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CANARY ISLANDS

Seven dishes for seven islands: the best food in Spain’s Canary Islands

Canary cuisine is a literal melting pot of North African, Latin American and Spanish flavours. Here are seven delicious dishes to try on your next visit to the archipelago of eternal springtime.

Seven dishes for seven islands: the best food in Spain's Canary Islands
Wrinkled potatoes - Spain's favourite food according to a 2016 survey. Photo: Martín Alvarez Espinar
Long before tourism arrived on Canary shores, Berber tribes from North Africa crossed over to the archipelago, bringing with them the culinary traditions of the Sahara.
 
Several centuries later when the islands had been conquered by Spain, a Genoese sailor by the name of Christopher Columbus stopped on the island of La Gomera before sailing off across the Atlantic to what he thought was India.
 
This poignant pit stop turned the Canaries into a major port of call for voyages to and from America, and with all the passing sailors came new plants and spices that added more flavour and character to Canarian dishes.
 
 
A satellite picture of the seven Canary Islands. Photo: JEFF SCHMALTZ/NASA/AFP
 
That’s left all seven Canary Islands with a vast array of tantalising mojo sauces, beautiful potatoes (yes, that’s their real name) and more award-winning cheeses than we can count.
 
Here are some of the best Canary dishes you should definitely try.
 
Papas arrugadas con mojo
 
Let’s start off with the obvious: the Canary Islands’ famed wrinkled potatoes with the sumptuous mojo verde and rojo sauces. A simple pairing of incredible taste and quality.
 
Small Canary potatoes, usually papas bonitas (aptly named beautiful potatoes) are boiled with their skin on and with ample sea salt, then left to dry and wrinkle.
 
Then there’s the green and red mojo sauces that feature regularly on this foodie list because, as you will read later, they’re that delicious they go with pretty much everything.
 
Papas arrugadas con mojo comes with many traditional meat and fish-based Canary dishes. Who would have thought a potato-based side could be voted Spain’s number one gastronomic marvel in a 2016 survey? That’s how good they are! 
 
Photo: Iain Cameron/Flickr
 
Conejo al salmorejo
 
You may have tried salmorejo before – the delicious cold tomato-based soup slurped up all across Spain in summer– but this dish and its sauce are only similar in name.
 
Conejo al salmorejo is a wonderfully flavoursome rabbit stew cooked for a whole day in a marinade of wine, pimenton, garlic, olive oil and other ingredients.
 
“¡Está de rechupete!” which roughly translates to as finger licking good.
 

This photo of Casa Picar is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Lapas a la plancha con mojo

Being stuck out in the Atlantic Ocean has its perks, especially if you’re a sucker for fresh seafood and fish.

One of the favourite marisco (seafood) dishes of Canarios is grilled limpets with, you guessed it, mojo sauce.

Esta foto de Casa de la Playa es cortesía de TripAdvisor

If it’s not on the menu don’t worry as you’ll find it hard to go wrong with pretty much any seafood dish in the Canaries.

If you do have room for another one, try potas en salsa, a type of cuttlefish stew.

Queso asado con mojo
 
Cheese from the Canary Islands deserves a feature of its own (and if we ever make it to the World Cheese Awards we promise we’ll do just that!).
 
Last year, 36 cheeses produced in the Canary Islands received prizes at the contest, more so than any other region in Spain.
 
Photo: Tripadvisor
 
Queso asado con mojo, grilled cheese with mojo sauce, pairs two of the Canary Islands’ most scrumptious ingredients.
 
A lightly grilled soft goat’s cheese, sometimes semicured, is served with mojo verde, a cilantro-based sauce which also has garlic, olive oil and garlic, or with mojo rojo or mojo picón (red or spicy mojo), made with pimenton pepper, cumin and other spices.
 
There should always be room for this tapa on your table, especially if you’re a cheese lover. 
 
