My mother and her sisters, well two of her five sisters, spend most of March in the geriatric capital of Europe Gran Canaria. Specifically in the holiday town of Maspalomas. I decided to go over and spend last weekend with them and drive the old ladies around the Island as I suspected three octogenarians would not be terribly mobile on their own.
My memories of Gran Canaria are all from annual visits to Playa del Ingles made with my parents when I was a kid. I think I stopped going with them when I was eleven on the basis that hanging with my parents for a month even if the weather was good was not that much fun. I remember the place being touristic but as a kid I really did not appreciate that the only reason there even where towns where we were staying was so that Northen European tourist would have somewhere to stay. The place is simply horrific and completely artificial with not a vestige of local culture visible anywhere. And the food is indescribable.
Normally I know I am in the wrong restaurant when the menu is in German or even worse in one of the Scandinavian languages. This usually means the restaurant has decided to focus on fleecing tourists and not on food. As a matter of fact I generally do not go into restaurants that display anything other than local language menus out front. If is says tourist menu then I actually switch sides on the street to avoid contagion. Imagine what I felt like on discovering that having the menu in Icelandic is the norm in Gran Canary.
I had one all right meal of baccalo or salt cod in a hotel restaurant in Playa del Ingles but the rest of the culinary experience was pretty depressing. I will never go back other than to play driver for my mum. The only good food experience came in a little town called Tejeda in the centre of the island.
This town looked different and more prosperous than any other I have seen on the island and the restaurant on the town square looked authentic. It looked authentic in a worn way that suggests its been there a long time and been used up by the locals. Upon sitting down on an outside table (the weather did not disappoint even if the island did) the owner came and told us in surprisingly good English about a seven course menu that they where serving that lunch time. It contained all sorts of goodies but what caught my attention was what he said was local speciality of lamb and potatoes.
Basically, what it is is various pieces of lamb quickly grilled at high heat with just salt as spice served with local potatoes covered in a sauce called mojo rojo - literally red gravy. The effect of grilling the lamb at high heat means it closes up quickly and becomes very nice and caramelized on the outside. What really makes this dish however is the mojo rojo and the wonderful canary potato. They are very proud of that potato and rightly so because it really is amongst the best potatoes I've ever had. The mojo rojo is the real find. According to the towns own website (they have a website!) it is made by maciating the following ingredients in a mortar:
- A small amount of sea salt;
- Cumin seeds;
- 2 tomates;
- Hard bread (they call it pan duro I have not really worked out what that is);
- Olive oil;
- Sweet paprika;
Simply magnificent, almost turned my opinion of Gran Canary.
On the website they also have a recipe for mojo verde or green gravy. In that case they replace the sweet paprika with parsley (cilantro) and then claim it is great sauce for fish, which I don't doubt.