Madeira is famed for a number of reasons, which combine to make it one of the Mediterranean’s best holiday destinations. It’s not just the magnificent scenery, the colourful and friendly locals, the rich culture, and the pleasant year-round climate that people find so alluring; it’s also the unique and delicious traditional cuisine.
Food and drink play an important role in the culture of Madeira, with restaurants offering an experience that delicately balances fantastic food with affordable prices. As more and more people are finding out; the closer you get to traditional methods used in Madeiran preparation and cooking; the better the food tastes. Journey with us now as we uncover the secrets behind what makes Madeiran cuisine so irresistible.
Flavours of the island
Madeira is divided into distinct regions such as Santa Cruz, Machico, Ponta do Sol, Sâo Vicente, Funchal, and the neighbouring island of Porto Santo. Each of these individual areas offer their own list of fantastic restaurants, bars and cafes, with those in the busier, more touristy cities specialising in Portuguese and international foods, and those towards the north and in the rural countryside focusing on more traditional cuisine. Such variety means that whatever it is you’re looking for; Madeira will be sure to satisfy.
The people of Madeira love to marinade and flavour their food with a whole array of fresh local flavours, with garlic, virgin olive oil, sea salt, bay leaves and wine all being used to great effect. Succulent meats such as beef, chicken, rabbit, pork and goat are all used in dishes, as well as fresh, locally caught fish such as scabbard and blue fin tuna. In fact a lot of Madeira’s food contains natural, fresh ingredients that are sourced locally from the fertile land and its surrounding waters.
Although Madeira has taken influence from the food of a number of other cultures, their traditional cuisine is one of exquisite flavour and colour. For those seeking a unique dining experience; sampling the traditional delicacies on offer is an absolute must.
Traditional Madeiran cuisine
In terms of what culinary treats you’re likely to encounter; here are just a few of the finest foods found in Madeira:
Guisado is a stew made of tender meat or fish that has been slow cooked with potato, carrot and tomato, and is often served with rice, to create a hearty and flavoursome meal.
Other meat-based traditional foods include Prego (essentially a grilled beef-steak sandwich that’s served in Madeiran bread with a side of chips), the Portuguese Cozido (pork, chicken, beef and sausage boiled together with vegetables and rice), and the exquisite Carne de Vinho e Alhos. Whilst this final dish is typically associated with Christmas for the locals of Madeira, for the rest of us, the heady mix of pork or rabbit marinated in white wine is perfect at any time of year.
Fruits of the sea
If you’re passionate about seafood, then Madeira has some choices that will definitely not disappoint. Espada (scabbard fish) is jokingly referred to locally as “the ugly fish that tastes good”, and the tender meat of this particular fish is used in a lot of Madeiran dishes. Scabbard fish is generally either fried, boiled or grilled, and served alongside fresh vegetables.
Tuna and cod are frequently used as well, with dishes such as Bacalhau Com Natas (cod with cream) and Bife de Atum (tuna steak) appearing a lot in menus across the island. You’ll find Madeiran seafood served in a number of ways, often with rice, creamy sauces, diced onion and potato, as well as with salsa and boiled eggs. It’s generally also seasoned with a variety of herbs, spices and oils.
If it’s something sweet that you’re after, there are a wide range of delicious traditional pastries and cakes that are popular on the island, such as Bolo de Mel (honey cake), and Malassadas, which are very similar to doughnuts, only a lot lighter. There’s also a fantastic range of coffee available in Madeira, as it’s hugely popular amongst the locals.
Tips on dining in Madeira
With so many places to eat in Madeira, there comes the task of choosing exactly what to go for. Thankfully, there’s something to suit all tastes, whatever your budget. When you’re at a restaurant, don’t be afraid to question the waiting staff, who are more often than not keen to explain what goes in to the dishes. Also, don’t be surprised if you’re handed a sweet tasting alcoholic aperitif as soon as you get to your table, this is tradition for many restaurants and is almost always free of charge (there’s no harm in asking!).
Of course, the only way to truly discover what Madeira has to offer is to visit the island for yourself. There’s plenty of fantastic choices, and some of the Mediterranean’s best cuisine; so what are you waiting for? Discover the fine cuisine of Madeira on your next holiday.