Victoriano Santana Cabrera, known to all the world as Torano, opened the first restaurant in El Golfo 41 years ago. We visited him to hear his story, and the story of his village.
Torano was born in Playa Blanca 72 years ago to a local mother, Dolores, and a father, Salvador, who had arrived on Lanzarote at the age of 14 from Corralejo, the fishing town directly across the water in Fuerteventura.
Back then in Playa Blanca, men fished. While nearby towns such as Femés relied on livestock and farming, and Las Breñas provided workers for the saltworks; Playa Blanca men were out in their boats all year round. For the first years of his life that’s what Torano did, too, learning at his father’s side.
In summer, the fishermen from Playa Blanca would head up the coast and take advantage of the calmer weather conditions in the summer months to fish the waters off El Golfo. The fish they caught were cleaned, salted, dried and sold at Arrecife or further afield in Las Palmas, for prices that Torano remembers as around 25 pesetas a kilo. But during the winter months, El Golfo was deserted.
In the 1960s and 70s, following the rise of mass tourism, Lanzarote suddenly came to the attention of the world, and Playa Blanca began to see more and more visitors. Torano’s parents took advantage of this to open Casa Salvador, a restaurant where Torano learned cooking, waiting tables and other aspects of the restaurant trade.
Playa Blanca, with its stunning beaches and dreamy views over to Fuerteventura, was a magnet for tourists, but El Golfo was also very much on the tourist agenda, too. In 1966 the whole world had seen Raquel Welch being attacked by a pterodactyl at El Golfo in the film One Million Years BC, and Torano realised that the steady stream of visitors who came to marvel at the famous green lake and incredible volcanic landscape of El Golfo offered an opportunity.
In 1981 he was the first to open a restaurant in El Golfo. “People said I was crazy- there wasn’t even a road to the village then,” he smiles – but the gamble paid off, and 40 years later the small seaside village is perhaps the most famous seafood destination on Lanzarote, supporting 11 restaurants and almost 200 people. “We live well here,” says Torano.
Torano on fishing
Torano still enjoys fishing, even after a lifetime. His favourite catch is the mero (grouper), because of its size and the quality of its flesh, but he tells us that the Lanzarote fisherman’s most wily and respected adversary is the vieja, or parrot fish.
Catching viejas in the traditional way is an elaborate project and first requires heading to the shore at low tide to collect softshell crabs, the most deadly bait for this fussy fish. This is back-breaking work, but once the bait is ready, you can put to sea in your boat (professional fishermen rarely fish from the shore).
When the boat approaches the fishing area, a ground-bait of fish scraps may be thrown overboard to attract fish. Modern boats use sonar to locate fish, but traditional vieja fishermen used a mirafondo – a glass-bottomed bucket. Their rods were thick, often tipped with a seasoned, carved length of goat’s horn that indicated bites immediately, and no reel was used – this was not sport fishing.
Torano shows me a selection of bait crabs from the fridge, and as we’re chatting a friend hands over a bag containing three viejas – one vivid, brightly coloured female and two duller green males. They’ll be on the menu soon.
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