August 2, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Food and wine, Spain, Travel, Travels in Spain

The Island of Tenerife is covered in bananas – plátanos, to be exact. They’re everywhere you look.

Now I’m not bananas for bananas, but I make a mean banana bread, so when visiting Tenerife recently I was kind of thrilled at the prospect of trying all sorts of fruit-based desserts (and non-fruit-based desserts – all desserts really).

Tene-huh? Located off the western coast of Africa (but technically Spain), Tenerife is an island of contrasts – from the El Teide volcano (Spain’s highest point) to the dry, cactus-covered shorelines. It’s Spain meets Hawaii meets Arizona.

The Canary Islands archipelago also happens to be an old stopping point for ships making journeys to the Americas. I suppose it’s no wonder, then, that language accents and cuisine got all garbled up in the process. Listening to a Canarian speak might sound more like someone from Puerto Rico than Spain (not surprising considering the thousands of Canarians who’ve emigrated Latin America). And some of the cuisine may not remind you of the typical Spanish fare that I never seem to stop babbling about.

With that in mind, I came prepared to do my usual food research (step one: eat, step two: eat, step three: repeat). Scouring the menus, however, I was lost and confused by the lack of banana-related dishes – and by lack, I mean none. This place is the banana capital of the world (according to me) – how can they not have banana everything?

But somewhere between scuba diving with turtles (monumental day for me) and feeding a donkey, I discovered that other amazing non-banana dishes do exist in Las Canarias – specifically, mojo. Not pronounced mo-jo à la Austin Powers, but rather mo-ho. Initial thoughts upon trying this Canarian specialty: what bananas?!?

Typically served as two different sauces (although more than two exist), the zesty red and green mojos transported me to another place. Between the familiar flavor of cilantro in the green, and the spicy kick of the red, the tastes were more reminiscent of the Mexican food I’m used to than that of traditional Spanish cuisine. While the sauces are often eaten with anything, from fish, to chicken, they are most famously served with the Islands’ small potatoes.

They aren’t just your regular tortilla potatoes, though. They’re papas arrugadas, or wrinkly potatoes. The smooth-as-butter textured taters typically soak in salt water before being set out to dry. The resulting “wrinkly” potato has a melt-in-your-mouth consistency and a salty skin that makes it taste like it came straight from the sea. Dipped in some of that mojo and you’ve got yourself an irresistible combination. I’m not going to lie – I’d drink the sauces if no one was looking. Maybe lick the bowl too.

Meanwhile, aboard our whale-watching boat, we were finally served the seemingly unpopular plátanos. No sugar added, no fancy sauce, nothing fried or doused in whip cream, just your basic banana – peel and all. And I couldn’t have been happier. I cradled the forgotten fruit in my hands, took a picture with it, and threw it in my bag, committed to eating it and giving it its much deserved attention later.

The next day, while traversing the Island, we came upon – surprise – more banana plantations, at which point I demanded we stop. With newfound affection, I snuck up to the roped-off plants. Banana in hand, I peeled it open and savored every last bite, contemplating how it might taste with some mojo.

11 Responses to “Going bananas for mojo”

  1. Erik R. Says:

    Those potatoes are so wrinkled, they should be cooked a la plancha! Badum-TSS!

    Now I want some mojo. I can see why Austin Powers was so concerned about losing his.

  2. Erin Says:

    Hahahahahahaha. Too bad it took me like ten years to get your joke (for any of my non-Spanish-speaking readers, “planchar” means to iron. Get it? Wrinkles? Iron? hahahhaah).

    And yes, badum-tss!

  3. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures Says:

    Oh yum now I’m so hungry for Spanish food!!! Love your dress and I have the same pair of shoes!

  4. Erin Says:

    Well of course we’ve got the same shoes! Not surprised one bit. Let’s wear the same shoes and eat lots of Spanish food whenever you and Lucas make it to Spain!

  5. Linda Says:

    It’s nice to read something which has been researched about Tenerife, instead of the usual aimed-at-tourist cr*p :=) I talked over the lack of banana recipes with Canarian friends, and we think it’s because the banana, although established here for a long time now, is really fairly recent. Sugar cane was the main crop way back. These bananas, btw, are the dwarf variety. They have more taste than the huge ones, don’t they? Although there is a dispute ongoing as to whether they really are “bananas” because they don’t measure up (literally) to the demands of the major retailers!! Can you believe it!! If you need a mojo fix let me know and I’ll send a care package!

  6. Laura Says:

    I need to get me some mojo. It sounds like it was made for my taste buds!! Mmm…bananas and mojo sound delicious!

  7. Erin Says:

    @Linda – I’m not surprised that most stuff is aimed at tourists – Tenerife swarmed with extranjeros. I wish I’d gotten in touch with you beforehand as I was honestly a bit overwhelmed (even disappointed) by our inability to escape the foreigners (oftentimes we found ourselves communicating in English because people simply didn’t even speak Spanish). Upon my insistence, we stopped in pueblos like Santiago del Teide and Garachico, but I wish we could have seen and experienced more! And about the platanos – I agree, they are WAY more flavorful. In fact, when making banana bread here, I always skip the “bananas” and buy the platanos from the Canary Islands – the result is always more riquisimo! As for the mojo – let’s see if I can find a fix here in Madrid. I hear there are some places that serve it! Thanks!

    @Laura – you would have LOVED the food. It was basically your typical yummy Spanish cuisine (i.e. quality products), but with added flavor. So good!

  8. Ashlee D. @ Polyglottony Says:

    I went to Tenerife a few months ago and I was crazy for the mojo as well when I was there! I thought Tenerife was stunning, and was shocked how little I felt like I was in Spain.

    I’m living in Puerto Rico now and luckily the Canarios brought it here. A typical dish here, mofongo, which is made out of plantains, either is topped with salsa criolla (a tomato-base sauce), or a type of mojo verde. Yum, yum yum! Great post!

  9. Erin Says:

    It’s true – Tenerife really doesn’t seem much like Spain! Particularly the mojo!

    Your plantains in Puerto Rico sound amazing! And love your SF picture – a girl after my own heart :).

  10. colleen keyes Says:

    Just discovered your blog through islandmommas, and being a mojo lover myself, I reckon I´d do my good deed for the day and send you the BEST recipe for red mojo – if you get it right, I swear you will taste no better!

    5-7 cloves of garlic
    salt to taste
    2 dried mini cayenne peppers
    1 generous tsp cumin seeds
    1 generous tsp smokey paprika
    breadcrumbs to taste (it thickens it, but are optional)
    1/4 – 1/2 cup olive oil
    2-3 tbs red wine vinegar
    water to thin (optional)

    Using a pestle and mortar, mash garlic, salt, cumin and cayennes to a paste.
    Add paprika and mash to combine.
    Add breadcrumbs if using and mash.
    Add olive oil and continue to mash.
    Add vinegar little by little (to avoid separation), and there you have it. Hecho!

    And it freezes well! What more could you want?

    As you already know, goes well with papas arrugadas, but is extremely versatile.

  11. Erin Says:

    So Colleen – you’re kind of my favorite person right now. If our refrigerator wasn’t broken, I’d be in the kitchen making this before I even had time to reply. You can bet I’ll be whipping up a batch realllyyyy soon though. Thank you SOOOO much for sharing!

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