Black Bean Sauce and Gran Canaria Island weird times.

If you weren’t afraid of clowns before you get there you will be.
-Playa de Inglés and the dunes of Masapalomas.

You know how everyone says the Statue of Liberty is so much smaller than I expected. Well, on my first visit to New York,  I shrank madame like a wool sweater in a regular wash cycle. Didn’t help she was still smaller than I too expected. The same applied to Gran Canaria Island. Only instead of smaller it was weirder, charter nightmare weirder.

Unless  a cruise to Mexico counts, this was my first charter. I had heard all about them though, hotels crawling along foreign shores, each catering to a particular nationality to the point of absurdum.  A place filled with people with one common goal; sun in a foreign country – where you want nothing to do with the indigenous peoples or any other foreigners for that matter. In our case, our kind were of the Swedish variety, Swedish import personnel, Swedish import meatballs, and Swedish import beer. Basically Sweden in Spain.

I had mentally prepared myself for this. Heck, I have traveled Europe – twice, alone (long before mobile phones), and made it out with loving memories, what could Gran Canaria possibly do to me?  It took about 5 minutes to realize I didn’t use the right wash cycle here either.  It was exactly as described only more horrifying. A pile of  little foreign enclaves in Swedish, Dutch, German, Irish, British, and Norwegian too.

Heading for the interior.

Everyone here laughs at the Americans’ tendency not to venture past their own boarders, rather bringing Paris to them in the form of the Eiffel Tower in Vegas. I will be the first to say, you do have a point. So how was it that I was standing in the  bustling town of Playa de Ingles on Christmas Eve staring at row upon row of make-shift shacks each sporting their own brand of cartoon nationalism. It reminded me of the mini golf  courses of my childhood, where we would maneuver our golf balls through a series of three dimensional replicas inspired by the illustrations from Old Mother Goose,  Humpty Dumpty, Hickory Dickory Dock and Hot Cross Buns. I just couldn’t believe my eyes.

I was instantly on a mission, with The Man in tow, yelling at me from behind, what ever you think you are going to find isn’t here. Just accept it. But, it has to be I screamed inside my head, somewhere the nightmare will end.  On I pushed hoping to escape the kitch that is too awful to be kitch, to where the real people live. He was right, it was hopeless. Back we went to the land of make believe. The theme was not Old Mother Goose, rather, if you’re American this is what you think Europe looks like. Paper mache windmills here, Leprechauns there, and the leaning Tower of  Pisa falling off the facade of the most depressing shopping mall I have had the honor of setting foot in. Instead of getting a putter and golf ball you were handed a plastic mug of beer and a Connect Four checker board, I kid you not a Connect Four. Surreal doesn’t even begin to explain it. Merry Christmas! Now pass me the beer nuts.

Not being too impressed with Playa de Ingles, okay I was having serious issues with it and was fearing permanent mental damage, I demanded we venture further afield and thank &%”/&%# we did. The mountains provided some of the prettiest scenery I have scene. Long and winding roads leading you from one ecosystem to the other in a matter of minutes, including the most mystical forest shrouded in low lying fog and moss covered trees, and people living in caves. Nice caves, not grunt and leave your spear at the door caves.

The Man hung on for dear life as I sped up, down and up again along the curviest roads I have ever driven, ooohing and awwwing. It was lovely, beautiful and exciting. This is where the real Gran Canaria exists. I knew it had to be there and I am glad I found it. Here is all this amazing natural beauty and its lovely people, and what the tourists come here for is Candy Land gone wrong. I must admit, I seem to be alone in this view because when I talk about this with people who have been to Playa de Inglés they all look at me like they don’t for the life of them know what I am talking about. This only leaves  me more perplexed, so I have stopped talking about it.  Maybe I am just a sensitive little thing, out of my mind with delusion, blessed with vision, or just an old dog that can’t learn the new trick of all inclusive.