Gofio escaldado
 
Gofio was the staple food of the Canary Islands’ original inhabitants, the Guanches, and still remains a crucial ingredient of many Canary dishes to this day. Most famous of all is perhaps escaldón de gofio or gofio escaldado, a scalded mix of roasted grains like maize and wheat (the gofio) with fish broth.
 

This photo of Dandy Canary is courtesy of TripAdvisor
 
Canarios swear by it but it’s perhaps the dish on this list that will please least palates, as the earthy consistency and dryness of the gofio mush in itself proves a bit hard to swallow for some.
 
Still, gofio is so quintessentially “canario” that you have to try it at least once if you find yourself in the archipelago.
 
  
Puchero canario
 
This is the sort of hearty Canarian dish you’re likely to eat at the archipelago’s traditional Romería pilgrimages and festivities, or every other week if you’re lucky enough to have a Canarian grandmother cooking for you.
 
 
It may look rustic in its preparation and presentation, but this casserole with everything from chickpeas, chicken, chorizo, pork, maize, bubango (Canary courgette) and many more ingredients exemplifies the quality and freshness of local ingredients, which allows them to just keep it simple. 
 
Photo: El coleccionista de instantes/Flickr
 
 
Frangollo
 
We have to end on a sweet note, even though there are countless more savoury dishes, cold meats and other condiments worthy of recognition.
Frangollo is a Canarian dessert dish, made from milk, millet or maize flour, lemon, eggs, sugar, butter, raisins, almonds, and cinnamon.
 
It may not have the va-va-voom of French or German pattiserie but its tasty, healthy and has lived on in the Canaries for centuries.
 
Another Canary dessert worth mentioning is the incredibly literal bienmesabe, which translates to “it tastes good to me”, one for the real sweettooths out there.
 
 

Questa foto di Bodegon Plaza – Casa Juan è offerta da TripAdvisor.
 
And if you’ve still got room for more…
 
We can’t leave without mentioning fish. As you can imagine most of it goes from the sea to your plate in about sixty seconds, so you can’t really beat fish-based dishes from the Canaries in terms of freshness.
 
Local species such as cherne (stone bass), dorada (sea bream) and bacalao (cod) are all exquisite when grilled and served with the magical pairing of wrinkled potatoes and mojo.
 
Dorada fish. Photo: Cristina Verde y Romero/Flickr
 
And if you can really squeeze in a few more bites ask the waiter for some Almogrote Gomero, a sensationally strong cheese, red pepper and pimentón spread from La Gomera that you won’t forget.   
 
Photo: Deposit Photos
 

MONEY

Rampant branch closures and job cuts help Spain’s banks post huge earnings

Spain’s biggest banks this week reported huge profits in 2021 and cheered their return to recovery post-Covid, but ruthless cost-cutting in the form of thousands of layoffs, hundreds of branch closures and the removal of many ATMs have left customers in Spain suffering, in this latest example of ‘Capitalismo 2.0’. 

A man withdraws cash from a Santander branch in Madrid.
More than 3,500 Santander workers lost their jobs in Spain in 2021 and a further 2,000 more employees working for Santander across Europe were also laid off. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Spanish banking giant Santander on Wednesday said it has bounced back from the pandemic as it returned to profit last year, beating analyst expectations and exceeding its pre-COVID earnings.

Likewise, Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA said on Thursday that it saw a strong rebound in 2021 following the Covid crisis, tripling its net profits thanks to a recovery in business activity.

It’s a similar story for Unicaja (€137 million profit in 2021), Caixabank (€5.2 billion profit thanks to merge with Bankia), Sabadell (€530 million profit last year), Abanca (€323 million profit) and all of Spain’s other main banks.

This may be promising news for Spain’s banking sector, but their profits have come at a cost for many of their employees and customers. 

In 2021, 19,000 bank employees lost their jobs, almost all through state-approved ERE layoffs, meant for companies struggling financially.

BBVA employees protest against layoffs in May 2021 in Madrid. Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA is looking to shed 3,800 jobs, affecting 16 percent of its staff, in a move denounced by unions as “scandalous”. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have also been closed down in 2021 as part of Spanish banks’ attempts to cut costs, even though they’ve agreed to pay just under €5 billion in compensation.

