A food lover’s dream
At just 11am, Bar Parada is a hub of activity. Locals stand at the counter clinking wine glasses as they discuss the days happening. The sweet smell of almonds drifts in from the adjoining room. An old man stands in front of wooden cabinets filled with liquor and carefully wraps sets of ten biscuits and labels them. Just behind him is an open kitchen where you can watch the bakers hard at work. The bar has been making Almendrados, a traditional almond biscuit from La Palma for years.
As an Island known for sugar production, dessert is celebrated on the island. Almond is a popular ingredient and forms the back bone of two that I tried: Bienmesabe, a paste made from eggs, sugar and ground almonds and Prince Albert, a chocolate and almond mousse – both deliciously sweet.
Driving away from Bar Parada and towards the coast, we come across another local ingredient – salt. Sitting alongside the unnatural beauty of the black volcanic earth and the blue of the sea, the salt fields twinkle from white to blue and pink under the glare of the midday sun.
Perhaps the most famous use of salt across the Canary Islands is to make papas arrugadas or wrinkly potatoes. The potatoes are boiled in their skin with lashings of sea salt. Once cooked, you can still see the rime of salt on the skin.
They are normally served with typical Canarias red and green mojo sauces. I try them at Jardín de la Sal, a restaurant overlooking the salt fields. The salty goodness of the bite-sized spuds combined with the garlic infused green mojo sauce make for addictive eating.
The backbone of cooking in La Palma is simplicity. One of the main ingredients found in numerous dishes is gofio – roasted maize or wheat meal, which I try mixed into a broth as a starter. One thing I didn’t expect to find on the island was craft beer but low and behold, Jardín de la Sal featured on artisanal Palmerian beer on its menu.
Although I’m not an avid beer drinker, I took the waiters advice on pairing it with the soup and it complimented it perfectly. Drinks-wise La Palma is better known for its wine, in particular – Malvasia. It’s known in England as malmsey and reputedly Shakespeare’s favourite tipple who referred to it as the “nectar of the gods”.
The vines on the island benefit from the higher slopes and flourish on volcanic soil. As with most sweet wines I found it was a nice palette cleanser and perfect as an after-dinner tipple and, well, who I am to argue with Shakespeare. Normally my wine preference is white and luckily for me La Palma was a fine place to sample it.
Due to the island’s peculiar topography, vineyards are found, mainly, on hillsides with pronounced slopes, at between 200 and 1,400ft. On the island, red, rosé, white and sweet wines are produced, as well as vino de tea, a wine stored in barrels made from the heartwood (tea) of the Canary Pine.
The first evening in La Palma I tried my favourite wine from the trip – Vega Norte – in the restaurant of the Parador hotel. Its taste was clean and crisp and almost earthy.
It was the ideal drink to pair with the starter of cod in green mojo sauce and a main of sticky salmon. The Parador have presentation at the core of their food offering which was apparent when my salmon arrived in a baked edible basket. One place where presentation wasn’t key was at one of the most famous seafood restaurants on the island; Casa Goyo.
A shack-like building on the doorstep of both the Atlantic and the airport. When I visited, I ordered fish of the day which turned out to be wreckfish and parrot fish. There is no emphasis here on stylish serving, as the fish appeared on a large plate lumped on top of one another and looking rather unattractive. Looks, presentation and to be honest, forks, aside the fish was a pleasure to eat. The flaky white meat of the parrot fish is better prised from the small bones by fingers.
The cheeses of La Palma, like the wines, are top quality and enjoy their own “Queso Palmero” Denomination of Origin. The cheeses are made from unpasteurised milk from the local La Palma breed of goats and can be fresh, semi-mature or mature, smoked or not smoked.
I found the cheese best enjoyed with green mojo and a glass of El Nispero, another fine white wine. The island also has a fine selection of meat to choose from. The most popular being goat, rabbit and the local breed of cow. Feeling brave one day, I had the rabbit option from the menu for lunch at La Mata. The focus here is on good simple food.
The rabbit was served with roasted peppers, rice and chips. A tiny yellow wild flower was delicately placed on the rice to add a special touch. Rabbit has the same texture as chicken but oodles more flavour. I ate mine with my fingers to ensure I got every juicy bite of meat off the bone. Talking of juicy meat, the last supper of the trip was at El Duende del Fuego, a gastro bar where the chef prides himself on only cooking with organic, local ingredients.
The evening I ate there, he took every dish to the table and talked about the ingredients and preparation. The main course on offer was osso buco or veal shank, which he told us have been slow cooked for three days at sixty degrees. It was served with lashings of bone marrow gravy and pureed potatoes.
The meat was so tender it fell right off the bone and tasted so delicate and succulent – by far the best thing I ate in La Palma. Ironically the veal was preceded by the oddest dish of the holiday – cacti risotto. A circle of raw-meat coloured rice which I mistook for steak tartare. Perhaps it could only be rivalled by the amuse bouche of banana wrapped in bacon. Which I thought (and still do think) is an odd combination, but as it turns out the salty flavours of bacon marry well with the sweetness of the banana. I think oddness works well in restaurants when its reflected in the décor. One such place was Bodegon Tamanca – positioned at the side of a busy road and carved from the solid rock of Tamanca mountain and houses both the restaurant and a winery producing red wines from Negramoll variety grapes and white wines from the Malvasía variety, both of which are native to the island.
It’s incredibly atmospheric. Walking in, you’re greeted with the sight of coloured wine bottles that form a circle as lights, wooden cases of wine lining the top of the bar and the crunch of volcanic rock on the floor. It also happens to be a meat lover’s paradise.
My lunch was a selection of sausages, steak and pork. I never wanted this dream filled with meat to end. Sadly, as they say, all good things must come to an end. Thankfully I’ve always been a believer in dragging out a trip as long as possible, so as I sat in the airport, I ended the visit the way I started it, by raising a glass of Vega Norte. Cheers!
Until the next time, La Palma.