Monday, 09 June 2014 01:00

"Horrible" Gofio: The Canary Island Soul Food

Gofio is soul food in the Canary Islands. Most Canarians were weaned on bananas mashed up with gofio and many still eat it every day. It is so tightly entwined with local identity that it is best not not to tell anyone on the islands if you don't like it. At the same time Canarians aren't stupid. They enjoy cake and chocolate and ice cream just like everyone else. They wouldn't eat gofio if it was horrible. Wwould they?



There are plenty of Canarians who can't stand it. Recently a local taxi driver told me that during his childhood in the lean days after the Civil War gofio was all there was. He said the taste reminded him of being hungry and miserable and that he would never eat it again.

Perhaps gofio's image problem is because most visitors to the Canary Islands try it in resort restaurants or those barns in the hills that caters to bus loads of tourists at a time. Somehow gofio doesn't take well to industrial-scale preparation or disinterested cooks.

Visit a local market where they are milling fresh gofio from still-hot roasted kernels and you start to understand its allure. The rich, malty smell (a mixture of popcorn and brewing beer) hits that spot in the brain that makes you go mmmmm. Freshly milled gofio is a whole different animal to shop-bought stuff. It's much richer and the aroma spreads through the kitchen cupboards.

Gofio Dishes

Gofio escaldado is a thick porridge made from gofio mixed with fish soup and mint leaves and served with pieces of sweet red onion. You scoop it up with the onion and eat the lot. Mint and onion is a classic combination of flavours that goes well with the warm nuttiness of gofio. Gofio escaldado goes with deep fried fish in a shabby restaurant right by the sea. Inexplicably, you always have to ask for extra onion pieces.

Pello de gofio is as close to the original Guanche way of eating it as we get today. It is gofio mixed with water and a little oil. Nowadays it comes almost exclusively with sancocho fish stew; cooked up in huge quantities during local romerias (fiestas). Sweetened with honey or ripe bananas and with a handful of almonds and raisins thrown in, sweet pella is a common romeria dessert.

Gofio dissolved in a big cafe con leche is the traditional breakfast of the Cumbres. The trick is keep stirring as you drink it to stop the gofio from settling. On a cold day in the mountains nothing fills your stomach like cafe con gofio.

Desserts are the best way to approach gofio if you are wary of the texture. Many bars and restaurants serve home-made gofio mousse and gofio ice cream. Both are excellent and have no cloying mouthfeel at all. The ice cream, swerved with a dollop of bienmesabe almond paste, or a drizzle of guarapo palm syrup, is excellent.

Gofio doen't deserve its reputation as an icky foodstuff. Its rich flavour and importance in Canarian history and culture mean that you really should try it if you come to the Canary Islands.

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