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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

As soon as we heard that Ministry of Sound were going to be appearing in Santa Cruz on the first Saturday night of Carnaval 2011 it was a foregone conclusion. We would be there.

There was much debate over how we would get in and out of the city, tales of traffic mayhem being rife, but the prospect of long walks, a bus ride dressed as Hit Girl and Brother Jack, another long walk and no idea of how we would get home again settled it. We’d take our chances and drive into the city.

I drew the designated driver short straw and we set off around 10.40pm to give ourselves plenty of time to check out all the venues in the city before heading to Plaza Europa to share the Ministry of Sound experience. As it turned out, driving into the city couldn’t have been easier. We arrived at the bus station car park to find plenty of spaces (the Canarios don’t tend to like paying for parking when an empty pedestrian crossing costs nothing) and with the final touches applied to our costumes, headed off into the surreal pandemonium that is carnival.

Everywhere we went, the sights and smells of food assailed us, from candy floss and sugared almonds at the fairground, through baked potatoes and hot dogs along the paseo marítima to the amazing food stall in Plaza Candelaria with its Desperate Dan– sized montaditos and its rotating barbecue on which half suckling pigs sizzled.

Everyone who wasn’t eating, and most of those who were, were drinking, and the ground was littered with carrier bags bulging with bags of ice, bottles of Jack Daniels, Smirnoff, Arehucas, cans of Red Bull and bottles of coke from which groups were serving themselves generous refills in between salsas. Beer stalls lined every street, their counters propped up by escapees from a drug-induced nightmare, and a giant plastic lime with its top half sliced and opened served as a bar for a mojito mixing barman dressed as a bee.

We made our way first to Plaza Principe where a very traditional band was just warming up a crowd who were enjoying their salsa under the stars. Next it was on to the small stage below the Plaza where a rock band were belting out Spanish and US classic rock anthems to a select gathering. As the clock ticked towards Ministry of Sound time we headed to the main stage at Plaza Candelaria where thousands of fancy dress clad revellers were getting into their stride to the Maquinería boy band who were belting out a lively stream of carnival favourites accompanied by some very nifty dance moves.

By now, the Carnaval spirit had us by the throat and there was only one place that we needed to be. As the lasers scanned the night sky, and over a steady dance beat, a deep voice intoned a monologue that told us of a night when it was written that a new generation would come and dance until the ground shook.
As the volume pumped up and the Ministry of Sound roadshow took to the stage, the prophecy came true.

Unfortunately, my flip camera also shook and the microphone gave up the ghost on the volume. So with suitable apologies to Ministry of Sound for failing to capture the full force of your music, here’s a taster of Santa Cruz Carnaval 2011 . the food, the music and the people.

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As a Canary Islands resident, using the local airline to island hop between Tenerife and its neighbours is an easy, convenient, time saving and economical way to travel.

With flights lasting 30 to 45 minutes, there’s barely time in between take off and landing for the flight attendants to make one swift traverse of the aisle, so by way of an in-flight service passengers are treated to a plastic cup of water and a Binter Canarias chocolate wafer biscuit. I don’t claim to be a biscuit aficionado, but these are something special.

A few weeks ago we had arranged a flying (literal and metaphorical) trip to La Palma with good friends Linda and Robert and we arrived at the Tenerife North Airport for the 6.30pm flight to be met with the knowledge that flights were being delayed and cancelled due to a storm which was in full flow across the Canary Islands.
The two flights before ours were cancelled but amazingly, we were called to gate, boarded and took off just a half hour behind schedule.

The airline operates with a fleet of ATR-72 airlines which can take off and land from short runways but which are not very good at smoothing out air pockets. That Wednesday night as we headed off over the Atlantic Ocean, the plane was buffeting and rocking us around like the crew of early Star Trek episodes on the bridge during a battle scene.
As the contents of my stomach began to feel as if they may make a break for freedom at any moment and the rain lashed the windows from the storm, an announcement came over the public address system that, due to turbulence, the in-flight service would not be available on our flight.

