Monday, 21 December 2009

A Month Going Native in Tenerife #3: From Exploding Tapas to Tsunami-Sized Waves

Enjoying a lively Christmas lunch in the courtyard of a museum party was a fittingly surreal topping to the last few weeks in Tenerife.

Exploding Tapas in Puerto de la Cruz
The period had started bizarrely enough when we took my sister and her boyfriend, who were on holiday in Playa de la Arena on a tapas route around the town. Some great tapas dishes were tested; however, the one which got the best reaction wasn’t the tastiest, but the oddest. Ravioli filled with space dust in Casa Pache was quite unlike anything I’d ever tasted. No wonder they called it ravioli sorpresa.

Volcanic Eruptions on Tenerife
The 18th of November saw the centenary of the last eruption on Tenerife at Chinyero above Santiago del Teide. We went along to see how it was being celebrated and stood on the edge of the volcano as a load of suits, looking completely inappropriately dressed for trekking across a lava field, posed for photos with Ricardo Melchior, the Island’s President (who was at least dressed for the countryside). The event also coincided with the opening of Santiago del Teide’s new cultural centre set in and around the lovely old buildings of Casa El Patio. We’d first clocked the building about three years before, when its estimated opening date was already 6 months behind schedule. In Tenerife time that’s not bad. On maps of Puerto de la Cruz, the car park at the harbour has been identified as ‘futuro parque marítimo’ for about 20 years.

Chestnuts, Wine and Street Sliders
This year’s arrastre de las tables, where local lads scream down steep streets to celebrate San Andrés in Icod de los Vinos was a bit of a washout. Much more enjoyable was partaking of a poke of chestnuts and some new vino tinto around the harbour in Puerto… if you could get a seat. It’s the sort of thing that Puerto does brilliantly. The smells, tastes and sounds were a reminder that for anyone wanting to sample the real Tenerife and do the sort of things that Canarios enjoy doing, Puerto’s hard to beat.

Yellow Weather Alerts on Tenerife #1 The Rain

November is always a dodgy month on Tenerife. It’s the month that the rains can return with a vengeance after the long dry summer. We always advise people that if they’re coming to Tenerife for only a week and want some sunshine, don’t come to the north in November or February. The rains don’t normally last long, but when they come you know about them. This year’s were the worst we’d seen since we moved here and although they only lasted about 24 hours, they left chaos in their wake and destroyed part of the town beach.

Christmas on Tenerife
The Christmas lights in Puerto this year are a bit of a disappointment. They’re very nice and tasteful, but lack a bit of colour. Thank goodness then for a completely over the top psychedelic big wheel, whose frantically whizzing neon lights dominate the town’s skyline. The funfair in Puerto’s harbour is part and parcel of Christmas here, as are aisles full of turrón in the supermarket – we’re on our third packet of the season.

Snow on Mount Teide
They were a bit late in coming and they didn’t stay long, but the first snows of the year fell on Mount Teide’s slopes last week.  We’re hoping that more falls during the next week so that we can say we’ve had a white Christmas on Tenerife.
Yellow Weather Alerts on Tenerife #2 The Waves
Some people panic when they hear there’s a weather alert on Tenerife, but when the alerts for big waves, it’s more of a heads up to experience nature’s show than to batten down the hatches. Last week I was hoping to see some surfers tackling ‘El Bravo’, but although the waves turned up as promised, the surfers didn’t… hey ho.

Christmas is almost upon us, so with Christmas concerts during the next week, New Year’s celebrations and the Tres Reyes parades there are a few things that we’re looking forward to before the fiesta season starts again in January.

Feliz Navidad Todos

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Going Native in Tenerife – Eating Where the Locals Eat

There’s a rule when it comes to recommending restaurants that is applied in nearly every travel guide book and also in countless travel articles.

It’s this: A restaurant where the locals eat must be the place to eat. As rules go, it’s not a bad one. We’ve applied it everywhere we’ve visited and usually ended up enjoying a good meal.

However, living in Tenerife and getting to know the local culture and quirks has made me view this rule slightly differently and with slightly more caution.

Firstly, as we talk about in 'Going Native in Tenerife' in more detail, Canarios generally have a conservative nature when it comes to dining. They like Canarian food which tends to be simple dishes of grilled meat and fish with papas arrugadas (literally wrinkled potatoes). Any vegetable or salad accompaniment isn’t usually the most imaginative in the world.
The mainland Spanish don’t always hold Canarian cooking in high esteem and I’ve had restaurant owners go out of their way to make it clear that their restaurant serves Basque, or Galician dishes rather than Canarian.

