Vegan in Gran Canaria – Part 1

Apologies for the silence – I have been thinking of this blog and my readers, but I am on holiday in Gran Canaria and besides the fact that I do just want to get away from the computer most of the time, we actually don’t have internet access in our accommodation and it’s only now, on our second full day, that we have tracked down a bar with WiFi.

Having been to Tenerife last year, before I had started this blog, I knew the Canary Islands not to be overly vegan-friendly. It’s funny because even the smaller supermarkets will offer a variety of soy milks, even rice and almond milks in some, and occasionally soy yoghurts – but restaurants barely even offer vegetarian options. When you do, it’s usually a salad or some combination of rice/pasta/potatoes and vegetables – all very tasty, but perhaps not ideal after a day of lazing around. However, I am temporarily putting aside the “fitness” aspect of this blog and ignoring the fact that a huge pile of carbs is probably not what anyone is after, and I have resolved to just enjoy the food that is available, if nothing else so I can report back!

If any of you have ever travelled to the Canary Islands and have searched for vegan restaurant options, you may have found a frustrating lack of information online – even the Vegan Forum has a fairly inconclusive thread in which you’re basically encouraged to make all your own food or to settle for salad and chips.

Let me tell you straight away – dining out on a vegan diet here is very much a no-frills experience. If you are particularly picky, don’t even bother with restaurants and just cook for yourself. But if, like us, you enjoy the experience of eating out in spite of the food, the least you can demand is fresh ingredients, good taste, and value for money, and I think Ben and I are getting increasingly good at sniffing this out. Here are our experiences so far:

We arrived on Monday evening, and after ditching our stuff and getting changed, followed Ben’s mum and her partner to one of their regular haunts, Munich II. The Playa Del Ingles stretch is full of undefined “grill” restaurants serving lots of meat, pasta, pizzas, paellas, and very occasionally salad – none appeal to vegans but most will be able to throw something together. Wendy had asked earlier in the day what they could do for vegans, and they were unbelievable helpful and enthusiastic in promising to cook whatever I wanted and to make sure I got what I needed. In the end I went with their suggestion of a vegetable paella, which was richly garnished with vegetables (carrots, peas, mushrooms, zucchini) rather than the measly scattering I was expecting, moist and salty and vast – I got through about four-fifths of it and that was more than I should have as I was full about halfway through! Ben ordered a side of Canarian potatoes – little potatoes boiled in salted water in their skins, dowsed in a tangy and slightly spicy “mojo” sauce which I was assured was vegan (oil, red pepper, garlic… the waiter couldn’t remember much else, but he promised me there were no eggs nor dairy), and they were so delicious! I would happily eat those and a big salad if push came to shove.

On Tuesday morning Ben and I took a walk straight out to do some shopping. We came bringing a block of smoked tofu, a packet of tempeh, a packet of veggie-tofu balls, a couple of Wheaty Spacebars, a couple of sachets of Linwood milled seed mixes, a container of chia seeds, a few containers of herbal and green teas, and a tub of vanilla Vital Protein, so we were set for vegan-friendly protein sources. I did, however, buy a couple of packets of soy yoghurt, a carton of Spar own-brand soy milk, heaps of fresh fruit and salad veg (bananas, kiwis, nectarines, a mango, lettuce, tomatoes, a huge red pepper, a cucumber, an avocado, and a packet of artichoke hearts which actually turned out to be revoltingly bland), some bread, some vegan corn-oil spread, a packet of muesli, and a 150g bar of 70% dark chocolate. Along with Ben’s bread, marmalade, corn chips, salsa, white chocolate, and biscuits (which are actually vegan), our big bag of shopping came to only just over €30. Compared to what we are used to, we got a ridiculous amount of shopping for not very much money!

Canarian soy yoghurtAt the risk of sounding overenthusiastic, this is probably my favourite soy yoghurt ever. Aside from the tangy and juicy papaya-orange flavour, it is smooth and creamy and available in any decent-sized supermarket over here. I am eating two a day and that is what I can manage with some self-restraint.

Tuesday evening we ventured to the slightly more upmarket Maspalomas, and chose a Chinese restaurant to dine in, Chino Canton. They only have a small handful of vegetarian options, and only one of them includes tofu, but I would happily order it again. I had a dish of tofu with mixed vegetables, and a dish of Chinese mushrooms and bamboo in a black bean-style sauce. Both were very tasty – the tofu was generously served, all the vegetables fresh and only lightly cooked, the sauces flavoursome and not overly salty. The portions were large, too. I didn’t have any rice, but between the four of us we had one starter, five mains, two portions of egg-fried rice, a plate of chips, a bottle of water, three small soft drinks and two large soft drinks, for €75 – and we were all stuffed. I would go back here, though I shall avoid doing so as I ate too much and woke up the next morning with a slightly sore stomach!

On Wednesday morning I started the day with a perfect breakfast of chia seed, nectarine, and nut-and-seed meal (flax, brazils, walnuts, and I forget what else) parfait, followed by a yoghurt and a cup of maté-and-green-tea blend. Unfortunately I am finding that the tap water here doesn’t blend well with any of my teas, and makes them taste very bitter – I am now having to boil bottled water for a good cup of tea!

Chia seed breakfastAfter a paddle around the pool, and some sunbathing whilst reading, I had a snack of muesli (I only seem to be able to find German brands of muesli over here, guess the Canarians and English tourists don’t eat much muesli) and half a banana. A little later, I had a simple lunch of salad and smoked tofu, followed by a yoghurt and some fruit. We went for a walk which took us to a bar/pub/grill (another one of “those”…), Guarapo II, in which I rapidly drank about half a litre of freshly squeezed orange juice which was better than I was expected. I do enjoy going back to simple foods, just nibbling on bits and pieces as the day goes along.

On Wednesday evening we went to watch one of the many football matches on TV at Ben’s request. Following that we set out in search of a late dinner, free to go wherever we wanted as we were on our own. We ended up at El Rancho just by the Kasbah shopping centre. Not expecting much, I ordered the vegetable fajitas and a side salad. Or what I expected would be a side salad, for €3. I got a huge plate of fresh, crisp, mixed salad, and they brought me olive oil and red wine vinegar on the side. It was beautiful (though it was served with a couple of hard-boiled eggs on the side – easy to remove but do specify “no eggs” if you get a mixed salad on these islands), but unfortunately it lost the limelight to my sizzling fajitas:

El Rancho fajitasServed with 5 soft tortillas, I got a huge plate of fresh and juicy and perfectly seasoned red and green pepper, onion, celery, aubergine, and carrot, along with a small mound of rice topped in rich tomato sauce, served with tangy salsa and creamy yet just-the-right-amount-of-chunky guacamole (and sour cream, which I now realise I should have turned away from the shot and the glare of the flash). All for €13 – I have paid more for worse food! I was taken aback at how tasty and flavourful it all was, and enjoyed every mouthful.

Ben, slightly to my dismay though I promise not to judge while he is on holiday, gave in to the lure of the ribs. Amusingly, he got rather annoyed with himself when he saw how good my food was. This is his “annoyed the vegan got better food again” face (reprinted without permission):

Ben disgruntledToday’s food so far has been much the same, but for one discovery which I think will change the next few days of my trip – a coffee shop with soy milk and animal-free handsoap in the toilets, Café Rokoko!

On that note, I shall leave you for a day or two or three, and continue my vegan explorations of the biggest of the Canary Islands. Thank you for bearing with me and don’t worry, I will provide some sort of summary of the best and worst vegan options when I get back if the “diary” format is too hard to sift through. In the meantime, if anyone has any experience or advice, please let me know!

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