Tenerife’s cuisine has moved on dramatically and today the island's restaurant scene is home to five restaurants with six Michelin stars between them. These days tourists can ditch the buffet in favour of more appealing and imaginative dishes, ranging from traditional Canarian cuisine, typified by robust homestyle cooking, right through to the tantalising haute cuisine of gastro temples, where innovative chefs serve some fabulously novel fusion combinations.
Don’t confuse the traditional culinary fare of Tenerife with that of the Spanish mainland; there are distinctive differences, although the ubiquitous tapas of Spain are common here also. The cuisine reflects Latin American and Arabic influences, with more spices, including cumin, paprika and dried chillies, than the Spanish norm.
As on the other islands, the staple product par excellence is gofio, toasted grain that takes the place of bread and can be mixed with almonds and figs to make sweets. The traditional cabra (goat) and cabrito (kid) remain the staple animal protein. The rich, gamey conejo en salmorejo (rabbit in a marinade based on bay leaves, garlic and wine) is common, as well as stews (potaje, rancho canario or puchero) of meat and vegetables simmered to savoury perfection. Fish is also a winner, with the renowned horse mackerel (chicharros) of Santa Cruz de Tenerife even lending their name to the city’s residents: the chicharreros.
Also recommended is the sancocho canario, a salted-fish dish with mojo (a spicy salsa based on garlic and red chilli peppers). This sauce is the most obvious contribution to the Tenerife table, and is typically served with papas arrugadas (wrinkly potatoes; small new potatoes boiled and salted in their skins). The most typical dessert is bienmesabe (literally ‘tastes good to me’), a mixture of honey, almond, egg yolks and rum.
If you're into self-catering, then hit the local markets – they're the best place to buy the freshest fruit and vegetables.
Dining Times & Customs
Breakfast (desayuno) is usually a no-nonsense affair with juice, coffee or tea, cereal or gofio, and toast with ham or cheese. Churrerías serve deliciously unhealthy deep-fried spiral-shaped churros (doughnuts), accompanied by a cup of hot chocolate thick enough to stand a spoon up in. The serious eating starts with lunch (la comida). While locals tend to eat at home with the family, there’s plenty of action at the restaurants too, starting at about 1pm and continuing until 4pm. In many restaurants a set-price menú del día is served at lunchtime. Dinner is served late at home, generally from around 9pm, while restaurants will normally open at 8pm and serve until 11pm or later, especially in the tourist resorts. At-home dinners tend to be light for locals, but on weekends and special occasions they eat out with gusto and generally with extended family.
Street fare here is mainly restricted to churros and buñuelos (doughnuts), though you’ll also find kiosks selling fresh fruit juices like papaya and mango, if you’ve finally overdosed on the ice cream.
Feast Like a Local: Guachinches
A garden shed, family sitting room, empty garage…these are just a few of the typical locations where you can find guachinches; no-frills eateries serving home-cooked traditional meals for less than €10. Particularly prevalent in the north, and very popular at weekends, guachinches are difficult to find if you’re not a local in the know. One way to savvy up is to download the Android or Apple app, guachapp. There is also a Guachinches de Tenerife Facebook page with regularly updated information.