Cheap as Chop & Chips

Every so often in life you have a road to Damascus experience. Last Thursday evening as I stared at a friend’s plate of food in a restaurant underneath the shopping centre in La Laguna, trying to unravel the mysteries of what it actually was, I had a major one.

It’s common for travel writers in guidebooks and magazine and newspaper articles to establish the credibility of a restaurant, and themselves, by proclaiming a place as ‘where the locals choose to eat’. I’ve done it myself.

Stop and think about this for a moment. What does this ‘recommendation’ actually mean?

Bear with me as I meander through time on my way to the conclusion I reached.

I grew up on the beautiful Island of Bute – where you couldn’t step outside your front door without being dazzled by purple, heather-clad hills, castles and dreamy lochs. The seas around the island were so bountiful that if you jumped fully clothed into the water and immediately climbed out again, you’d find that you’d have plump juicy mackerel sticking out of every pocket.

It was a place where visitors should be falling over fish restaurants…and they were, but only in the form of fish & chip shops. Every night of the week there would be queues outside Zavaroni’s, Ninian’s et al; the locals salivating at the anticipation of deep-fried steak pies, pizzas and even haggis. If you wanted to eat where the locals ate, those were the places to go.

Jump forward a few years to when I was living in Levenshulme; a rundown part of inner city Manchester. On one occassion I counted how many fast food establishments there were in a half mile stretch. I got bored by the time I reached 17. You could choose from Indian, Chinese, fish & chips, pizza, kebabs, Canadian grill and good old British pies – in fact you could eat your way around the world at any number of junk food joints. This was where a good percentage of the local population ate. The food was cheap and tasty in its own way, but you wouldn’t say that it was good quality.

And that was the road to Damascus revelation. Everywhere is exactly the same. The bulk of the local people all over the world eat where the food is usually basic, cheap and portions are big. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t enjoyable or fresh produce isn’t used (well maybe not in Levenshulme), but neither does it mean that the places where the locals eat serve the best food.

 

Simply Prepared Parrot Fish - Okay, it's a fish with a beak, but it does taste sublime

The restaurant we ate at last Thursday was a popular local joint; you’d be hard pressed to find any non-Canarios most of the time. Andy had calamari (adequately cooked, but bland) Phil and I opted for three different types of sausages (absolutely hunky dory, but basic) and Mike chose the mysterious papas reina (a Teide sized pile of chips covered in shredded beef, shredded chicken, sliced frankfurters, mayonnaise, mustard and ketchup).

It was typical of many Canario café/restaurants. Cheap, big portions but completely unsophisticated and unimaginative (actually the papas reina could have been a work of abstract art).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dissing these ‘local’ restaurants. I enjoyed my sausages and I love the bizarreness of those establishments which offer ‘combinado’ dishes. The oddest I’ve eaten in was in Santa Cruz de la Palma where I had a plate with a fillet of fish on one side and a huge pork chop on the other separated by chips, a fried egg, tomato and the obligatory coleslaw…all for €5.50. Most of the time they dish up decent, wholesome fare.

But the bottom line is this; if all any traveller wants is some basic grub and an authentic Tenerife dining experience you can’t beat eating where the locals eat. If however, they have sophisticated palates and are seeking out the ‘best’ restaurants on the island, then generally speaking, it’s unlikely they’ll find them amongst those ‘where the locals eat’ recommendations.

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Comments
  1. Tom says:

    the only place i have ever really used the ‘eat where the locals do saying’ is in the far east. I think the saying probably originated in countries where it was difficult to know what a restaurant was serving or what food they even offered.

    Another point is that in places like Hong Kong 90% of people don’t really have a kitchen in their apartments so they generally always eat out, so you could get goodish food without worrying if you followed the locals. You would also get local food to the region rather than having to rely on Mcdonalds etc

    I agree though nowadays with fast food joints and the huge variety of different foods from all over the globe following the locals is not always the best advise as you wont get local produce probably just a BigMac!!

    • dragojac says:

      I´d go along with that about the Far East. For me it also depends on the cuisine and availability of food products to the general local population in any particular country. In Thailand it’s usually pretty good and …in Kenya limited…in Tenerife where the cuisine is generally basic but fresh – unadventurous.

      So I suppose it’s horses for (main) courses.

  2. islandmomma Life on a Small Island and Beyond says:

    Ah……… but you talking about the locals who sweep the streets and serve you in shops and restaurants, or are you talking about locals like politicans and developers?

    • dragojac says:

      Aha…that’s another reason why using ‘where locals eat’ is a massive generalisation and that’s partly the point. What do people mean when they use the term ‘locals’? It’s too broad. I once accidentally stumbled into a welfare kitchen in Sri Lanka…it was full of locals but I sure as hell wouldn’t have recommended it to anyone else. So maybe if anyone is going to use it, the term should be ‘where locals with a discerning palate eat’.
      Another issue is who exactly do people mean when they use ‘locals’. When I use it I mean indigenous residents, but I see references to ‘locals’ on travel forums all the time that clearly mean British ex-pats. a friend on La Gomera means Germans when using it about Valle Gran Rey…brings a whole new slant to the term in destinations that have a large ex-pat population.

      Now it’s getting really confusing 🙂

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