Twenty minutes later we could feel the aircraft descending and the buffeting increased significantly. I looked around at my fellow passengers. Some were chatting to their neighbours as if this was the most normal flight they had ever been on, others had their heads in their hands, and the lady directly across the aisle from me had her eyes closed, Rosary Beads threaded through her fingers and was silently mouthing a prayer.
I felt surprisingly calm and accepting of what was increasingly looking like my final few minutes of life and I smiled an apologetic smile at Linda for being inadvertently instrumental in her and Robert’s demise. No words passed between any of us.

Then we began to climb again and the pilot informed us that we were returning to Tenerife as conditions for landing on La Palma were too difficult.
It’s hard to say whether my disappointment was more for the fact that our planned break was being swallowed by the storm or that we now faced a further 30 minute flight back to Tenerife at the mercy of the gods.
And just to add insult to injury, I hadn’t even had my biscuit.

When the wheels finally touched down back at Tenerife we re-arranged our flight for the following morning in the hopes that the storm would have abated by then. It did not.
We started to board at 7.10 am the following morning while the rain bounced off the runway and when we finally took off, it was to a near repeat of the previous night’s flight. We rocked and buffeted our way across the Atlantic while the fasten seat belts sign remained resolutely illuminated and the Binter biscuit was nowhere to be seen.

Thirty minutes later we landed at La Palma airport where the rain had stopped and a clear sunrise was taxiing behind us on the runway. The relief at once more being on terra firma where the sun was shining was as palpable as a cream cake onto which the flight attendant placed a cherry, or should I say a chocolate biscuit, as we left the aircraft.
Fitting reward for still being alive I felt.

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At Al Campo yesterday they had this wonderful stand with all the vegetable ingredients for puchero – a traditional Spanish stew. Incidentally, for all you veggies, the translation of puchero as a vegetable stew is a huge misnomer because it contains beef and pork.

I thought it was brilliant that there was a special display to save you gathering all your own ingredients and it’s very typical of the habits of the masses here – it’s post Christmas, so everyone will be using up their leftover cuts of meat to make puchero.

The stand had all the ingredients except the meat and the chickpeas:  cabbage, corncob, pumpkin, chayote, French beans, sweet potato, pears, marrow or courgette, carrot, leek, garlic, onion and tomato.
To make puchero, chickpeas, beef, pork, saffron and thyme are added to the above and the whole lot are simmered into a warming, fragrant stew which is usually served with fresh crusty bread.

For hikers, there’s nothing quite like a steaming bowl of puchero at the end of a long walk when the sweat is drying and the chill of the mountain air kicks in. And I have it on very good authority that the best puchero on the island is to be found at Casa Lala in Arico Viejo.

I have yet to try Casa Lala myself and will have to try out a new walking route that ties in with finishing there, but we’re planning a walk around the Erjos Pools soon and I might just pop into Bar Las Fleytas to try theirs…watch this space.

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We’re not sweet eaters as such. That’s not to say we don’t like sugar ‘n’ spice and all things nice, it’s just that these days we might as well miss out the middle man and simply staple any slices of cake straight on to the waistline.

We do actually buy a bar of chocolate every second week and with an iron-willed discipline limit ourselves to two squares which are eaten with relish post lunch.

However, a few years ago friends, who throw caution to the wind in the sweetie eating stakes, introduced us to the pleasures of turrón and now this Christmas treat from Jijona is a regular addition to our cupboards over the festive season.

It’s probably this simple cake that sparks the first feelings of Christmas on Tenerife as a dizzying array of boxes and varieties take the place of the rather more healthy fruit selection in the local supermarket. And the selection is dizzying. I’ve watched Canarios, fingernails being chewed furiously, trying to decide for upwards of 30 minutes which flavour to opt for.

We’ve tried caramel flavour, coconut flavour, cherry flavour and cream. But we always return to the classic yema tostada made from almonds, honey and egg yolk.

