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All Photos by Gerry Dawes©2012
Here you will find not only the influences of Spain, Spanish Galicia and Portugal, but Africa as well, and certainly not least to native Canary Islanders, the still powerful pull of the aboriginal tribes such as the Guanches (Tenerife), the Canarios on Gran Canarias and the Gomeros, who communicated down the steep mountain valleys by means of the Silbo Gomera (whistling signals). Thought possibly to be descended for tribes in Africa’s Atlas mountains (Lanzarote is only 70 miles east of the African coast), the original inhabitants of the Canarias lived in these islands from at least from 200 BCE (some believe 1000 BCE) and experienced Phoenician, Greek and Roman expeditions.
The Canary Islands got their name from the fierce native dogs, canes, the Romans encountered on the islands, not Canary birds, which originated here and get their name from the islands). Europeans, mostly Spaniards, came to subjugate the islands in the 15th Century and Columbus stopped here with his ships on his voyages of discovery of the New World.
Once the native inhabitants were subdued the Spanish Crown, the Canary Islands became the last stop–and supply life line–for explorations of the New World by Spanish and Portuguese explorers and the continual sailings and return of the explorers fleets seeded the Canaries with an influx of New World products. In fact, here, many of the ingredients used in Canary Islands cooking–corn, cilantro, watercress, hot peppers, tropical fruits (papaya, mango, guava), unique varieties of potatoes and many other items–that the islanders have used since the exploration period never emerged as essential elements in most Spanish mainland cooking. But these ingredients took hold here tenaciously and form the basis for many dishes that are unique to the Canaries.
Fish and many other dishes are served with three of the most ubiquitous and defining elements of Canary Islands cuisine: Gofio (toasted flour, the true national culinary supplement that predates the conquest, though several versions include toasted New World millo, or maize, flour); the quickly addictive papas arrugadas (special Canary Islands varieties of small potatoes, including “black’ ones, “wrinkled” by cooking them in sea water or heavy salted tap water); and the wonderful mojos, or vinegar-and-oil based dipping sauces served with almost every Canary Islands meal.