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Monday, February 1, 2016

Eating and Drinking on Madeira Island

Its my last post before my final recap/travel guide itinerary for the island of Madeira.  So lets go out with a bang and talk about all the amazing traditional food you will see on Madeira Island.

Because Madeira is a big tourist destination, they have many options for food ranging from pizza to Indian food.  Unlike the Azores, there is a larger variety of restaurants to chose from, especially where all the hotels are.  However... if you are 100 percent Portuguese and with your Portuguese family, you will avoid the tourists traps and spend your week eating authentic Portuguese food, which is exactly what we did. We fully immersed ourselves in the traditional dishes of Madeira Island

Lets start with drinks.  
Madeira has a few traditional drinks on the island, and of course we will start with the most famous, Madeira Wine. 

Sipping Madeira Wine after dinner 

Madeira Wine isn't your average bottle of table wine, but instead, a fortified wine (addition of brandy, think dessert or cooking wine) that comes in variations from dry to sweet.  Madeira Wine is unique to the Island of Madeira, and its distinctive taste is due to the heating process of the wine.  The heating process is key in bringing out flavors like nuts, fruit, caramel and toffee.  Madeira wine can be sipped cold, or how we had it, after dinner warm as a dessert wine.  It is also popular for cooking when de-glazing pans or creating sauces and dressings.  A few of the restaurants (like Frango da Guiia above) brought out samples of Madeira wine for the table on the house after a large meal.  You can find it at virtually every restaurant and shop around the island.  The prices range from affordable to very very expensive depending on the year and type. 

Bottles of Madeira Wine to purchase

"During the 1600 and 1700s, wine often spoiled and needed to be fortified (by adding a little brandy) to survive the voyage at sea. At the time, the island of Madeira was an important provisioning point for journeys to the Americas and the East Indies and shippers would load up on Madeira wine on their way to England and the Americas. The casks of Madeira wine would be heated and cooled as the ships passed though the tropics. Shippers noticed how the wine’s flavor deepened and became better and called this sea-aging “Vinho da Roda.”" Wine Folly

The different types of Madeira wine


Poncha is the most famous drink on the island of Madiera.  While the world knows about Madeira Wine, few know about the poncha, unless you actually on the island.  
While the drink started in the fishing town of Camara de Lobos, drank by the espada fishermen before a night at sea, it can be found throughout the entire island. Be warned, it is delicious and very strong. 

Poncha from Madeira 
The drink is traditionally made only from brandy cane sugar while adding equal amounts of sugar and lemon peel. Honey is now added to the mixture instead of sugar and you can find variations that include orange as well.   If you are on the island of Madeira, you have to try a poncha, but maybe just one.  The drink is very very strong and it is said that after a few ponchas, anyone can speak Portuguese. 

Beers on Madeira 
Beer and wine are also common on the island, and can be found on every table at lunch and dinner.  It is very common to see a table of women sharing a bottle of red wine over a long lunch.  You will basically only find Coral on tap (light beer) and a Super Bock and Corral in the bottle.  The variety isn't spectacular but it is all very cheap (1-3 euros) and easy to drink.  

Spread of food and drink at Gaviao Novo- one of the best seafood restaurants in Funchal
View from lunch
Breakfast at Melia Madeira Mare
Breakfast was included with our hotel stay at Melia Madeira Mare and was always a gorgeous spread of exotic and local fruits, meats and cheeses along with your more traditional eggs and omelets.  I have to say it was quite lovely starting every day with a mimosa with local champagne and a splash of pineapple juice. 

Chestnuts at Vale das Freiras in Curral das Freiras 
One of the appetizers we ordered was the traditional roasted chestnuts in the Valley of the nuns.  They were peeled, roasted, and heavily salted.  A delicious way to start a meal and order more drinks like poncha. 

Fresh Fish display at Gaviao Novo- one of the best seafood restaurants in Funchal
The seafood on the island was probably (no, it was definitely) the highlight for me.  Restaurants had displays of their fresh catch of the day out in front to lure you in.  The popular fish on the island was the eel like fish called espada, the parrot fish, limpets (one shelled mussel if you will), squid, shrimp, and other white fish. You could also find traditional salted cod, swordfish, tuna, and your more typical fish. Everything was local and fresh.  The espada was definitely the group favorite.  There are many traditional dishes including Espada with banana (too sweet for me) and bacalhau (salted cod with potatoes, delicious).  Every fish we had melted in your mouth especially the espada.  

Be warned a lot of the fish comes whole, and even the filets tend to have bones.  If this is not your cup of tea, the chef can probably filet it for you.  But if you order fish, it is more than likely coming chock full of tiny tiny pin bones. 

Grilled Squid entree 
Grilled squid with side salad 
Steak eggs and fries 
You can also find the classic steak and eggs, or your seafood and rice dishes around the island and at nearly every restaurant.  The combo of the steak, eggs and fries is always amazing but your steak will most likely be served well done.  And if you order shrimp, its also likely it will come with its head still attached. 

Seafood and rice plate 
Espada (scabbard fish) fried 
Espada with banana and passion fruit 

Whole grilled parrot fish

Bacalhau - salted cod with bones 
Bacalhau - salted cod with bones 
Three fish filet sampler at Gaviao Novo

Salad at Gaviao Novo
Less cooked (and better prepared) veggies at Gaviao Novo

overcooked veggies at one of the restaurants
The sides were always your standard salad, and a display of vegetables that were cooked to death and beyond.  The Portuguese cook everything well well well done to the point that the vegetables were often a brown pile of mush in a platter.  It was also very traditional to have fries or boiled potatoes, served with olive oil as a side. 

typical side salad that came with meals 
Large table of food at Frango da Guiia
As you can see, whatever you ordered came with about 3 different plates (each!).  This is what our table constantly looked like, just ordering one meal per person.  When we needed a break from the fish, my hiking guide recommended we tried the chicken at Frango de Guiia and it did not disappoint. 

Amazing spice rub chicken at Frango da Guiia

 Whole grilled sardines 

The food on Madeira, all in all was great.  The fresh fish was always the best option.  The sides were very hit or miss as the Portuguese overcook their veggies.  Chicken was a nice break from the fish as well as steak.  Pork was not an option on most menus.  It may be a difficult island for vegetarians unless you stick to the more touristy restaurants.  The food was always much more affordable than our entrees here in America.  A nice dish at a nicer restaurant was usually in the 10-15 euro range, with generous portions and sides.

 Sticking to the more authentic restaurants, the food was great.  Our only complaint was that each restaurant seemed to have the same type of food, same entrees, and it was a little monotonous after a while.  Make sure you try all the local fish and put lots of olive oil on those boiled potatoes.  And you cannot leave the island without trying the Madeira Wine or the Poncha.


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