The flower island, a hiker's paradise, or Hawaii of Europe – the Portuguese island of Madeira has many names. As a culinary island it is not (yet) so well known. But unrightfully so! Madeiran cuisine has some special and unique delicacies on offer that deserve a closer look – and definitely a sip or bite. Here are 7 things that you should eat or drink when vacationing in Madeira, Portugal.
7 Delicious Things to Eat and Drink in Madeira, Portugal
#1 - Bolo do Caco
This delicious round flatbread should not be missed at any dinner table. It is THE appetizer of Madeira. Usually served fresh from the oven, this delicious bread will reach you with a healthy spread of mouth-watering garlic butter. Bolo do Caco is a perfectly sharable appetizer and the average price of about 2.5-4.0 € is usually very fair.
The Madeirans like their Bolo do Caco so much that there are food trucks serving nothing else but this tasty bread in different flavors, for instance at beach promenades or local festivals. There, you may also find variants with chorizo (a slightly spicy sausage) or sweet versions stuffed with chocolate spread. Bolo do caco is not only a versatile snacks but it also serves as a basis for pregos, typical Madeiran sandwiches.
#2 - Espada
What sounds strange at first, Madeiran cuisine has dared to do - this typical dish combines fish with fruit, using two special local ingredients.
First, there is the black Scabbardfish, called espada. This is a regional deep-sea fish that lives at a depth of 1000 meters off the coast of Madeira. There is only one other known fishing location in the world: off the coast of Japan.
Legend has it that a local fisherman from Camara de Lobos discovered this type of fish by accident. The story goes he fell asleep on his boat after having drunk too much poncha (more on that later) with his rod cast. When reeling it in the next morning, he pulled up the black Scabbardfish. Fortunately, the fisherman was not put off by its gruesome appearance, because then we would have missed out on this wonderful delicacy.
The second regional ingredient are Madeira's particularly tasty bananas. They are fried and served with the fish fillet in combination with a passion fruit sauce. A heavenly combination that you should not miss when in Madeira.
#3 - Picados
As with Bolo do Caco, this typical dish of Madeira works best when shared. It consists of fried pieces of beef (also widely available with chicken) topped with garlic and gravy. The meat is served on a bed of french fries (oftentimes homemade.) The easiest way to order it is by indicating the number of people that will share a picado. In our experience, portions are usually very generous.
#4 - Espetada
Another typical Madeiran meat dish is espetada, cubes of beef grilled over open fire. While barbecue is popular throughout Portugal, in Madeira, the peculiarity is the seasoning of the pieces of meat with salt, garlic and native laurel. In addition, the meat cubes are traditionally skewered on laurel sticks, which give them a wonderful flavor.
Since restaurants usually use iron skewers (not less delicious), you might want to visit one of the numerous local festivals which take place year around in different places in Madeira. Here, you will have the chance to grill the meat yourself with real laurel sticks while mingling with the locals. We had so much fun during a local festival in Porto da Cruz.
#5 - Poncha
Besides delicious dishes, of course, Madeira also offers something to quench your thirst. Probably the most famous drink of the island is poncha. Based on local sugar cane brandy (Aguardente de Cana de Acura), honey, and fresh lemon juice, poncha tastes wonderfully refreshing. Dating back as early as the 16th century, poncha was the seafarer's remedy of choice against vitamin deficiency.
#6 - Nikita
Apparently, Madeira is not afraid of strange combinations when it comes to food and drinks. But in my humble opinion, they're welcome to keep experimenting.
One stellar result is the Nikita, a tasty drink hat reminds of a creamy Piña Colada, but is quite distinct at the same time. A classic Nikita is made from beer, pineapple juice and vanilla ice cream - and tastes wonderfully refreshing. The drink supposedly got its name from a song by Elton John, which the inventor - a local from the town of Camara do Lobos - liked particularly well.
TIP | The Nikita is also available in a non-alcoholic version, with lemonade instead of beer, so the whole family can join the fun.
#7 - Madeira Wine
Wine and Madeira simply belong together. Madeira Wine is a special fortified wine which is classified protected designation of origin (PDO.) Fortified with brandy (similar to port), the alcohol content of Madeira Wine ranges between 17 and 22 %.
The strong, sweet taste of the amber-colored beverage is not only popular in Madeira, but also made its way to the UK and the US. It tastes best when consumed under the warm Portuguese sun, of course.
The various Madeira wines are differentiated according to their degree of maturity and are widely available in restaurants, bars, and local shops. 5 years or 10 years old wines are most popular. Upwards, of course, maturity and price have few limitations.