Round about 3.30pm, when creativity and enthusiasm is flagging badly, a cup of coffee accompanied by a finger slice of yema tostada provides just enough of a boost to get us through another three to four hours work.

In that respect it’s not a treat at all, it’s an essential Christmas work tool…honest.

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I feel like I’ve been watching back to back movies in some dingy cinema for weeks and have finally emerged, blinking into the sunlight.
I’m not complaining (okay, that’s clearly a lie) but I’ve been so wrapped up in trying to meet my Simonseeks deadlines for their Tenerife pages that I’ve neglected everything else, including this blog, Twitter, Facebook, hiking, cooking and most importantly of all – R and R.

So when Jack’s sister and her boyfriend arrived on Tenerife for a two week holiday which coincided with hitting the second of three arduous deadlines, it was time to cut loose and take a break.

We’ve been hearing great things about a band called Traveller who regularly play Friday nights at the Tajinaste restaurant outside Los Gigantes so I figured I’d kill three birds with one stone – see Traveller, eat at the Tajinaste restaurant which I could then review for Simonseeks and have a good night out with Rhonda and Graeme.

But with typical bad timing, the day before we were due to see them, I got a mailshot from  Traveller to say that the new management of Tajinaste were closing for refurbishment…no band to watch, no restaurant to review and a disappointment for our night out in the west.
Except that it wasn’t really. Sure it would have been great to see a good live band but not seeing one didn’t spoil our night.
We headed into the resort to eat at Domingos and then to the Pilgrim for a few drinks. Domingos was pretty much full but it’s fair to say that the rest of the resort was very quiet. It was a great night and we enjoyed ourselves but to be honest, there was really not very much there in the way of bars and if I was on holiday in the resort, I guess I’d be heading elsewhere for my Friday night out.

Playa de la Arena

Most bar owners blame the lack of after-dark customers in Playa de la Arena on the proliferation of all-inclusive hotels in the resort but a few nights later Rhonda and Graeme were in Route 66 in Puerto Santiago where, with the usual full house, they watched the excellent Old Dogs New Tricks. One of the things that they noticed was the number of people in the audience wearing tell tale all-inclusive wrist bands.
It seems that if you give them a good enough reason, people will give up their free beer and bring you their custom. If you don’t, they won’t.

Fast forward to last Saturday night when Rhonda and Graeme came over to Puerto de la Cruz for a change of scene.
After spending the afternoon testing tapas we headed back into town around 8.30 pm and arrived in a packed Plaza Charco where every seat around the red hot braziers was taken. We had to sit on the harbour wall to eat our roasted chestnuts hors-d’oevre and drink our vino del país aperitif.  There was no entertainment, no live band or cabaret – just the old fishing town, the chestnuts, the wine and that old Puerto charm.

Blanco Bar

After eating we headed into Blanco Bar where some tables in the courtyards were still vacant and we tried a new instant favourite cocktail – Bailey’s Colada – courtesy of the bar staff, before relocating to the downstairs bar to see a local band. We watched and listened for a while before moving on to Limbo where we arrived at the upstairs bar to find that even standing room was limited. It was packed to beyond capacity.
A couple of rounds of beer and much gawping (mainly from me) at the group of young seven footer basketball players who were standing at the bar like Aragorns amongst the hobbits of the Shire, it was on to the next venue.

Courtyard entrance to Limbo

No Saturday night out in Puerto is complete without a visit to Azucar, the town’s liveliest Cuban bar and despite its temporary relocation to the ground floor while the former gentleman’s club upstairs is refurbished, it was good to see the place still packed to the rafters with people of all ages and a range of nationalities.

Suan Chill

After the madness and salsa of Azucar it was time to chill out so around 2 am, just as the town was beginning to reach its Saturday night zenith, we headed for Suan Chill where  we settled in amongst the sequined cushions and relaxed until fatigue got the better of us at around 3.20am and we headed for a taxi home.

