Eating-out in northern Gran Canaria is different in many ways to the south of the island. The southern resorts with their beautiful beaches, shopping centres, hotels, holiday villages, marinas, bars & restaurants are tourist-focussed. Although we found some authentic Canarian food, the restaurants are mainly geared towards the holidaymakers wanting pizza and pasta after a long day on the beach. But the green and leafy north, with its banana and coffee plantations, the capital city of Las Palmas and quieter beaches is where the Canarians live; it’s more local and more multi-cultural. So it makes sense that eating-out would be different too.
Cafes & bakeries: It took us a few days to get into the swing of Las Palmas. The Canarians don’t really go in for breakfast, then about 11am everyone floods out of the offices into the nearest cafe or bakery for jamon bocadillos, tostas, tuna empanadas, croissants and a vast array of cakes and tartas with their cafe con leche. At the weekend this becomes a late brunch as friends and families gather at the local coffee shop. These shops are cheap, seem to be constantly baking on-site and have a wide range of fresh bread too. Some serve alcohol, they also have fresh juices and smoothies and gourmet tea selections, along with every possible coffee option. They often have free WiFi and leave you in peace to enjoy it. We frequently found ourselves in Xokolat (Leon y Castillo, 225) and the Panaria chain.
Late lunches: In typical Spanish-style, lunch is a 2 or 3 o’clock affair and we often opted for the traditional ‘Menu del Dia’. This 3 course set menu is good value for money in Gran Canaria at only 8-11 Euros. It often includes soup and salad starters, 2 or 3 local Canarian / Spanish meat or fish mains, a dessert or coffee plus a drink – wine, beer etc to wash it down. It gave us a chance to try dishes we might not have ordered – sometimes a limited menu you can’t read forces you out of your food comfort zone. We tried beef with prawn sauce – which was better than it sounds, chicken slow-cooked in beer, and saltcod fried with loads of potatoes, onions and garlic. Occasionally we decided to treat ourselves to a paella or rice dish, these are always made to order for a minimum of two. We really loved the soupy rice – Arroz Caldoso we ate sitting on the terrace at La Marea (Av. Alcalde José Ramírez Bethencourt), full of langostines, clams and local fish.
It’s all about sharing: Evening eating in the north is a whole different ball game to the south, restaurants open from 8pm and even that’s seen as too early for dinner. To bridge the gap, pinchos and tapas are nibbled.
When we arrived in Las Palmas we went off to the Mercado del Puerto to immerse ourselves in the Saturday night tapas culture. The old market hall is a hive of drinking and eating, street food is served from small kiosks including pinchos – mini kebab sticks, montaditos – little sandwich towers and plates of seafood. We loved the Tacos de Pescado served with green Mojo Verde sauce at Piscos y Buches in the market hall.
Sharing dominates in the evening – as each dish is brought out, whether it’s steak and chips, a platter of seafood or boards of cheese and ham, everyone dives in and then they order some more. We shared Chocos Fritos at the recommended seaside Restaurante Terraza El Puertillo a 15 minute bus ride outside of Las Palmas.
We shared in even the most fashionable restaurants, where in London you’d feel embarrassed and obliged to stick to your own plate. In Las Palmas it’s an eat, drink and move on to the next place culture. At the popular but pricey tapas restaurant in Triana, Kano 31 (Calle Cano, 31) we ordered Huevo Escalfado – a poached egg with potato puree, truffle, and mushroom sauce. We weren’t expecting this extravagent looking martini-glass wonder to appear – I thought it was someone’s tiramisu!
We stumbled across La Dispensa (Calle Diderot, 8) when looking for another restaurant nearby. It’s an old shop, the long marble shop counter has been converted into a bar with all the old shop fittings retained and filled with wine bottles. The music plays loudly and it’s full of locals. We shared an enormous half racion of fresh grilled tuna with potatoes & padron peppers, and then we ordered another 1/2 portion of fried pork with chips.Mix of cultures & flavours: The cuisine of Gran Canaria combines traditional Spanish recipes with African and Latin-American influences. Aji, Limon y Canela (Sagasta, 68) is a Peruvian ‘cevicheria’ on the Las Canteras beachfront, specialising in citrus-marinated fish and seafood. We tried the Causa Rellena, a tower of cold, seasoned mashed potato stuffed with prawns, egg and avocado. Las Canteras beach promenade is also the place to sample the amazing milk-free, tropical fruit ice creams including guava, passion fruit and mango.
An unusual but traditional Canarian product is gofio made from toasted maize, barely or wheat ground to a fine flour. It is commonly used to thicken soups and sauces or make milk-based desserts. Gofio is cooked in saffron-infused fish stock to make a thick, hot, polenta-type dish called Gofio Escaldado which is served in most seafood restaurants. It’s a nutritious, filling but calorific starter, again shared by everyone at the table.
Hipster places: Finally – the north is just more stylish. It has the hipster places and as Londoners we were missing that in the south. After getting a bit bored of the standard lunchtime offerings we wanted something a bit different. On the seafront at Las Canteras we went to La Bikina Cantina (Paseo de las Canteras, 63). We shared a fresh fig and tomato salad, a delicious seabass ceviche with avocado and soft chicken taco wraps, then a warm chocolate brownie with green tea ice cream, all for only 23 Euros.
Our coffee shop of choice that we returned to over an over again was El Apartamento (Av. Mesa y Lopez, 1). This arty cafe bar is the perfect place for a coffee & cake break while out shopping, but it’s open all day from breakfast to cocktails. The relaxed atmosphere attracts everyone – old ladies, young hipsters, locals and tourists.
Inspired by the food, culture and scenery of Gran Canaria, a trip to the neighbouring Canarian islands is on the menu. Bring on that winter sunshine.