The gastronomy of Madeira – What to eat on Madeira?

The kitchen of Portugal is outstanding. On Madeira, if it’s possible, the gastronomy is even better. You cannot go wrong, wherever you go or whatever you order. The locals are really friendly, also like to help to explain what the dish is about, what kind of ingredients they use. So let’s see what to eat on Madeira! P.S.: We also included couple of drinks – cheers!

What to eat on Madeira?

Bolo do caco Warm roll with garlic butter

It’s hard to find any restaurant or bar on Madeira that don’t serve Bolo do caco. It is for sure on the menu, but it might happen, that at the moment they are out of it. With us it happened this only once. For every other meal we were able to order as a starter or as a side dish next to a soup. It’s so simple, and this is why it’s so brilliant.

Bolo do caco is a circular Madeiran flatbread, shaped like a cake and thus called bolo (Portuguese for ‘cake’). It is traditionally cooked on a caco, a flat basalt stone slab. The bread is usually served with a lot of garlic and butter. And normally it’s warm. It is delicious by itself or eaten as a sandwich with cheese, sausage, octopus.

Caldeirada à Madeirense – Madeira Fish Soup

Madeira, an island in the middle of the Atlantic, is surrounded by the Ocean. Hence, the wonders of the ocean provide a large part of the gastronomy of Madeira. The fish soup is cooked in large portions out of the available fresh fishes, or out of the fresh leftovers from the daily fish market. They always add a big portion of seasonal vegetables, so the outcome is a very tasty and heartwarming soup. When ready to serve, they place pieces of homemade bread in the bottom of the plate and then pour the soup over it.  Alternatively, we can also add chunks of bread to the soup before serving. 

Portuguese Tomato and Onion Soup with Poached Egg

The tomato and onion soup is one of the references of traditional Madeiran cuisine. Normally they serve it with a poached egg inside and bread on the side. It is super simple and with Bolo do caco it’s almost a complete meal. It’s the standard vegetarian option on every menu, and more than worth its cheap price.

Bacalhau – Cod

Bacalhau dishes are common in Portugal, and also in former Portuguese colonies like Cape Verde, Angola, Macau, Brazil, and Goa. There are over 1000 recipes in Portugal alone and it can be considered the iconic ingredient of Portuguese cuisine. It is often cooked on social occasions and is the traditional Christmas Eve dinner in some parts of Portugal.

They combine the cod with many ingredients. You can find recipes of Bacalhau with banana, pumpkin, passion fruit, etc. They use cod fresh as well as dried and salted. For centuries, salted, dried cod used to be very affordable, but with the collapse of the cod stocks and dismantling of Portuguese bacalhoeiro fleet, it became more expensive. Especially near Easter and Christmas time, since it is a part of many traditional dishes of the holiday season.

Gambas à la guilho – Garlic prawns

It’s a recipe that we can find almost everywhere in the Mediterranean and Atlantic cousins. However, what really makes the difference here is the fresh gigantic prawns. They prepare a garlic sauce which is based on butter, add a bit of chili and parsley on the top and quickly cook the prawns in it. Simple and delicious.

Castanhetas – Fresh grilled fish

The “Castanheta” is a fish that is found in abundance along the coast of Madeira, Azores and Canary Islands. They are seasoned with salt and fried in very hot oil. When serving, you can season with lemon juice and accompany with what you like best, we guarantee that they are a delight!

Espada com banana – Black scabbard fish with banana

The most typical fish of Madeira Island is the black scabbard fish “Espada“, which swims in deep waters and has a fearsome appearance. We can find it fresh in every supermarket as well. It is very tasty, especially when prepared the “Madeiran Way”, with passion fruit and banana sauce. Usually they will ask you if you prefer it only with banana or with both fruits. Either way it’s super delicious. Most of the nicer restaurants have this dish on the menu.

Queijada – The cheese cake of Madeira

Cottage Cheese Queijadas are amongst the most popular deserts in Madeira. They are often found in bakeries and pastry shops. Those Queijadas are also perfect for teatime, and even for breakfast. They come in small round shape, and filled with sweet cottage cheese.

Pasteis de nata – Portuguese custard tarts

The same way as on the mainland, we can find Pasteis de nata almost in every café and bakery. On some places it’s better, some less. You can read more about the origin of Pasteis de nata here.

What to drink on Madeira?

There are some unique and traditional drinks on Madeira that you only can find here. Some of them are better, some less, but they are worth the try.

Madeira wine

The wine of Madeira is a fortified wine type made only on Madeira Islands. This wine is produced in a variety of styles ranging from dry wines which can be consumed on their own, as an apéritif, to sweet wines usually consumed with dessert. Cheaper cooking versions are often flavoured with salt and pepper for use in cooking, but these are not fit for consumption as a beverage.

The islands of Madeira have a long winemaking history, dating back to the Age of Exploration (approximately from the end of the 15th century) when Madeira was a standard port of call for ships heading to the New World or East Indies.

To prevent the wine from spoiling, neutral grape spirits were added. On the long sea voyages, the wines would be exposed to excessive heat and movement which transformed the flavour of the wine. This was discovered by the wine producers of Madeira when an unsold shipment of wine returned to the islands after a round trip.

Poncha

Poncha is a traditional alcoholic drink from Madeira, made with aguardente de cana (distilled alcohol made from sugar cane juice), honey, sugar, and either orange juice or lemon juice. Some varieties include other fruit juices, like maracuja. You can try it in every restaurant and bar on Madeira, sometimes they even give it as a welcome drink on the house.

They mix it together with a mixing tool – officially called a mexelote but more commonly known as a caralhinho (little cock), a type of muddler. Good to know that the famous Caipirinha cocktail is also based on Poncha.

Nikita

Nikita is a traditional drink on the island of Madeira, consisting of the combination of fresh pineapple, pineapple juice, white wine and beer. Some make it with Poncha on top, that can give it an additional taste. Interesting combination, isn’t it? It looks like a smoothie, and usually served in 2-3 dl mugs. It’s not very strong, but it’s better be careful.

This drink is originally from Câmara de Lobos, the fishing town. In 1985 a man called Marcelino created the first version of the drink. Marcelino emigrated to Brazil, where he probably found inspiration to create this wonderful tropical drink. According to the story, the origin of the name of this drink, “Nikita”, comes from a song created by Elton John in 1985, a song that Mr. Marcelino liked a lot, and that inspired the name of this drink, since the song’s name was “Nikita”.

Coral beer

Coral is the most popular beer on Madeira. No wonder why, it’s a local product by the Madeira Brewery (Empresa de Cervejas da Madeira or E.C.M). The main brand is Coral Lager. The company is the biggest producer and drink distributor in the Autonomous Region of Madeira. It produces alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.

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