Food Stalls of Tenerife Jack Montgomery | Posted: 07 July 2016

Wah-cheen-chay. It's a word which dances jauntily along the tongue. Saying it makes you smile whether you want to or not.


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That's how it's pronounced. How it's spelt is quite different – GUACHINCHE. It's a uniquely Canarian word. Google translate isn't going to help anyone figure out what it means because it doesn't exist anywhere else. It's a word born in Tenerife's northern hillsides.

Although it sounds as though it could be a word the pre-conquest islanders, the Guanche, whispered to each other across flickering camp fires, it's actually a term used for what were ostensibly the first British pubs on Tenerife.

In Victorian times many British adventurers and merchants journeyed between the port of Santa Cruz and Tenerife's most sophisticated town, La Orotava. Some local farmers, spotting a business opportunity, set up roadside stalls along the route from which they sold wine from their own small vineyards to passing travellers. They also offered a limited selection of home cooked food to complement the rough and ready country vino.

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British travellers, being generally suspicious of everyone foreign, watched stallholders carefully as they measured out wine and put together baskets of food, letting them know they were being keenly observed by saying “I'm watching you”. The locals picked up on this phrase, repeating what they heard by running words together so ‘I'm watching you’  became simply ‘watchingyou’  which, over time, morphed into ‘wahcheenchay’. As many country folk were illiterate, the word which ended up being written down looked nothing like the words it originated from. This wasn't uncommon; there are quite a few Canarian words which have their roots in English words picked up from merchants over the course of a couple of centuries.

Guachinches still thrive and there are scores of them scattered throughout the hills above the north coast of Tenerife, especially in areas with a robust wine-growing tradition.

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There is something slightly illicit about guachinches. There are rules they should adhere to which include only opening for a limited time in any twelve-month period, serving their own wine, and having a menu limited to three or four home-made dishes such as carne fiesta (seasoned pork), goat, rabbit and chickpea stews. I've yet to eat in a guachinche which stuck rigidly to these rules, menus tend to offer more than the stated three to four dishes.

Our first experience of one involved following a Canarian friend through fields and along passages between houses until we reached a shed in the middle of allotments. It was packed with Canarios tucking into mountains of food on long wooden benches. A succession of small dishes were placed before us and our glasses continually replenished with wine till we could eat and drink no more. The food was delicious, the bill embarrassingly low. I couldn't find the place again if my life depended on it.

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Because of the 'guidelines' regarding opening times, there's no point in seeking out a particular guachinche. When we get the urge to eat at one we head along the road where we know we'll find the greatest concentration of them (i.e. the old road between Tacoronte and Los Realejos). Before long we'll spot a simple sign tacked to a tree or stuck to a wall. It will have one word, guachinche, an arrow and possibly the distance we have to travel to reach it along what often looks like a road to nowhere.

The guachinche could be in a house, a garden or, most commonly, what looks like a garage.

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Although the poshest guachinches don't seem that much different from the average traditional Canarian restaurant, most look like you're gatecrashing a party in someone's house. Even if a guachinche looks a little intimidating it's worth diving in; Tinerfeños are an amiable lot and we've never been made to feel anything less than welcome in one. The reward is an unforgettable and quite different authentic Tenerife dining experience.

The irony about guachinches is although they came into existence to sell food and wine to British travellers, it's a rare day now you ever meet another visitor in an authentic one.

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Timeless Tenerife

Enjoy the unique cuisine of the Canary Islands on a walking holiday that explores the island's spectacular north coast, from the rugged beauty of the Anaga Peninsula to the dramatic cliffs of the Punta de Teno,  with the chance to discover the extraordinary petrified lava formations of the Teide National Park.

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Z Lindgren
I have just booked 'Timeless Tenerife' and am very much looking forward to stumbling across a Guachinche. Jack's story made me laugh out loud!!
06/08/2016 17:53:53

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