Then came Anfi, a time share complex that has a pretty nice set up to be honest if you can look past the Flintstone inspired architecture. As we were wandering the outdoor mall near our hotel, an agent snagged us with friendly banter and enticed us to go and see Anfi by offering us a free taxi ride there and back, a water taxi to Mogan and free beach chairs for the day. All we had to do was show up at 9am and take the two hour tour. I knew there wasn’t a chance in hell we were going to sign up for anything permanent on this island, but a free taxi, deck chair and trip to Mogan for two hours of my time. Why not?  So, 9am we were there shiny faced and ready to looky-lou.

Looking sleek on the luxury sunbed. Oh yeah!

One of the things I really admire about The Man is his apparent inability to be embarrassed.  They have a very stringent policy that you have to be shown the  grounds by someone who speaks your mother tongue. You should have seen the face of the introduction rep when she realized I was American and Mattias was Swedish. I assured her I speak Swedish fluently and it would be no problem.  She was not convinced. Are you sure you speak Swedish? Yes, it’s not a problem.  The Look of Disbelief – are you really sure? For a minute I thought she was going to pinch me really hard to see what language I would squeal in. She went away to find us a Swedish tour guide, but there was none to be found. Since we HAD to do the tour in Swedish and no other language we were off the hook.

I was honestly disappointed. I wanted to see how Wilma and Fred live it up in Gran Canaria. Mattias who couldn’t care less, had his eye on the prize when they tried to snatch it from us with, thanks anyway you have had your free soda now go.  He buried his heels in the sand, where I would have just shrivelled up and left with a whisper of sorry, pardon, sorry, yes yes off the property.  The Man firmly said, No! You promised me this and I don’t care if all the Swedish reps are busy.

Needless to say, we spent the day on the beach eating salty potatoes on our free and cushy beach chairs, then took the last boat to Mogan where we ate a juicy steak before missing our taxi back and returning on the scariest bus ride EVER! EVER! I was white knuckled as we sped around the cliff face in the dark. As the very short guardrail moved away giving us some breathing room it would come swiftly back leaving us with mere cm between the wheel and the precipe. I knew that if we didn’t all agree to stand on the left side of the bus we were going to tip over the cliff to a fiery death.  All in all an adventurous day on the island.
Something we discovered while not touring Anfi and why I am really mentioning this is, they will try and tell you it is a private beach in the hopes you will turn tail and leave it to the time sharers. There are no private beaches in Spain so just ignore them and keep on walking. Walk all the way out to the heart shaped island, commisioned to be built by a rich man as a present to his fiance or wife. Cross the bridge, walk around the path until you come upon the restaurant and bar. There you will find beach beds that cost a mere 200 sek (25 bucks) for the whole day, then order yourself a nice bottle of white from the watiress that passes by on a regular basis, take a nap, read a book, take a dip in the azur blue sea, munch on some nachos and just enjoy the palm trees swaying over head. When you are done with that grab the water taxi and head to Mogan for dinner. If you can do at least some of it on Anfi’s tab, all the better. Anfi-del Mar is one of the better beaches and protected from the heavy winds you’ll find at my nemesis, Playa de Ingles, and is well worth the trip there.

The water taxi took us along the coast stopping along the way at a few of the other bays encrusted with white hotels dating back to the 60′s, not much character to be found really.  Mogan however provided a welcome  contrast with a quaint,cosy feel with colorful, low lying buildings, and a small village. The eating here was also better, we had a couple of very large, well cooked steaks at a villa up the main road along the right side of the canal. When you get to a square two story building with an outdoor grill area, your at the right place.  If I were to return to Gran Canaria, this is the spot I would chose. This is the kind of charter I had in mind, still not authentic, but appealing to look at.

