Monday, 30 April 2018

Island hopping with P and O cruises: Lanzarote

Foundation Cesar Manrique, Lanzarote, Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover

Lanzarote is the most deserted and on the face of it, barren, of the Canary Islands. In previous times, people used to travel across it on camels. But this doesn't make it any less interesting. I took one of the P and O ship's excursions to find out about the art of Cesar Manrique.

Manrique was born in 1919 into a well-off family of traders from Lanzarote. At school he was exceptionally good at drawing and painting. He asked his family to send him to Madrid to study fine art. 
But his father said: 'No, I can't afford it.'
Instead he insisted: 'You will go to Tenerife and study architecture there at university.'
Manrique tried it but left in the second year. 
It's not for me.
He managed to get a scholarship to study in Madrid where he eventually became a professor. He met the love of his life, Pepi Gomez, who died of cancer very young. Cesar was destroyed and decided to move to New York to get away from the memories. He never married.

After a few years, he returned to Lanzarote. Unlike New York, there was no artistic scene  at all. 

In fact Lanzarote has the reputation as the ugliest of the Canary Islands, with no green spaces, no trees, and no water. 
But Manrique could see the beauty in the rocks.
 If you could see Lanzarote through my eyes, you would see the beauty even in the tiniest stone.
He decided to create art within the natural structures of Lanzarote, such as the Jameos del Agua, which is a hollowed out tube of lava. Inside there is a natural amphitheatre for concerts, a blinding white swimming pool, bars and cafes made from recycled old boats. It's also famous for a species of blind lobster.  

Cesar Manrique was mates with the governor of the island at the time and developed urban planning to bring in tourism but avoiding high rise hotels. No building was allowed to be taller than three stories.

I visited his home which was built mostly underground in the black lava rock, to shelter from the heat. There was a red room, a yellow room and a black room. His goal was to create a harmony between the interior and the stark exterior. 


The plants in particular looked extraordinary against the black lava earth: pinks, yellows and greens carving geometric, almost day-glo patterns. Lanzarote farmers use the lava to farm: it shields from the heat and retains moisture, avoiding the need for irrigation.

Manrique was killed in a car crash in 1992. You could say he was the saviour of Lanzarote, preventing the overt commercialisation of the island whilst highlighting its unusual beauty.
Jameos del agua, Cesar Manrique, Lanzarote, Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
Jameos del agua, Cesar Manrique, Lanzarote, Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
Jameos del agua, Cesar Manrique, Lanzarote, Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
Foundation Cesar Manrique, Lanzarote, Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
, Lanzarote, Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
Foundation Cesar Manrique, Lanzarote, Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
Foundation Cesar Manrique, Lanzarote, Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
Foundation Cesar Manrique, Lanzarote, Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
Foundation Cesar Manrique, Lanzarote, Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
Foundation Cesar Manrique, Lanzarote, Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
 Lanzarote, Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
Foundation Cesar Manrique, Lanzarote, Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
Foundation Cesar Manrique, Lanzarote, Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
Foundation Cesar Manrique, Lanzarote, Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
 Lanzarote, Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
Foundation Cesar Manrique, Lanzarote, Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
Lanzarote, Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
blind lobster, Jameos del agua, Cesar Manrique, Lanzarote, Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
Jameos del agua, Cesar Manrique, Lanzarote, Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover

I was invited as a guest of P and O cruises to Madeira and the Canary Islands.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Island hopping with P and O cruises: Gran Canaria

Papas arrugadas with mojo rojo. Gran Canaria. Pic:Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover


Gran Canaria is where I got to taste perhaps the most famous Canarian dish: papas arrugadas, or wrinkly potatoes. It's served with 'mojo', a sauce, which comes in two colours and three flavours: red, green and spicy.
The small potatoes (papas La Bonita is the preferred type) are boiled in heavily salted water: one local told me half as much salt as water!! Here is a description:
"Las Papas arrugadas (dried/wrinkled potatoes), is probably the most iconic food from this latitude. They are boiled with a little water and saturated sea salt, which, by osmosis, dries the potatoes, creates its characteristic shape, and thick flavor. Normally, spicy sauce (from endemic pepper), is used to adjust the plate, and dry salty fish, or fresh one, completes the total."
After being boiled, the papas (this term is South American Spanish rather than the 'patatas'of Castillano Spanish, hinting at the strong Latin American influence in the Canary Islands) are dry-fried in a pan which means you end up with a fluffy, salt-encrusted potato. 

