Madeiran FoodMadeira Island – ‘the pearl of the Atlantic’ – keeps the promise of extraordinary holidays with its magnificent sceneries, mild climate, serene ambience, colorful folklore and, last but not least, its most seducing gastronomy. The indigenous grub is based on a peasant tradition, and in general terms, the closer you can get to the traditional methods of preparation and cooking, the better it tastes.
Although starters are not a high point on the locals’ menu, a hot ‘bolo do caco' with garlic butter and parsley, a typical wheat flour bread, which you will always find on public fairs and feasts, appears on the top of every menu. Very much in favor with the locals are grilled limpets for starting a nice meal. Served with much garlic and a slice of lemon squeezed over it, this specialty comes in a hot pan directly from the grill.
If you're more of a soup lover, you should absolutely try the delicious 'sopa de tomate e cebola' (tomato and onion soup) crowned with a poached egg. Also very popular with the locals is the 'açorda', a bread-soup made of large pieces of bread, garlic, poached egg, savory and olive oil, everything poured over with hot water. The smell is great and it's an ideal tummy filler after a day of Lavada Walking.
Meat lovers will find a big variety of meat dishes, the highlights of which are the traditional 'espetada', 'carne de vinho e alhos', ‘picado’ and other deliciously grilled meat courses (mainly chicken, pork chops, beef steaks). The 'espetada' is made of large chunks of beef rubbed in garlic and salt, skewered onto a bay leaf stick and left to grill over smouldering wood chips. Always appreciated on every occasion is 'carne vinho e alhos', this dish consists of small pieces of pork meat left to marinate at least for a day in a mix of garlic, wine vinegar and bay leaf, before it is cooked in the same sauce.
Last but not least, we should not miss out on mentioning the very popular ‘picado’, which comes in different sizes according to the number of people it has to feed. The ‘picado’, traditionally consisting of small pieces of beef fried with garlic in a pan, sometimes red peppers are also added, is served in one big dish surrounded by French fries. Everybody eats out of the same dish with a fork or a wooden toothpick (picar = pick) – ideal dish to prepare without much effort for family or friends get-togethers.
‘Milho frito' – delicious deep-fried cubes of cornmeal – is a favorite side dish to accompany a main meat course. As to vegetables, you will find on the locals’ menu mostly only what is traditionally cultivated in Madeira, such as carrots, green beans, ‘abobrinha’ (kind of pumpkin), 'pimpinela' and peas, usually prepared in a very plain way. Salads are not always part of the daily diet of the islanders, and when they are, they are usually composed of lettuce, tomatoes, grated carrots and lots of sliced onions.
Due to the long established fishing tradition on the island, fish is playing an important role on the daily menu of the locals. Tuna, 'espada' (black scabbard fish), ‘bacalhau’ (codfish), 'gaiado' (a regional fish treated like codfish) and 'potas' (similar to a huge squid) are featuring in many main courses. Traditionally, fresh tuna is first marinated in olive oil, garlic, salt and oregano before it is fried, and it is usually served with cooked cornmeal. This kind of cornmeal preparation is very often also preferred as side dish to 'espada' fried with onion. A 'must eat' is the ‘espada’ with banana, which is a very successful combination of a soft white fish with a strong tropical flavor. But do also look out for other tasty ‘espada’ preparations as there are many more!
Codfish is prepared in many different ways. From the delicious 'bacalhau com natas' (cod fish with sliced potatoes and cream) to 'bacalhau à Braz'’, 'bacalhau à Gomes de Sá' or just simply grilled cod, there is always an occasion where ‘bacalhau’ just cannot be missed!
When you have spent a few days on the island, you will soon discover that Madeirans also have a sweet tooth! Everywhere on the island, in all the cafés, snack bars and restaurants, you will find a wide variety of cakes, sweets and desserts. The list is long, but most in favor with the locals are the 'queijadas', a small cake made of cottage cheese ('requeijão'), eggs and sugar. Also very appreciated is the 'bolo de mel' (honey cake) and the honey cookies. ‘Bolo de mel’, Madeira's oldest sweet, dates back to the times when the island was an important sugar producer and is traditionally related to Christmas. The highlights of regional dessert specialties are a passion fruit pudding and fresh fruit of all kinds, very often served in delicious fruit salads everywhere.
Drinks also have their own place on Madeira's specialties’ podium. Besides the world-renowned Madeira Wine, locals produce their own wine from different grapes - the so-called 'vinho seco' (dry wine). Also very common in bars located in Câmara de Lobos and surrounding areas is the ‘nikita’, a refreshing sweet drink made of beer, ice cream and small pieces of pineapple. There is also a non-alcoholic version made with soft beer. But what you can find everywhere on the island (and we mean everywhere!) is the traditional ‘poncha’, which can be consumed cold or hot. If you like it and you wish to introduce it to your friends back home, here's the recipe! Take one good measure of ‘aguardente’ (a white alcohol made from distilled sugar cane) and mix it with ‘mel de cana’ (sugar cane honey) and fresh lemon juice (add some orange juice if you like), stir it well and get it down in one. And there you have your homemade ‘poncha’ - the first cousin to a hot toddy and not misrelated to our friend, the whisky sour.