The contrast between our two nights out couldn’t have been more marked, as indeed is the contrast between the two areas.
Happily, despite the move to all-inclusive by many of its hotels, Puerto has a thriving local population who don’t rely on bars laying on good entertainment to get them out into the town at night.  I really like Playa de la Arena and think it’s a lovely family resort but if you want night life, it’s not going to deliver the goods, or at least, not until the bar owners stop bitching about all-inclusive and start giving holidaymakers something other than sports coverage and Karaoke to leave their hotels for.

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It has been a really nice week for catching up with friends from the UK.

At the beginning of the week we went to see Chris and Alan from tenerife.co.uk who are holidaying with their families in Playa Paraíso. For 24 luxurious hours we enjoyed the excellent hospitality of the Roca Nivaria Hotel and managed to combine fun and relaxation with work. I feel certain that were I to be permanently ensconced in such a peel-me-a-grape environment that I could produce some of my best work…

Then yesterday we went into Santa Cruz to meet up with Sarah and Denise who are currently enjoying a free week’s holiday in Golf Del Sur which Denise won in a competition in the UK. Not, I hasten to add, one of Tenerife Magazine’s incredible free holiday prizes; this one had nothing to do with us.

Meeting up a little after 1pm it was the perfect opportunity to combine showing Sarah and Denise around the city with enjoying lunch. How fortuitous then that their visit just happened to coincide with the Ruta del Chicharro tapas route; a stroll around the city taking in tasty tapas served with cold Dorada beers in some of the city’s oldest and newest eateries. Throw into the mix an ambient temperature of around 25°C and the resident Santa Cruz sunshine and you’ve got what amounts to a perfect Friday in the city.

First stop was the Noria District and the Museo bar/restaurant under the arches. A table on their sunny terrace; four tapas of sweet potato and cod in mojo sauce served with garlic bread and kept company by four Doradas, and the endless chat and catch-up could begin. Time slipped by as it always does when we meet Sarah and next thing we knew, four different tapas winged their way to the table – montaditos (small toasted breads) with garlic sausage and cheese. We explained that two of our number didn’t eat meat and in two glints of the waiter’s smile montaditos with seafood arrived in addition to the sausage ones.

The bill came to a princely €10 and we moved along a few hundred metres to the terrace of El Marques de la Noria to receive the most artistically beautiful and tastiest of the day’s tapas.
A single wooden skewer lay across the plate which held a crispy chunk of sweet roasted potato with an apple puree and caviar coating; and a deep fried, battered prawn with jamón Iberico (the girls gave us their jamón – the benefits of lunching with non meat eaters). The skewer was sealed with a cherry tomato and drizzled with a raspberry and a rich soya sauce.
Looking too good to eat and tasting even better, we again drained our Doradas, left the €10 settlement and moved on to our next venue.

Strolling back along Antonio Dominguez Alfonso, cutting through Plaza Principe past the Belles Artes Museum and onto Imeldo Seris, our guests were enthralled by the architecture, the flora and the beauty of this city about which so little makes it onto the tourist radar.
This is Denise’s first visit to Tenerife and she was thrilled to be out of the Karaoke bars and burger and chips offerings of Golf Del Sur and experiencing some of the ‘real Tenerife’.

As usual, Jack and I were in full tour guide mode and the compulsory potted history of the island was being delivered as we arrived at one of the capital’s iconic traditional restaurants; La Hierbita.

A hotch potch of tiny rooms on varying levels with original wooden floors and ceilings, we made our way through the ground floor to the back room bar, then out into the back alley and along a couple of doors to the second part of the restaurant. We climbed the narrow stairs and took the table in the window from which, the waiter helpfully pointed out, you could throw crumbs onto passing pedestrians. We resisted the crumb throwing impulse and settled instead to perusing the cornucopia of antiques that fill this personality-rich restaurant.
This time our tapas consisted of a small dish of cherne (grouper) fish in onion and potato sauce and was served with bread and mojo sauces.

