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Madeira, Portugal, Eating Information to the Meals & Drink Scene

Madeira, Portugal, a subtropical island off the coast of northwestern Africa, has an unlucky fame because the area of vacationers. And, nicely, it’s not solely inaccurate; as a jumping-off level for ships going way back to the fifteenth century, some contemplate Madeira one in every of Europe’s oldest vacationer locations. Centuries later, lots of these visiting are pensioners and bundle vacationers from the UK and northern Europe. However all these years of holiday makers have performed little to decrease Madeira’s nice climate, clear waters, and totally dramatic surroundings. And all this coming and going has left this mountainous little island with an enchanting culinary legacy.

Madeira’s vibe is usually a bit arduous to pin down, however a great start line is to ascertain a barely much less tropical, extra rugged, European-influenced Hawai‘i. Just like the Pacific archipelago, Madeira gives a number of energetic, outside pursuits — particularly mountaineering — in addition to its justifiable share of vacationer cheese. However hire a automobile and drive a couple of minutes in nearly any course from Funchal, the capital, and also you’ll quickly be immersed in a winery rising proper on the sting of the ocean, a centuries-old Catholic church, or the dramatic, mountainous panorama.

What’s Madeiran delicacies?

Seafood varieties the spine of the standard Madeiran eating regimen. Oily fish similar to atum (tuna) and gaiado (skipjack tuna) are prized right here, whereas the a lot leaner peixe espada (black scabbard fish) is ubiquitous. Lapas (limpets) served on the half shell, drizzled with garlic butter, and roasted in a particular pan, are beloved and scrumptious.

However the island’s delicacies has additionally been broadly formed by its function as a transport outpost. For hundreds of years, Madeira was an compulsory stopover for European ships certain for and coming back from Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Its delicacies has been influenced by components, folks, and strategies from the world over. Madeira is probably going the place as soon as “unique” objects similar to potatoes, chiles, and corn from the Americas, or nutmeg and clove from Asia, first landed earlier than making their technique to mainland Europe.

A painting depicting winemakers.

Portray at H.M. Borges, one of many conventional Madeira winehouses.

Sugarcane had the most important affect on the island. Transplanted from Sicily within the early fifteenth century, the crop flourished, and Madeira rapidly turned a big supply of sugar for the remainder of Europe. A century later, sugar manufacturing shifted to the Americas, and Madeira’s sugar trade largely died out. However sugarcane continues to form the island’s foods and drinks. At the moment, Madeira is residence to 6 sugarcane processing mills, together with one that’s steam-powered. A few of these mills distill sugarcane juice into agricultural rum, whereas others produce molasses that makes its manner into native sweets.

Today, Madeira can also be identified for its tropical fruit, a novelty for Europe. The subtropical local weather permits farmers to supply the kind of fruit not usually seen elsewhere in Europe. Banana plantations blanket elements of the island’s south shore. Passionfruit, guava, papaya, custard apple, pitanga, tamarillo, and different fruits extra acquainted to these in South America are commonplace.

But when there’s one ingredient you’re prone to be accustomed to, it’s the island’s namesake fortified wine, a drink that was primarily created by mistake, when fortified wine was uncovered to extended warmth throughout lengthy boat voyages. Counterintuitively, this made the wine extra nuanced, and these days winemakers pursue a variety of strategies to recreate this scrumptious accident.

Key phrases for meals lovers

Vinho da Madeira
If you happen to like port, you could just like the fortified wine named for Madeira, with its perplexing combination of salty, woody, varnishy, oxidized, citrusy, and spicy flavors and aromas. There are seven Madeira winehouses on the island, most of which provide visits and tastings.

A server cuts a large hunk of roast beef on a platter.

Roast beef at Abrigo do Pastor.

