Sometimes ya win, and sometimes a waiter brings you half a tomato on a plate with ketchup. Thus is the lottery of eating abroad. There are times that no matter how many food blogs and restaurant reviews and “where to eat in…” articles I read and regardless of how many local residents I ask for eating advice, I find myself sitting in front of a plate of downright disappointing food.
During my first few days on the Canary Island of Tenerife, many of the dishes I looked down at were more than just sub-par, they were hilariously bad. While we eventually were able to unearth some positively scrumptious restaurants, I can definitely say I had my fair share Canary Island food fails.
To say Tenerife, the largest of the seven Canary Islands, is touristy would be a ridiculous understatement. Tenerife has a 5:1 tourist to resident ratio (about 890,000 residents in 2014 compared with 4.7 million tourists). That fact is abundantly obvious throughout the island, where entire swaths of the cities have been overrun by resorts, hotels, tour companies and restaurants that cater specifically to Northern European tourists.
Finding the famous Canary grilled cheese, salty wrinkled potatoes and spicy mojo sauce that I had heard so many mouthwatering things about proved to be quite the scavenger hunt. And in the meantime meant some utterly unfortunate imitations of edible objects….
Food Fail No. 1: Guiri Breakfast
Nearly every morning in Madrid, whether I’m at home or at the neighborhood café, I have a toasted baguette with olive oil and tomato for breakfast. It is (I wrongly assumed) the national breakfast of Spain.
Not in the Canary Islands.
Soon after our painfully early flight landed in Tenerife and our suitcases were stowed at the hotel in Puerto de la Cruz, we went searching for second breakfast. After rejecting the first five restaurants for their overt touristiness, we resigned to the only remaining food-serving spot in sight.
I ordered my go-to breakfast and awaited something I thought was going to look like this:
The plate that instead was dropped in front of me was quite a different story. It consisted of two toasted pieces of sandwich bread, or pan de molde. Dry. When I asked for olive oil, the waiter confusedly went hunting in the tray of lunch items to produce the rack of oil, vinegar and salt that is usually served with salads during the afternoon meal.
Olive oil in hand, I tried again for the tomato, which usually comes grated or puréed to be spooned over the bread. Abandoning all candor, he perplexedly smirked and came back with the ketchup. “Thanks but, do you have real tomato? As in the fruit? Like the red, round thing?” I really tried not to sound as flabbergasted as I felt at our serious miscommunication.
He returned a minute later with a half a tomato balancing on a small white plate. While I absolutely appreciated the effort, mental note: next time, just go for jam.
Food Fail No. 2: Squeaky Cheese
To say I was excited to try grilled Canary cheese would not even come close to doing the emotion justice. After the breakfast fail I was ready to redeem myself at lunch. I spent a little too long on Trip Advisor, scouting out the restaurant options. We finally decided to try Tasca el Olivo, which was ranked No.2 at the time.
After no-so-casually strolling past the front of the restaurant twice, we bit the bullet and sat down. It billed itself as using “quality fresh ingredients” to create “exquisite traditional Spanish and Canary Island dishes.” So that’s what we ordered. Or at least attempted to order.
Have you ever tried to eat a soggy eraser? I can now say I have…
Food Fail No. 3: French Fry Omelet
There are few things that irk me as much as a restaurant the preys on tourists. No one can know absolutely everything about the cuisine of every city they visit but that does not give restaurants free reign to trick people into thinking they are eating something authentic and fresh when it is, in reality, frozen and incomparable to any traditional recipe.
It’s wrong and it’s false advertising. And moreover it gives a bad name to, in this case, Spanish food, which in reality is one of the most marvelous, flavorful and fascinating cuisines I have ever encountered.
Okay, rant over.
So we ordered Tasco el Olivo’s tortilla de patatas with avocado and Manchego cheese. A bit of mainland Spain (Manchego) with some Canary Island flair (avocado, which is grown on the islands). What we got were freezer burned french fries mixed with a few eggs and a couple green splotches of avocado.
I couldn’t help but write a Trip Advisor review. A place that serves such abominations of traditional Spanish dishes while at the same time claiming to be the beacon of authenticity in Puerto de la Cruz should not be No. 2 on Trip Advisor. Here is the reply I got shortly after leaving a 2-star review.
Food Fail No. 4: Wiggly Octopus
The next morning we headed down to the southern coast, where the whale watching is amazing and the eating is impossible. After sad sandwiches on the boat, we were not messing around for dinner. Courtney found an elegant restaurant with amazing views of the city and the beach. It had to be good.
That night we trucked up half a mountain to the sweeping terraces of Restaurante Barracuda. The meal started off tastily with a smooth beef carpaccio and a creamy gazpacho. Than came my main dish: grilled octopus with wrinkled potatoes and mojo sauce.
This food fail was, admittedly, my own fault. I am very particular about my octopus. If it’s lightly charred and a bit crispy I love it. If it’s boiled, I can’t get over the booger-y texture. These baby octopi were about half way in between. The curly legs were crispy but the body was, sorry for the comparison, one big loogie.
After escaping Tenerife, the Canary Island food drastically improved. I devoured fantastic fish on La Gomera and more than made up for the squeaky cheese with copious amounts of the real grilled goodness in Gran Canaria. Like I said, ya win some and ya loose some in this overall amazing world of foodie travel.
Have you ever had a massive food fail while traveling? I’d love to hear about it (and see that I’m not the only one…) in the comments!