Rampant branch closures have in turn resulted in 2,200 ATMs being removed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, even though the use of cajeros automáticos went up by 20 percent in 2021.

There are now 48,300 ATMs in Spain, levels not seen since 2001.

READ MORE:

Apart from losses caused by the coronavirus crisis, Spain’s financial institutions have justified the lay-offs, branch closures and ATM removals under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 

 

Caixabank laid off almost 6,500 workers in the first sixth months of 2021. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Just this month, a 78-year-old Valencian man has than collected 400,000+ signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, spurring the Bank of Spain and even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to publicly say they would address the problem.

READ MORE: ‘I’m old, not stupid’ – How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service

It’s worth noting that between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and bank job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

Below is more detailed information on how Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, have reported their huge profits in 2021.

Santander

Driven by a strong performance in the United States and Britain, the bank booked a net profit of €8.1 billion in 2021, close to a 12-year high. 

It was a huge improvement from 2020 when the pandemic hit and the bank suffered a net loss of €8.7 billion after it was forced to write down the value of several of its branches, particularly in the UK. It was also higher than 2019, when the bank posted a net profit of €6.5 billion.

Analysts from FactSet were expecting profits of €7.9 billion. 

“Our 2021 results demonstrate once again the value of our scale and presence across both developed and developing markets, with attributable profit 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019,” said chief executive Ana Botin in a statement.

Net banking income, the equivalent to turnover, also increased, reaching €33.4 billion, compared to €31.9 billion in 2020. This dynamic was made possible by a strong increase in customer numbers, with the group now counting almost 153 million customers worldwide. 

“We have added five million new customers in the last 12 months alone,” said Botin.

Santander performed particularly well in Europe and North America, with profits doubling in constant euros compared to 2020. In the UK, where Santander has a strong presence, current profit even “quadrupled” over the same period to €1.6 billion.

Last year’s net loss was the first in Banco Santander’s history, after having to revise downwards the value of several of its subsidiaries, notably in the UK, because of COVID.

The banking giant, which cut nearly 3,500 jobs at the end of 2020, in September announced an interim shareholder payout of €1.7 billion for its 2021 results. “In the coming weeks, we will announce additional compensation linked to the 2021 results,” it said.

BBVA

The group, which mainly operates in Spain but also in Latin America, Mexico and Turkey, posted profits of €4.65 billion ($5.25 billion), up from €1.3 billion a year earlier.

The result, which followed a solid fourth quarter with profits of €1.34 billion, was higher than expected, with FactSet analysts expecting a figure of €4.32 billion .

Excluding non-recurring items, such as the outcome of a restructuring plan launched last year, it generated profits of 5.07 billion euros in what was the highest figure “in 10 years”, the bank said in a statement.

In 2020, the Spanish bank saw its net profit tumble 63 percent as a result of asset depreciation and provisions taken against an increase in bad loans due to the economic fallout of the virus crisis.

“The economic recovery over the past year has brought with it a marked upturn in banking activity, mainly in the loan portfolio,” the bank explained, pointing to a reduction of the provisions put in place because of Covid.

In 2021, BBVA added a “record” 8.7 million new customers, largely due to the growth of its online activities. It now has 81.7 million customers worldwide.

The group’s net interest margins also rose 6.1 percent year-on-year to €14.7 billion, said the bank, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive.

So far, it has axed 2,935 jobs and closed down 480 branches as the banking sector undergoes increasing digitalisation and fewer and fewer transactions are carried out over the counter.

At the end of 2020, BBVA sold its US unit to PNC Financial Services for nearly 10 billion euros and decided to reinvest some of the funds in the Turkish market.

In November, it launched a bid to take full control of its Turkish lending subsidiary Garanti, offering €2.25 billion ($2.6 billion) to buy the 50.15 percent stake it does not yet own.

The deal should be finalised in the first quarter of 2022.

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