Sitting in the El Marquís de la Noria restaurant in Santa Cruz I didn’t know whether to eat the object of beauty on the plate in front of me, or to put it up for auction at Sotheby’s where I had no doubt it would earn a pretty penny. The finely balanced sculpture of breaded prawn, bacon and caviar on sweet potato resting on an abstract pattern of sauces that Picasso would have been proud of was one of the offerings on the Ruta del Chicharro, and typified why tapas routes are such good fun.

Tapas on Tenerife
Tenerife cuisine doesn’t really boast a history of tapas, but they have become part of the culinary culture over the years. Traditional bars tend to offer four or five different tapas; usually including boquerones (marinated anchovies), tortilla (Spanish omelette), croquetas (fish and potato croquettes), carne y papas (spiced beef with boiled potatoes) and ensaladilla rusa (Russian salad with tuna, potato, boiled egg and vegetables). In restaurants the choice of tapas is greater, but generally they have lacked the imagination of those found in the atmospheric bars of classic tapas cities such as Barcelona and Madrid…until now.

In recent years more contemporary tapas bars have arrived on Tenerife’s restaurant scene. Santa Cruz, the Ranilla district in Puerto de la Cruz and San Telmo in Los Cristianos have all seen the opening of stylish tapas bars that wouldn’t look out of place in Barcelona’s Barrio Gótico.
Whether it’s coincidental or not, during the same period, ruta de tapas (tapas routes) have become more and more popular on the island with many of Tenerife’s municipalities organising them at least once a year.

Tapas Routes on Tenerife
These tapas competitions always follow a similar format and involve participating restaurants (normally 20-30 establishments) creating a signature tapas (sometimes two) and serving it with a glass of beer, wine or water for a nominal amount (around €2.50) during a set period that lasts from a couple of weeks to a month.
The idea is to follow these tapas routes eating, drinking, generally getting merry (one tapas to one beer and the alcohol soon starts mounting up) and having a tapas “passport” stamped. At the end of the the ruta de tapas period, you vote for your favourite tapas and your passport is put into a prize draw ““ usually a meal at one of the participating restaurants.

For food lovers these tapas routes are wonderful fun. Chefs pull out all the stops to create tapas dishes that are original, look incredible and taste sublime. They don’t always succeed and favourites might not necessarily be the tastiest, but that’s part of the enjoyment. ““ I once had ravioli sorpresa which consisted of home made ravioli filled with space dust. It was quite bizarre, but completely unforgettable.
As well as outrageous ingredients, the themes for tapas routes are becoming more and more adventurous. This year has seen a couple of aphrodisiac ruta de tapas, whilst overlapping with the Ruta del Chicharro in Santa Cruz this month was an erotic tapas route featuring risqué dishes with names including sex machine and Caribbean orgasm. There are some easy Graham Norton type double entendres to be had here, but in the interests of decency I’ll resist.

Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, I didn’t have the details for the erotic tapas route, so never discovered what a sex machine tapas consisted of. Part of the attraction of the routes is in exploring diverse places to eat. On the Dorada beer sponsored Ruta del Chicharro that I was following I went from the ultra chic Musuem bar with its retro rattan seating to the traditional La Hierbita with so many nooks and crannies that I swear I got lost twice. With tapas dishes on offer sporting names which don’t give much away – como la hacia mi abuela (just like grandma made it), or el sabor de mi tierra (flavour of my land) ““ it’s not always clear what’s going to be dished up, but that element of surprise also adds a little spice to tapas routes and I’ve never been disappointed with what’s appeared in front of me.

In the end I only managed three restaurants, lingering too long in the warm and welcoming grasp of each, and ten stamps are required to enter the prize draw. No worries, the Ruta del Chicharro lasts until 30th October, so I’ve plenty of time to notch up another seven. All I have to do is decide what to try next – pularda esxisada at Mojos Y Mojitos maybe, or possibly delicia de plátano con bacon at Bodeguita Canario, or even tempura de chicharro con parchita chutney at the Príncipe Kiosko…decisions, decisions, decisions.

Tapas routes are held throughout the year on Tenerife and another with a theme based on Canarian cheeses starts this Friday in La Laguna. Keep an eye on Tenerife Magazine’s ‘Happenings” page for details of future ones.