Canarios aren’t the best at experimenting with food from other countries apart from maybe Italian. So what that means is that when you see a restaurant filled with Canarios, you can bet your house on the fact that the menu will be traditional Canarian cooking and almost exactly the same as every other Canarian restaurant on the island.  However, lots of local clients usually means that the food served will be a notch above other restaurants dishing up the same fare. La Tasquita de Min beside Puerto’s harbour is a prime example of this. Their fish is simply prepared and divine tasting (the parrot fish, vieja, is particularly good) and on Sundays it’s almost impossible to get a table as they are filled with well to do Canarios.

But whilst full tables may be a sign of the best Canarian restaurants, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they're the best restaurants full stop. In areas which are popular with a mix of nationalities, there’s a choice of dining from all over the world, but they might not be frequented by ‘locals’, or Canarian locals anyway.

And this raises another factor which applies to places where there is a high ex-pat population. And that is what people mean when they use the term ‘local’.

In an article we wrote about restaurants in Valle Gran Rey on La Gomera, we include a cheap and cheerful joint which served up everything from Canarian cooking to pizzas. When we told our friend who lives on La Gomera that we were including this restaurant she announced:

“But no locals ever eat there.”

Her statement surprised us because when we’d eaten there the other diners included a large group of workmen and some young couples – all Canarios.

It turned out that the locals she was referring to were the resort’s large, German ex-pat population.

Similarly on websites like Tenerife Forum, the majority of whose members mainly live or holiday in the south of Tenerife (where most of the British ex-pat population reside) when people talk about places the locals eat, they might be referring to ex-pat locals rather than ‘Canario’ locals.

Clearly it’s legitimate to use the term local for someone who lives here irrespective of where they originated. But if you’re planning a holiday, or even looking for a place to live for a while, it’s a distinction that you need to be aware of the next time someone recommends somewhere because it’s ‘where the locals eat’.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Going Native at Christmas on Tenerife

A couple of years ago we spent a week in at our friend’s house on La Gomera just before Christmas. By the time we returned to Tenerife I’d actually forgotten that (A) La Gomera was part of Spain and not Germany (the small valley she lives in is populated mostly by Germans); (B) It is warm in the Canary Islands at Christmas (she lives 1000 metres up at the edge of the rain forest); and (C) it was actually Christmas. Despite Jo’s complaints that the Gomerans were being seduced more and more by sparkly Christmas baubles and lights, I can only remember seeing two houses with sparkly Xmas decorations in their windows.

Tenerife is different, well parts of it are anyway. Here the Tinerfeños have most definitely succumbed to the temptations of rows of twinkling lights and I for one am not complaining.

There can be a perception that opting to spend Christmas in Tenerife’s warm climes means having to sacrifice all that nice Christmassy atmosphere that balances out the madness of packed shopping centres and overspending in the UK and presumably other northern European countries. But it needn’t be the case.

In Tenerife’s historic centres, some councils really go to town and the streets are festooned with elaborate decorations. When darkness falls, plazas in La Orotava, La Laguna and Puerto de la Cruz are transformed into magical places to sit and pass the time. Add some children from the local brass band, practising festive hymns on their instruments to try to earn a bit of extra dosh and the Christmas atmosphere goes up a couple of notches. Throw in the sweet sound of choirs performing concerts in the plaza’s church and elaborate nativity scenes in shop windows and the vestibules of town halls (anyone who enjoys ‘Carry On’ humour should keep a look out for ‘El Caganer’) and suddenly you’ve got a festive atmosphere straight out of Dickens. And if Teide obliges, as it so often does, you get snow with your sunshine and the promise of a white Xmas, even if it is only visible to the eye on the mountain slopes rather than underfoot.

And the best thing about it all is that there’s a lot less of that materialistic madness that has blighted Christmas a bit in Blighty.

The most ‘Christmassy’ memory I’ve got from anywhere ever is of standing outside the Iglesia de la Peña de Francia in Puerto de la Cruz as the local band played Silent Night and the mixed crowd of Spanish, British and German onlookers sang along. It sent a shiver down my spine and brought a tear to my eye (more than one in truth – Andy. my mum, our nephew and myself were almost openly blubbing). It was the most perfect Christmas moment.

However, there are a few cultural differences as well, so check out our Real Tenerife Christmas page and our Tenerife Matters December blogs to make sure that you get the best out of Christmas on Tenerife and don’t get caught out.