the New World; it was from South America that elementary items such as potatoes, tomatoes and corn were introduced. More exotic delights such as avocados and papayas also originated from there, while sweet mangoes arrived from Asia; look out for all three in the valleys and on supermarket shelves.
Some of the classic mainland Spanish dishes are also widely available, including paella (saffron rice cooked with chicken and rabbit or with seafood – at its best with good seafood), tortilla (omelette), gazpacho (a cold, tomato-based soup usually available in summer only), various sopas (soups) and pinchos morunos (kebabs).
The traditional staple or pan de los Canarios (bread of the Canarian people) is gofio, a uniquely Canario product and, it must be said, perhaps an acquired taste. A roasted mixture of wheat, barley or, more often, maize, gofio has long been an integral part of the traditional Canarian diet, though these days bread is just as common in the home – and far more so in restaurants. Gofio is mixed in varying proportions, and used as a breakfast food or combined with almonds and figs to make sweets. It is delicious mixed with warm milk and sweetened, as a kind of porridge. You can also find gofio energy bars to help conquer those steep Canarian inclines. If you become a gofio specialist, you can seek out gofio ice cream or even gofio liquor. Find it at supermarkets or buy directly from the few remaining mills such as the La Maquina in La Orotava, Tenerife.
By a long chalk, the most-often-spotted Canarian dish is papas arrugadas (wrinkly potatoes), cooked in an abundance of salt and always served with some variation of mojo (Canarian spicy sauce made from coriander, basil or red chilli peppers). Papas arrugadas are made by boiling potatoes in heavily salted water, which makes the salt stick to the skin. The variety used is papas antiguas (old potatoes), descended from the first varieties imported from the Americas in the 15th century.
Soups & Stews
Of the many soups and stews you’ll find, one delicious Canarian variant is potaje de berros (watercress soup). You will also often find ropa vieja (literally 'old clothes') on the Canarian menu, a fortifying chickpea stew typically utilising whatever leftovers are lying around, and rancho canario, a hearty broth with thick noodles and the odd chunk of meat and potato.
Fish & Seafood
Many of the best restaurants specialise in seafood, swimming in abundance around each island. Among the cornucopia of seafood choice, look out for Sancocho canario, a typical Canarian dish that migrated to South America. Here in the Canary Islands it is salted fish served with papas arrugadas, sweet potatoes and gofio and often spiced up with a lively dash or two of mojo picón.
Meat plays an important role in Canarian cooking, and while beef and lamb dishes are often sighted on menus, these meats are usually imported. Opt instead for the island specialities: pork, chicken, rabbit and, above all, goat.
Queso (cheese) on the Canary Islands deserves an encyclopaedia of its own. You can find superb goat's-milk cheese on all of the islands, but perhaps the most famous is Majorero from Fuerteventura. The milk comes from the Majorero goat and the cheese is so celebrated it has a its own Denominación de Origen (proof of origin) label. Cheese aficionados can learn all about the cheese's history and production at the Museo del Queso Mojorero just outside Antigua, in Fuerteventura. Canarian cheese boards are common at tapas restaurants; fried goat's-milk cheese is a popular dish.
Sweets & Desserts
Canarios have a sweet tooth. Some of the best-known desserts are bienmesabe (a kind of thick, sticky goo made of almonds, egg yolks, cinnamon and sugar – deadly sweet!), frangollo (a mix of cornmeal, dried fruit, milk and honey), bizcochos lustrados (sponge cake) and truchas de batata (sweet potato parcels).
Don’t miss the quesadillas from El Hierro – this cheesy cinnamon pastry (sometimes also made with aniseed) has been baked since the Middle Ages. Made with raisins, almonds and spices, morcillas dulces (sweet blood sausages) are not everyone's cup of tea (perhaps the closest comparison is a Christmas mince pie).
At Christmas, turrón is an island-wide favourite. It’s a uniquely Spanish kind of nougat, made with a simple recipe of honey, almonds and egg whites that dates back to the 14th century.
How to Eat & Drink
When to Eat
- Desayuno (breakfast) Breakfast in the Canary Islands is usually straightforward and over and done with in a few bites: expect juice, coffee or tea, cereal or gofio, and toast with ham or cheese. Churrerías serve delicious deep-fried spiral-shaped churros (doughnuts), often accompanied by a cup of thick hot chocolate. Otherwise it’s a café con leche (half coffee and half milk) or cortado with a croissant or tostada (buttered toast), or tostada con tomate (toast with grated tomato, olive oil and salt).
- Comida or almuerzo (lunch) The big meal of the day. While lots of Canarians may eat at home with the family during the week, many working Canarians choose a tapas bar or restaurant, often with the menú del día for its good value and convenience. At weekends lunch is a more drawn out affair with family and friends, at home or out. Lunch usually starts relatively late, at around 2pm (or at the earliest 1pm) through to 4pm.
- Cena (dinner) Dinner is often a relaxed affair either at a tapas bar, which are abundant through the islands; on Tenerife, it often means stopping off at a guachinche, a typical choice for traditional homemade food and locally produced wine. Dinner is pretty late, and although you’ll find restaurants serving from around 6pm or 7pm, Canarians tend to wait to dine till around 8pm or 9pm.
Where to Eat & Drink
- Asador A restaurant specialising in roasted meats.
- Bar de copas Gets going around midnight and serves hard drinks and cocktails.
- Cafetería Serves coffee and snacks, and often double as a bar and social hub.
- Casa de comidas A simple restaurant that cooks up affordable home cooking.
- Cervecería The focus is on cerveza on tap.
- Guachinche Home-style cooking in an informal dining space on Tenerife.
- Restaurante A restaurant.
- Taberna Usually a rustic place serving tapas and raciones (large tapas).
- Tasca Tapas bar.
- Terraza Open-air bar, for warm-weather tippling and tapas.
- Vinoteca Wine bars where you can order by the glass.
Basic foods long common across the islands are bananas and tomatoes, but nowadays the markets are filled with a wide range of fruit and vegetables. You should definitely visit at least one market during your trip. They are a real treat for all the senses with in-season produce such as plump dark figs (cut open to show their scarlet flesh), bundles of fragrant parsley and mint, bunches of brilliant-orange carrots, huge golden-yellow papayas and ropes of plump white garlic bulbs. Many markets also have fish stalls which are fascinating to explore the local catch of the day.
Markets are also a great place to pack a simple picnic. Pick up freshly baked bread and stuff it with wedges of local cheese, usually made with goat’s milk. The cheeses are renowned, particularly in Fuerteventura, where the delicious Majorero is a must for any cheese aficionado.
Cafe culture is a part of life here, and the distinction between cafes and bars is negligible; coffee and alcohol are almost always available in both. Bars take several different forms, including cervecerías (beer bars; a vague equivalent of the pub), tabernas (taverns) and bodegas (old-style wine bars).
Coffee is produced on a tiny scale in the islands, mostly in the Agaete Valley in the north of Gran Canaria.
Café con leche About half coffee, half hot milk.
Sombra The same, but heavier on the milk.
Café solo A short black coffee (or espresso).
Cortado An espresso with a splash of milk.
Cortado de leche y leche Espresso made with condensed and normal milk.
Barraquito A larger cup of cortado coffee.
Café con hielo Glass of ice and hot cup of coffee to be poured over the ice.