Interesting, truly native food was hard to find, so if you are coming here for great tapas and Spanish cuisine this will not be the island you are looking for. Gran Canaria is really geared for the tastes of the tourists and their need for what they already know: fish and chips, schnitzel, English fry-ups, and the like. We looked and looked, but I would say we failed. We ate the obligatory Pappas Arrugadas Mojo, salt kissed potatoes with hot sauce, and really enjoyed them.  But, one can’t live on potatoes alone or can they. We took a trip into Las Palmas hoping for better success. What we learned too late, is that you should really go to the places that look dodgy, and if there is a circle of middle aged men singing to the strums of their Spanish guitars, you’re at the right place. You are going to get the same food, probably better, and at the right price. Plus you are going to get a glimpse into the native culture. But, unfortunately it can’t be really compared to whats on offer on the mainland.

To be honest my favortie meal was at one of the Chinese restaurants found in the outdoor mall outside the Blue Village resort. I know, really! Restaurant chino YASO. They were genuinely friendly and the food was better than I had expected. Okay European Chinese, but good enough all things considered. I particularly liked the chicken with black bean sauce which had a nice rich flavor and just the right amount of spice. The shrimp toast was also a classic. If you find yourself at the windiest point on the island and are a little tired of the Swedish meatballs, give this spot a try. Let’s put it this way, I was intrigued enough to teach myself how to make black bean sauce when I got home and am very glad I did.  I am pouring this stinky stuff on everything.
I did find myself back in Play de Ingles to see the sand dunes.  The oddness did not impress me anymore than it did on the first day. In daylight hours it reminded me of a carnival the world forgot. But by all means go to the Dunes, just keep your eyes shut until you get there. All in all, Gran Canaria was an interesting experience inspite of my intitial shock. There is fun to be had and beach chairs to be laid on, but do yourself a favor and get out of the all inclusive and see what else the island has to offer. And when your not in Playa de Inglés keep your eyes peeled for those bright green parrots stealing dates from the palm trees. You don’t get those in our neck of the woods.

Other things to see and do

Scuba dive in the underwater national park, but beware if you don’t dive every week the young buck there might make fun of you and comment on your inability to pick up the tanks without a struggle. Like to see him hack through the ice for a dive, the way we do it. Bet he can’t.

Or insist on taking the slow bus from Playa de Aguilla to Las Palmas. After  about an hour peer over the back of your seat with crazy eyes and whisper to the girl behind you, are we there yet? how much further? Then watch her change seats.






Black Bean Sauce, makes anough for about two differnet meals. 

4 TBS Fermented Black Beans 

2 TBS Soya Sauce, not mushroom.

2 TBS Sesame Oil, or peanut oil

1 TBS Rice Vinegar

6 splashes oyster sauce, or fish sauce

2 lrg Garlic Cloves, chopped

2.5/1 inch Fresh Ginger, peeled and grated

2 tsp Brown Sugar

2/3 cups Chicken Broth

Lemon Grass (optional)

Fresh Chili, chopped


Cut the end of the lemon grass long ways and then crush to open it up. In a sauce pan add heat the sesame oil and then add the soy and oyster sauce let simmer for a minute or so with the lemon grass. Add the ginger, garlic chili and sugar and let simmer another 2-3 mintues. Then add the chicken broth and let simmer until reduced by half. In the mean time, soak the femented black beans for a about 5 minutes, drain then lightly crush then add to the simmering liquid.

NOTE: I haven’t given a specific amount for the chili as it’s up to you how spicy you want it. I sued a vey small amount of habanero and it gave a good kick. Most of the recipes say add corn starch. I don’t like the texture so I skipped that part. But, if you do want it thickened add a tsp that you first mix with water so it won’t clump in the sauce.

How to use

Shrimp are my favorite. I marinated the peeled jumbo shrimp for about 3o minutes in some of the black bean sauce before I drained them saving the marinade. Then I wok them on med/high heat. Add quartered spring onions, lightly steamed zucchini or asparagus spears. Mix the left over marinade in at the end.  I serve it with a bit of the original black bean sauce to dip. Othersie serve it over rice.

You can do the same as above with chicken and pork.