Although seafood is prime to the native eating regimen, Madeira’s most well-known dish takes the type of chunks of beef, marinated with garlic and bay leaf, skewered on laurel branches (or more and more today, metallic skewers), and grilled over coals. It’s sometimes paired with bolo de caco (a flatbread made, partly, with candy potatoes) that’s toasted and slathered with garlic butter, together with milho frito (polenta seasoned with native thyme and allowed to set earlier than being reduce into cubes and deep-fried). The espetadas are served on the skewer, hanging from nifty contraptions, and locals know to place slices of bolo de caco beneath to catch all of the garlicky, meaty drippings.

Bolo de mel
The island’s signature candy is a dense, darkish cake that blends molasses, lard, citrus juice, Madeira wine, and spices. It’s thought to have been impressed by related English desserts that had been meant to final lengthy boat journeys. It was once related to Christmas, however today it’s accessible year-round.

Madeira has a long-standing tradition of cocktails, and the island’s most well-known concoction is a mix of native white rum, citrus juice, and sugar and/or honey referred to as poncha. Ideally made to order, these components are vigorously whipped along with a stick identified cheekily as a caralhinho, or “little dick.” A glass of poncha is tiny however disproportionately sturdy. You’ve been warned.

Levadas and veredas
Madeira’s north shore attracts many of the island’s precipitation. Within the fifteenth century, settlers started redirecting the water through a sequence of aqueducts referred to as levadas, an engineering feat acknowledged by UNESCO. At the moment, strolling alongside levadas and veredas (a extra common time period for a path) has change into a must-do exercise for guests to Madeira. And better of all, excursions, particularly these within the island’s extra rugged inland, can often be mixed with a fortifying post-hike meal at a mountaintop eatery similar to Faísca (beneath) or the Sunday market at Santo da Serra.

Slices of grilled tuna on a long platter, topped with herbs and lemon wheels.

Grilled tuna stomach at Cabo Aéro Café.

A silver tray of rice studded with seafood.

Arroz de lapas (limpet rice) at SolMar.

The place to eat

Funchal and round


Chef Júlio Pereira’s mini restaurant empire in Funchal spans two venues: Ákua, which focuses on the merchandise of the ocean, and Kampo, with an emphasis on the fruit of the land. At Kampo, stroll previous the dry-aging fridge case, pull as much as the chef’s table-like counter alongside the predominantly native crowd, and take a break from seafood and beef skewers through the wonderful native lamb, ideally paired with a bottle of native desk wine — a relative rarity in eating places, which regularly default to fortified wine.


The military-like taglines at Desarma (“Put together your self to give up,” “A military of sensations”) are, just like the meals, somewhat provocative. Chef Octávio Freitas takes probably the most iconic components and dishes of his residence island and twists them in methods locals wouldn’t acknowledge; suppose the ever-present native bananas coaxed to appear to be the stones from Madeira’s rocky seashores. The result’s partaking and scrumptious, made even tastier with the counsel of Desarma’s glorious sommelier, João Barbosa, who’s keen to experiment with pairings.

The coast


Locals and Portuguese from the mainland beeline to this homey restaurant for arroz de lapas, tomatoey rice studded with limpets. Pair this dish with nearly another seafood merchandise from the succesful kitchen. With views over “downtown” Seixal’s charming tile roofs and the azure Atlantic, you’ll have a straightforward, breezy lunch.

Vila do Peixe

With panoramic home windows trying over dreamy Câmara de Lobos Bay, Vila do Peixe might simply be written off as a vacationer lure. However the restaurant takes its fish severely. Level to no matter appears to be like good within the iced show case, ask for it to be grilled with little greater than a sprinkle of coarse salt, and shut with the light-as-air passionfruit cheesecake. You’re just about assured to depart pleased.

A restaurant interior overlooking the sea, with diners at tables beneath pendant lights.

Inside Vila do Peixe.

Cabo Aéro Café

It doesn’t get extra informal than this open-air knot of plastic chairs on the high of a cliff. Fittingly, the cook dinner right here, a former development employee, is answerable for among the best grills on the island. These within the know order the off-menu ventresca de atum grelhada (grilled tuna stomach), whereas the espetada is just about excellent, grilled the old-school manner on laurel branches. Astounding views over the island’s north shore and a colony of resident cats full the bundle.

