Madeira is a stunning island that will amaze with its beauty, opportunity for adventure and endless attractions for travellers to discover, but it is Madeira’s food and drink that will truly make any trip here special. Here are the top 10 essential foods, drink and dining experiences you should not miss on your trip to Madeira.
Being a Portuguese archipelego it is not surprising that Madeira’s cuisine takes a lot of cues from its parent country, but there are a lot of unique culinary experiences that have evolved from the island’s own identity and history too. Being an island, seafood is obviously prominent, as is the focus on meat and game with influences from Portugal, Spain and even France, and the islands seafaring history has given it a unique exposure to a variety of spices from historical trade. The islands unique climate, situated between Europe and Africa, has even allowed almost every type of fruit and vegetable to flourish locally, meaning the food in Madeira is always fresh and delicious! Here is just a small selection of my favourite foods and drinks that you have to try when you visit Madeira.
Being an island, of course one of Madeiras main specialties is seafood, and these lapas – or limpets – are an absolute must eat when visiting. They are slightly chewier than you would expect which make them far more satisfying as a meal in my opinion, and the saltiness of the limpets are enhanced with splashes of lemon and butter as they are cooked in a frying pan.
If anything conjures up images of Madeira, it is sizzling chunks of beef skewered on local laurel wood and hung over your plate ready for you pull apart and enjoy with a side of vegetables and bolo do caco. Fried maisze, or milho frito, is also a popular side.
The Epetada meat is seasoned depending on the resturant and season, and usually the juices from the meat drip over it as it hangs there, making it taste delicious. Many restaurants in Madeira have iron structures set in the table for exactly this purpose and is as much of a spectacle as it is a great meal! If you only have one meal in Madeira, make sure it is this one!
Bola Do Caco.
Bolo do caco is the typical Madeira flatbread and is basically served with – and is the perfect accompaniment to – pretty much any meal. It’s a circular flatbread made with wheat flour and is traditionally cooked on a hot basalt stone slab known as a caco, hence the name.
Steak isn’t exactly a traditional Maderian dish per se, but beef is so ubiquitous on the island that it is a madeiran family staple, and with everything so fresh (the distance between the field and your plate is less than the length of the island), you can never go wrong with a solid steak in Madeira. This was truly one of the best steaks I have ever had, cooked by the chef at the Quinta Do Furao resturant, and the fact I had the best views overlooking the dramatic coastline of Madeira was the icing on the proverbial cake!
Filete de Espada (Scabbard Filet).
Don’t let this fish’s appearance fool you. It may look scary as hell, a bit like a rabid cross between an eel and a pirhana, but it is is absolutely delicious! Espada, or black scabbard fish as it is more commonly known because it looks like well, a scabbard, is only found in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean and is Madeira’s national seafood dish. According to the fishermen and traders in Madeira one has never been seen alive in the sea, they are only found when they are caught in the nets. When they are cooked and served up they have a soft and delicious taste and are great served up with salad and garlic.
Espada Com Banana E Maracuja.
The espada fish is served up in a wide variety of ways but one of the most popular on Madeira is cooked with banana and maracuja (a local passion fruit). It sounds as wierd a combination as the look of the actual fish, but there is a genuine reason why this is served up in almost every restaurant on the island, it is awesome!
Espada with banana and passionfruit may be one of the most popular meals on Madeira, but it is also common to see it served up at every cafe and eatery simply on a sandwich, and is the Madeiran version of a kebab or a burger after a night out on the town!
The other quick and easy street food option on Madeira is the prego sandwich and is one of my absolute favourite island foods! It is basically just bolo de caco bread with a garlic butter and thin slices of beef steak. I ate this at least once a day it is so good!
Pichadino is very traditional in Madeira and is served pretty much everywhere. Like most Madeiran dishes it is actually very simple and is just small cubes of beef fried and seasoned with garlic and pepper. It is often served on a sharing platter which make it a great group meal, but is just as delicious eating it all to yourself!
Bolo De Mel De Cana.
This traditional sugar cane honey cake is the Madeiran version of the British fruit cake and is usually brought out at Christmas time. It dates back to the 15th Century ACE when it was made by nuns using spices brought to Madeira for trade from India.
Madeiran wine is a fortified wine unique to the island that dates back to the 18th Century ACE and has not changed in all that time. It’s unique taste with flavours of caramel, hazelnut, fruits and toffee are made with a specialist heating method that replicates the temperature changes that the barrels would have gone through in long voyages at sea. Maderian wine is served cool with starter courses, but there are aged sweeter versions that are perfect for after dinner.
You can’t have a pirate island without a good rum, and Madeira is not one to be left out with its very own home grown version made out of its own locally grown sugar cane. It is aged in traditional oak casks for a minimum of three years and they even have a version where the caasks are purposely sunk to a certain depth in the ocean and aged there for many years, the temperature of the water creating a unique rum taste that you won’t find anywhere else!
Ribeiro Frio in Madeira is famous for its trout nurseries and subsequently trout is served all over the island and cooked up in a variety of ways. The Ribeiro Frio Grilled trout is a specific specialty of the region.
Another seafood specialty, the Castanheta is a local fish found in the waters around Madeira, the Azores and Canary Islands. Served plain and fried up with just a little salt they are absolutely delicious with some simple bola do caco.
Poncha is ubiquitous to Madeira as coffee is to Java. A traditional alcoholic drink made with the local sugar cane, sugar, and lemon juice, although all you can taste is the alcoholic lemon! It is a powerful drink that used to be drunk by sailors before a long voyage to stave off illness and scurvy, and any good Madeiran today will tell you that it will cure anything from the common cold to having a limb hacked off! This drink can be found everywhere all over the island and you cannot visit here without having at least one!
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