Spain is not famous for being the most vegetarian-friendly country in the world, but there are exceptions, and this is a very particular one, since it is the first vegetarian restaurant in the island of La Gomera and one of the first ones in the Canary Islands! There are lots of myths and stories that surround this establishment, that Efigenia, the owner, is eager to tell you, making a meal at her place a fantastic experience.
The Restaurant is located in the quaint village of Las Hayas that sits just on the border of the magnificent laurel forest and national park of Garajonay. This makes it a perfect spot to have lunch or dinner after a hike in this “subtropical jungle”. From las Hayas, for instance, It’s easy to reach the area of Las Creces, a lush and beautiful part of the forest with 100-year old heather trees (Erica arborea) along the path.
The Restaurant has a long history, having been established by Efigenia and her husband Manuel back in the sixties, although it started even earlier as a little shop of “Aceite & vinagre”. “Oil and vineger” is the name of the little local shops where you can get a bit of everything in Spain. The range of products offered goes from milk to a new pair of boots and often includes a beer with a snack and the updates on local news. The original Oil and Vinegar shop remains as a decorative museum within the Restaurant. The reason why it has always been vegetarian has to do with the father of Efigenia, a quite extraordinary man for his time. Antonio, just like many other poor canarian farmers in the late 19th century had to travel abroad to America to work for a period. Maybe it was during his travels around the world that he decided that meat was not for him. As a consequence, for his daughter Efigenia it was always natural to cook with only fruit, vegetables and legumes.
The Restaurant still operates in an old fashion way. Imagine what it was like back in the days when there were no roads and people walked from one settlement to another. Weary after the walk and maybe even wet and cold you would finally arrive to an establishment that offered food and shelter and they would serve you the dish of the day, no questions asked. This is the sensation you get at Casa Efigenia. Yo simply sit down, they ask you if you want to eat and they start bringing out plate after plate with canarian delicacies. No a la carte, no menu of the day with different options, just the one. If you want wine they bring you a pitcher of local gomeran red that matches perfectly with the food. I find this system extremely relaxing in these times when we have so many options and we have to make so many decisions on a daily basis. And since all the food is great and copious there is nothing to worry about.
Normally what you are served as a starter is escaldón de gofio. Gofio is a way to make flour that goes back to the days of the native population of the islands and consists in toasting the grains of wheat and barley, before grinding them. Later corn was introduced and nowadays it's often the main ingredient. The result is a yellow tasty flour that is used in a multitude of canarian dishes, for example “escaldado”; when its prepared with vegetable stock into a puré that you eat warm.
Next comes the daily vegetable stew called “puchero” which is based on locally grown vegetables (from the family owned farms). The ingredients depend on the season of the year but it is always very filling and perfect to recover from a day hiking in the mountains. This is accompanied by a rich salad, often coronated by some tropical fruits. The temperate climate in La Gomera makes it possible to grow lots of different fruits, such as avocado, mango, papaya and of course, bananas.
Ah, I almost forget, already with your beverage you get something very important and absolutely delicious on the table and this is almogrote. Almogrote is a typical gomeran paste made out of hard cheese, peppers, garlic and olive oil that you spread on bread. Nowadays you can find it everywhere in la Gomera but Efigenia claims that it was invented in this very restaurant. What is more important, and this of course only my personal opinion, is that Efigenias almogrote is the best! Its creamy and tasty, not too spicy: just a lovely snack before the meal.
As if this wasn't enough, desserts are also great! The classical house dessert is “flan de almendra”; almond crême caramel. But if you are to eat here several times, don't hesitate to ask for a different dessert and they’ll prepare it for you. The same actually goes for the food, they can also offer vegetable paella, wrinkly potates with mojo-sauce etc.
If you are lucky, Efigenia herself will serve you. She's such a warm and special person and so generous with the little details (the glass of liqueur after dinner is impossible to say no to) and if she has time and you speak a bit of spanish you should take advantage of her extraordinary memory and listen to her endless stories of La Gomera. To hear how the island has changed from when she first started the little shop with her husband in the early 50`s (when there wasn't even any roads going to Las Hayas) to the present days when La Gomera has become a widely known destination is breathtaking!
If dinner is too rich and it gets too late, there are also rooms for rent!
La Montaña- Casa Efigenia opens on a daily basis from 8 am to 8 pm.
The address is Plaza de los Eucaliptos S/N, Las Hayas, La Gomera.