The sauce is made from local red peppers from La Palma. I'm going to recreate this recipe soon and post it up here.

More or less any restaurant in Gran Canaria does this well, but I ate them at a back street place in the old town, next to the main market. 

Another local speciality in the Canaries is the Moray Eel (below looking like a leopard-skin snake) which is served deep-fried. 

I visited the markets in both the new town (nearer the dock) and the old town of Las Palmas. There is a restaurant  in the new town market where you can eat typical Spanish food such as churros con chocolate. In the old town market, the interior restaurant serves fried fish sandwiches 'pescado a la plancha'. 
central market, Gran Canaria. Pic:Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
The other place which is a must-visit in the old town,  is the house, now a museum, of Christopher Columbus, La Casa de Colon. It's a beautiful old mansion and interior courtyard with several rooms that detail his four expeditions to 'India'. The streets around the museum are picturesque. 
Old town,  Gran Canaria. Pic:Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
Old town,  Gran Canaria. Pic:Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
Old town,  Gran Canaria. Pic:Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
Just before getting back on the boat, we went to the sandy beach opposite the port. Like Rio de Janeiro, Gran Canaria has a decent beach right in the city. I had Tinto de Verano (lemonade with red wine) and padron peppers in one of the cafes that line the beach. 
tinto de verano and padron peppers.. Gran Canaria. Pic:Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover

I was invited as a guest of P and O cruises to Madeira and the Canary Islands.

street art. Christopher Columbus. Gran Canaria. Pic:Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Island hopping with P and O cruises: Tenerife


The third stop on our cruise, Tenerife, is pronounced Tenerifay. Just so's you know. (I didn't).

Before the Spanish colonised the Canary Islands, they were inhabited by a people known as Guanches, probably Berbers from North Africa. Their influence is still seen in some of the Canarian foodways, particularly the use of 'Gofio', a flour, usually corn, which is sprinkled over soup, cereal, drinks. It does sound similar in some ways to the Brazilian 'farofa' flour. A coeliac friend of mine said 'It's great for gluten-free people too'.

There is a strong influence of Latin America, which can be seen in the abundance of bananas and plantains, used in cookery. Tenerife is the largest Canary Island and was the central staging post for ships crossing to the Americas. Later on, when the new land was looking for emigrants to settle, trade deals exchanged Canarian families for goods. 

There are dozens of kinds of potato, another new world crop, some, small and knobbly, clearly original cultivars from Peru. 

gofio at Mercado Nuestra Señora de África market, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
Potato varieties at Mercado Nuestra Señora de África market, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover

Other foods to try:

Empanadas


There were queues for empanadas, meat or vegetable filled. There appears to be an unending variety of cheese filled pastries too...

Pan de queso

Tequenones

Melted cheese filled finger pastries that you dip into green salsa or red sauce. 

The fish market and restaurants


Below the main market is the fish market, which has several tapas and 'tapas' (a fusion between Spanish and Japanese tapas) bars. I ate at Bokanka, one of the most famous fish bars. It was crowded considering it was a Sunday afternoon. 

Food came on sheets of paper; staff were very friendly. I loved the fact that the chef, just before closing, came around and dolloped left overs on each diners paper mat, it felt like a home restaurant. He didn't want to waste the food, so he shared it out. 

I don't eat fish very often, on rare occasions when travelling, but the boquerones I ordered were the best I've ever tasted. They are fresh from the market and pickled in-house, with an astringent bright green olive oil poured lightly over. Sublime. 

I also met a nice couple, one of whom is a food importer, who is trying to spread the word about how fantastic Canarian food and wine products are. One pity is that we could not try Tenerife wine in the market restaurants. This is because a wine stall upstairs has a monopoly and has prevented anybody selling or serving the wine. This is a pity, surely the idea is to get the word out?
Bokanka restaurant at the fish market a tMercado Nuestra Señora de África market, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
Bokanka restaurant at the fish market a tMercado Nuestra Señora de África market, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover

On a Sunday there is a large flea market in the surroundings streets of the food market. I picked up these bread baskets for a euro each.