Doca do Cavacas

With a number of indoor and outside ranges overlooking an hooked up pure swimming pool and Madeira’s highest cliff, Doca do Cavacas has it coated when it comes to ambiance. Meals-wise, you possibly can’t go flawed with the grilled fish and seafood right here. The limpets specifically are a few of the greatest on the island.

Engenhos de Calheta

Primarily a sugarcane processing manufacturing unit and distillery, Engenhos de Calheta additionally has a fame for making one of many island’s greatest variations of bolo de mel. Purchase a mini one within the present store and pair it with a cup of espresso on the small hooked up cafe.

A skewer of meat hangs down over a plate of flatbread, alongside vegetables, sauce, and tongs.

Espetada at Restaurante Polar.

The inside

As Vides

As Vides claims to be the oldest and most conventional place on Madeira for espetada, and the charmingly fussy vibe appears to verify this. Tables are geared up with sleek wrought-metal stands to accommodate the hanging skewers, that are accompanied by barely extra refined variations of the espetada peripherals: deep-fried cubes of polenta, garlicky bread, and a crispy inexperienced salad.

Restaurante Snack Bar Faísca

About as inland as you may get in Madeira, on the high of a cool, misty mountain, you’ll discover this informal and glorious restaurant. Locals know to order prego, a skinny steak sandwich, served right here in Madeira’s ubiquitous garlic butter-slathered bolo de caco, and to pair it with a bowl of tomato soup supplemented with a poached egg. Nearly every part that comes out of the kitchen right here appears to be like tasty. Shut with café cortado, scorching espresso supplemented with Madeira wine, a pinch of sugar, and lemon zest. That is the right post-levada hike meal vacation spot.

Restaurante Polar

Situated on the extra informal finish of the espetada spectrum, Polar boasts a brief menu of skewered and grilled meats and the everyday accompaniments. Give an enthusiastic “Sure” when requested in order for you additional garlic butter in your beef skewer, which is utilized through a intelligent method that entails tying a knot of parchment paper loaded with butter across the high of the new skewer.

O Moinho

This restaurant ideas towards the vacationer finish of the spectrum, but it surely’s a good place to strive carne de vinha d’alhos, cubes of fatty pork stomach marinated in white wine and garlic, a dish that’s thought to have impressed the Indian vindaloo. A hilltop location with a panoramic view over the island’s dry, rocky east finish doesn’t damage.

Adega do Pomar

Perched on the high of a mountain on the fringe of one in every of Madeira’s solely remaining old-growth forests, this bucolic lodge-like restaurant focuses on hearty, homey, meaty Portuguese dishes served in rustic clay crockery. Adega do Pomar is linked to an apple orchard, so don’t miss chef and proprietor Márcio Nóbrega’s scrumptious and boundary-pushing house-made ciders.

A server pours a glass of Champagne at an empty table on a balcony high above a coastal city.

Pouring champagne on the balcony at Desarma.

The place to drink

Funchal and round

H.M. Borges

Borges is without doubt one of the extra conventional Madeira winehouses on the island. This legacy is obvious within the vineyard’s present house, which dates again to 1924. The corporate remains to be run by the fourth technology of the identical household, who create fortified wines which are expressively salty and woody. A go to and tasting could be organized upfront.

The coast

Bar Praia da Laje

It is a quirky, virtually chaotic, open-air bar the place native seashore bums and crusty fishermen cross paths with sunburnt overseas vacationers. Its location on a tiny peninsula on the island’s north shore means dramatic views of towering cliffs. Pair the scene with a bottle of Coral beer and a plate of buttery, garlicky limpets, and also you’ve bought your self a traditional Madeira expertise.

A bottle of rum beside a poured glass.

Aged rum at North Mills Distillery.