Appetites sated and time slipping dangerously close to Sarah and Denise’s bus departure, we made our way back past the lake of Plaza España where we stopped for the customary photo shoot at the statue to the fallen, and made it back to the bus station in time for a choc ice postre and fond farewells.

Santa Cruz – discover it before everyone else does!

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The normally sedate dining room was in uproar.
An American drawl was loudly berating the fact that the steak on his plate was tougher than the leather on his shoes and at the pastries cart a physical fight had broken out between two families over the last of the chocolate éclairs. In the midst of hair pulling and screaming, a woman’s voice was heard to tearfully proclaim ”It’s the only bloody decent food we’ve had all week!”
This was Kenya circa 1990 and the last time I ate dinner in a hotel buffet…until last weekend.

When we first began to travel beyond the Greek Islands it didn’t take us long to realise that hotel food was largely geared to the palates of guests, the vast majority of whom appeared to want to forget the fact that they were anywhere other than home except when it came to sunbathing. We very quickly dumped half board options in favour of room and breakfast and opted instead to explore local eateries.

The distinctive tower of Hotel Isabel, Costa Adeje

So it wasn’t without a certain amount of trepidation that, last weekend, we checked into the Hotel Isabel in Costa Adeje on a half board basis because, on an assignment to review the hotel, we knew that food was to be an essential element.

The fact that this was one of the busiest weekends of the year for holidays on Tenerife and the hotel was filled to capacity, did nothing to allay our nerves. As we walked past the hotel dining room at 7pm on our way to the summer carnaval in Playa de Las Américas and saw it was already pretty full, we hoped that by the time we got back at least most of the guests would have eaten, even if we were facing the equivalent of the aftermath of a swarm of locusts with nothing left but cold chips, limp lettuce and metallic-tasting frozen mixed veg’.

We were wrong – on both counts.
When we finally arrived at the dining room it was still packed, but we were immediately shown to a clean table. Heading to the food counters, I couldn’t begin to take in the choice of food available.
At either end of the vast counter there were two cooking stations; one was grilling and roasting chicken and meat and the other was baking fresh pizza and garlic bread and simmering sauces for pasta.
On three large islands in front of the hot plates were salad ingredients like cold chicken, ham and seafood; chopped fresh onions, tomatoes and green peppers; a choice of three different types of washed lettuce; coleslaws, sweetcorn, pastas and shredded carrot; hard boiled eggs…I really can’t remember them all.
Food mountains of fresh rolls lay alongside huge soup tureens which were sending saliva-inducing aromas steaming into the atmosphere.

At this point my decision-making skills had a panic attack so I filled a plate with salad ingredients and headed back to our table. My second assault on the buffet took me along the hotplates which held five different styles of cooked potatoes; lamb, beef, chicken and fish dishes; vegetables; sauces and more pasta dishes. Everything was piping hot and although none of the trays was even close to empty, fresh supplies were being poured in continuously.
This was not what I had expected.

One of the pretty plazas at Hotel Isabel

I finally plumped for pork chops from the griddle,which were succulent, smoky and tender. My only disappointment was the mixed vegetables I’d chosen which I’m pretty sure were frozen. Vowing to opt for a single veg’ the following night, I finished up and headed to the sweets section where a chef was busy peeling, chopping and serving an entire plantation’s worth of tropical fruits. Then, trying not to look at the cheesecakes and pastries en route, it was onto the ice cream section where six flavours of ice cream, unknown varieties of yoghurt, sumptuously sinful chocolate decorations and half a dozen bottles of assorted spirits and liqueurs from which to choose ensured that the next two weeks would be spent on rice and salads.

For families, I can see how half or full board must be an extremely attractive option; the children we saw in the dining room over our weekend at the Hotel Isabel had smiles on their faces as wide as the mounds of chips, spaghetti or six kinds of ice cream on their plates.

Hotel buffets have certainly moved on since the War of the Chocolate Éclairs all those years ago, at least, they have in Tenerife. I wonder what the hotel buffets in Kenya are like nowadays…?

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