I enjoyed wandering around, checking out the interesting architecture of the Arts Centre, below. Tenerife is very different to its down market, touristy image. 


I noticed trees with chocolatey pods, dangling down, unpicked: I asked a couple of ladies if there were carob trees. 
Yes.
Do you eat them?
Only during the war. Only very poor, desperate people eat carob.

I was invited as a guest of P and O cruises to Madeira and the Canary Islands.

Friday, 27 April 2018

Island hopping with P and O cruises: La Palma

Britannia, P and O cruise, docking at Santa Cruz de la Palma, Canary Islands Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover

Simply put, geographically, the Canary Islands consist of volcanic bumps poking above sea level. La Palma has a geological phenomenon called 'La caldera', the cauldron: in the centre of the spearhead shaped island is the pit of the volcano. I read a whole Wikipedia article on how there is a big split in the middle of La Palma and if it cracks and drops into the sea, it will cause a massive Transatlantic tsunami that will kill everyone in the Canary Islands and probably the East coast of America too. Fun!

Today I woke up at Santa Cruz de La Palma. (I do love waking up to a different port every day.) If you think of the Canaries as a mass market cheap holiday place you are wrong about La Palma, which is chic, elegant and stylish. Dating from the 15th century, it has a colonial vibe with pastel buildings, narrow pedestrianised streets, ornate wooden balconies and fabulous shops. Straight off the boat I bought some pink ballet flats for 8 euros. Hooray. 

Cruises are like a mini-variety pack of breakfast cereal. You can try a place, just a little, without too much commitment, see if you like it, make a note to come back (or not) then move on. Cruises seem naff but actually, in principal, they can be cool. Plus places like the Canary Islands really need the business, they depend on tourism. 

Again, as I didn't have much time, I headed towards the central market, then fanned out from there.

Food and Drink

They crush sugar cane with slices of lemon to make a refreshing sweet/sour juice or a cocktail.
almond cake/cheese at the market place, Santa Cruz de la Palma, Canary Islands Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
This fluted almond cake is called an almond cheese. Almond trees are plentiful in La Palma so many desserts are almond-based. There is one known as 'bienmesabe', which translates to 'it tastes good to me'. 
award winning goats cheese,  at the market place, Santa Cruz de la Palma, Canary Islands Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
La Palma has an award winning smoked goats' cheese. It won the Great Taste Award.
Mojo sauces, Santa Cruz de la Palma, Canary Islands Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
Mojo, a red pepper sauce, comes in mild, spicy or green. Absolutely delicious. It's served with everything but especially papas arrugadas, wrinkly potatoes.


A bar next to the market

Mussels being grilled, market place bar, Santa Cruz de la Palma, Canary Islands Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
Mussels , market place bar, Santa Cruz de la Palma, Canary Islands Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
tapas,  market place bar, Santa Cruz de la Palma, Canary Islands Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover

I do not know if I can adequately express how wonderful this tapas bar was. I was ordering tortilla then I spied green-lipped mussels steaming over the coals behind the bar. My sister ordered some, their plump little orange bodies came thickly drizzled with parsley and garlic. 

The Gastronomic Society 

tapas, sociedad gastronomica, Santa Cruz de la Palma, Canary Islands Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
tapas, sociedad gastronomica, Santa Cruz de la Palma, Canary Islands Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
The sign over this small bar down a side street to the sea front, said 'Sociedad Gastronomica' but possibly the name is La Rapadura. Not sure. But we were welcomed into this cool sombre cafe, which contained a tableful of fat Canarian men who were serious about their raciones and their tapas.

We ordered some La Palma wine then were presented with a free plateful of cheese, ensalada Russia and tuna filled boiled eggs. That's how tapas used to be in Spain before they became trendy.


Views of Santa Cruz

 Santa Cruz de la Palma, Canary Islands Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
 Santa Cruz de la Palma, Canary Islands Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
 Santa Cruz de la Palma, Canary Islands Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
 Santa Cruz de la Palma, Canary Islands Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
 Santa Cruz de la Palma, Canary Islands Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
 Santa Cruz de la Palma, Canary Islands Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
 I was invited as a guest of P and O cruises to Madeira and the Canary Islands.