In over ten years I have never been able to quite get over the first surreal sighting of chestnuts roasting on a brazier around the harbour in Puerto de la Cruz each November.
This year was even more marked as we’d spent the previous few weeks amidst snow frosted pines in the Black Forest and then in pea souper fog beside the Thames. To return to Tenerife and wander into Puerto de la Cruz under blue skies and in T-shirt and shorts temperatures to see men with soot-blackened faces place chestnuts on iron braziers made it even more incongruous than usual.
Roasted chestnuts and warm sunshine, it’s an odd mix. But chestnut season it is; chestnuts and new wine to be exact (red mainly – sorry to white wine lovers out there). For a location with a near perfect climate, the wine part might be what you’d expect, but chestnuts on a subtropical island? There are whole forests of them.
As well as being the month when the season’s young wines are ready for quaffing, November is also the time when the island’s chestnuts are ripe for being thrown into clay pots and slowly roasted on on the summit of conical shaped braziers.
From the first of the month, kiosks, braziers and plastic crates filled with conkers appear in towns across Tenerife. Mostly these are in the north of the island, near areas where chestnut trees have thrived for centuries. Although chestnuts are roasted in the streets all along the north coast, the best spots for finding roast chestnuts is to be found in towns which are located between the Orotava Valley and La Esperanza above La Laguna. At this time of year country roads in the highlands along this stretch of the northern face of Tenerife are littered with spiky castañas (chestnuts) carcasses. It’s another sight I find a bit bizarre, probably because I still associate chestnuts with cold and breezy, autumnal Northern European weather.
But chestnut roasting isn’t just confined to the northern side of Tenerife, there are chestnut trees around Arafo in the south east. It’s a town that isn’t exactly on the tourist trail, but for anyone in the south it’s closer than journeying all the way to the northern towns for an authentic roasted chestnut hit. Other Tenerife towns where there’s no particular tradition of chestnut roasting have gotten in on the act in recent years, so it now should be possible to find roasted chestnuts on a smaller scale closer to resort areas.
Most accessible for visitors is Puerto de la Cruz, where locals and visitors vie for tables around the harbour. It’s a lovely spot to enjoy a plastic cup of rough ‘n’ ready country wine with a poke of potentially finger-burning, sweet and delicious chestnuts. Grabbing a table is almost impossible early evening, but the harbour wall serves as decent alternative seating. For a few Euros you get to enjoy some truly authentic seasonal local food and be a part of one of Tenerife’s gastronomic traditions into the bargain.
The chestnut chomping season ends with the San Andrés celebrations at the end of the month (29th and 30th).
Category : festivals & carnivals
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