Potajes, enyesques and jareas: the roots of Lanzarote’s cuisine
It was José Saramago who said that your identity is not given by your name, nor by the place where you were born, nor by your particular birthday. “Identity consists in being”. And “being” involves, among many other things, walking, contemplating… and eating.
Today we are travelling aboard the delicacies produced by Lanzarote’s rain-fed agriculture.
We’re going to sink down deep and peacefully into the roots of the island: into the landscape that oxygenates us and into the dishes that nourish us. Because we are what we eat.
The ‘magic’ of mineral flavours
It’s impossible to find another place on the planet that produces wines and legumes similar to those of Lanzarote. The reason is simple: they are the offspring of a mineral soil formed by fire, water and wind. They also grow in cultivation systems that are found nowhere else on the planet, adapted to the peculiar nature of the island. Only here are they possible.
“What irrigation system do you use there?” an Instagram user asks a farmer who has just posted a photo of arvejas (peas) grown in a pit of volcanic sand. “None. They’re grown with rainwater.” It appears to be a superpower, something from a Marvel movie. But no: this is Lanzarote’s traditional agriculture. The Lanzarote Biosphere Reserve Office promotes it with activities such as Cultivating the Future, a proposal that invites the islanders to take care of the soil in an environmentally friendly way and to create sustainable agricultural systems.
Plump, firm, with delicate and concentrated flavours… Grains and vegetables are the stars of the local stews. You cannot fully understand Lanzarote without having sampled some ribs with piña (not pineapple in this case, but piña de millo, i.e. corn on the cob), a lentil potaje, a puchero stew or gofio escaldado with onion like the version served at the Casa Monumento al Campesino.
Cacti and prickly pears: island history on your plate
The gastronomic philosophy of Lanzarote’s Centres for Art, Culture and Tourism is based on the use of local produce, the transmission of the cultural essence of the island and a balanced mix of tradition and modernity.
One of his most innovative proposals is among the four thousand succulent plants that make up the Cactus Garden. Cactaceae, just as in Mexico, are the king of the menu in this idyllic cactus garden, César Manrique’s last great public work. As an enyesque (tapa) we ordered some tender nopalitos in olive oil and a cactus burger suitable for vegans and delicious for any omnivore with an awakened palate.
We are only a few kilometres away from the tuna (prickly pear) orchards of Guatiza and Mala: this is one hundred percent local gastronomy. We continue our journey through the flavours of the prickly pear, enjoying its flesh as a filling for some tasty croquettes and sampling its fruit in a jam that goes perfectly with one of the tasty fresh goat cheeses that are made on the island. Incidentally, until not so long ago it was not uncommon to see children being suckled by goats. One of Lanzarote’s cheese dairies bears witness to this rural custom with a beautiful black and white photo.
We finished off with a cactus ice cream and a cactus liqueur, both of which are also made from the surrounding prickly pears, which were planted to produce cochineal, a natural dye that is highly prized in the food and textile industries. Such a feast for the palate invites us to ask for more local products, to find out who produces them and where to buy them, so we spend the after-dinner rest time browsing (and salivating) on the website of Saborea Lanzarote.
Adaptation, sustainability and superfoods
To understand the idiosyncrasies of this island you have to bend down and look closely. The salt gardens on the coast crumble into flakes for dressing tomato and onion salads. The black pebbles (rofe, picón), expelled by the eruption of Timanfaya three centuries ago, are still the mulch that protects the crops from the sun and wind, and also the sponge that absorbs and conserves the humidity of the environment. This is how Los Valles potatoes are grown.
In La Graciosa, fish such as bocinegros (red porgy) or salemas (a local seabream) are still jaredos (dried in the sun). In the past, when ice was not available, this was a basic method of preservation. The sea mist makes the crops stronger. The wild plants and fruit trees that grow around the pits of La Geria flavour the grapes used to produce some of the D.O. Lanzarote wines. All this is part of the natural technology that Lanzarote has inherited from that generation of farmers who were forced to deal with the magma, starting again from scratch.
There are legions of restaurants on the island that use local products such as sweet potatoes in their kitchens: local vegetables, typical meats such as Canary Island pork, juicy fish such as cherne (wreckfish) and gofio, an essential ingredient in desserts (and which goes wonderfully with cocoa). This ground and toasted cereal flour, which was essential for the survival of the Lanzarote population, is today a superfood that continues to be produced in La Molina de José María Gil, which has been in existence since 1870.
We can’t think of a better way to celebrate our islands than walking through these agrarian landscapes and sampling the products of our kitchens that demonstrate our traditional cuisine and our way of understanding life: resilience, simplicity and character… heaps of character. 🙂
Happy Canary Islands Day!