North Mills Distillery

Madeira’s legacy of sugarcane manufacturing has given the island a style for rum agrícola, rum distilled from sugarcane juice somewhat than from sugar or molasses. Courting again to 1927, North Mills Distillery can also be one of many solely remaining steam-powered factories in Europe. Guided excursions of the manufacturing unit can be found (sugarcane urgent takes place between March and Could), in addition to rum tastings and an informal bar.

The inside

A Venda do André

It appears like little has modified at A Venda do André since 1946. The nook shop-meets-rustic bar is the traditional venue for poncha on Madeira. The island’s most well-known cocktail is whipped to order right here; get pleasure from one when you overlook the impossibly windy roads and marvel how the hell you’re going to drive residence.


Ask any Portuguese wine snob about Madeira wine, and the primary home they’ll point out is Barbeito, which produces wines that pack extra vibrant acidity than the opposite homes on the island. Progressive-minded and quirky, Barbeito combines previous and new strategies to create distinctive bottlings. Visits and tastings could be organized through the web site.

The most effective meals markets

Mercado Agrícola Santo da Serra

The Sunday market at Santo da Serra isn’t big, but it surely’s a microcosm of the island’s agricultural bounty. Suppose European and tropical fruit, baked items, native honey, dried herbs, and even cooking instruments. A selected spotlight of the market is the distributors who promote drinks — native cider, pitchers of poncha, boozy espresso drinks — all supplemented with dentinhos (“bites”), which right here can vary from deep-fried pork rinds to a salad of favas.

Mercado dos Lavradores

Funchal’s artwork deco central market is charming if outright touristy. That mentioned, it’s an compulsory start line to witness the scope of the island’s spectrum of tropical fruit. On days when the fishing boats have landed giant catches, the seafood part (which takes up practically half of the market) can be spectacular, with fishmongers dressing huge tuna or swordfish.

An old customer picks through a box of carrots at a farmers market.

Buyers at Mercado Agrícola Santo da Serra.

From above, a fishmonger with his fish on display on ice.

Mercado dos Lavradores, the principle market in Funchal.

The most effective motels for excellent foods and drinks

The Views Baía

Tall and darkish, the Views towers conspicuously over Funchal, Madeira’s foremost city middle. Rooms are glossy and really feel modern, with balconies that boast these eponymous glimpses. The resort is residence to Desarma, one of many island’s most forward-thinking eating places, and it’s in a handy location only a temporary stroll from Funchal’s historic metropolis middle. Rooms begin at 149 euros ($165) in the course of the excessive season.

Quinta da Bela Vista

Wish to decelerate your keep in Madeira? E-book a keep at this stress-free, leafy, old-school-feeling compound positioned simply outdoors Funchal’s metropolis middle. The rooms, that are unfold out amongst a sequence of stately manor homes, are huge, with balconies peering out over the virtually jungle-like gardens. There’s a pool overlooking Funchal and tennis courts to maintain you occupied, and it’s solely a brief drive to the eating places of Câmara de Lobos. Rooms begin at 234 euros ($259) in the course of the excessive season.

Reid’s Palace

Madeira’s iconic resort charms even probably the most jaded visitor with particulars from earlier centuries. Perched on a cliff overlooking the bay of Funchal, the compound boasts a tropical-feeling backyard and swimming space on the fringe of the rocky, frothy shore, however don’t neglect to take a look at chef Luís Pestana’s work on the resort’s Michelin-starred restaurant, William. Rooms begin at 600 euros ($664) in the course of the excessive season.

A patio dining area outfitted with umbrellas, set over a large bay with green mountains and houses visible beyond.

Doca do Cavacas.

Austin Bush is an American author and photographer based mostly in Lisbon, Portugal. He was beforehand based mostly in Bangkok, Thailand, for greater than 20 years, from the place he contributed to simply about each main meals and journey publication, in addition to to greater than 30 guidebooks for Lonely Planet. In 2018, he wrote and photographed the James Beard Award finalist, The Meals of Northern Thailand, and his subsequent guide, The Meals of Southern Thailand, can be out in 2024.



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