Madeira cuisine – A paradox of lush simplicity and magnificent flavour!
The colour, texture and culinary simplicity of Madeira’s gastronomy can be an overwhelming experience for the island first-timer.
A palette of unforgettable dishes and tastes allows you to experience the island as a Madeiran does. As a Madeiran you will love the island not only for its flowers, wine and landscapes but also for the bolo do caco (traditional bread – shard cake), espetada (meat skewers) and nikita (pineapple, beer and ice cream drink).
Meat and fish lovers alike can enjoy an array of culinary delicacies prepared in an unsophisticated manner but delicious nonetheless. Traditional dishes at variable prices can be found in numerous restaurants throughout the island, not always meaning that finesse is directly proportional to cost. Quite the opposite, more often than not, the artisanal techniques of cooking are the ones that retain all the characteristic flavour of each dish; so, it comes as no surprise that when we try the regional beef meat grilled in barbecue recycled oil drums and served in a slice of bread, tastes just divine!
The ‘secret’ lies in knowing what to order but also where to eat it! The locals attest that the best beef meat skewers are in the old-style Estreito de Câmara de Lobos restaurants, and on Fridays, company gatherings, friends and families do meet at those restaurants for an affordable and delicious meal.
Each region has its local specialities, meat in the interior parts of the island and fish or seafood in the piscatorial villages, nonetheless in all regions the majority of the meals start with a flat pancake styled wheat bread Bolo do Caco, served warm with generous helpings of homemade garlic and parsley butter.
What shouldn’t you miss then?
Bolo do caco (shard cake) – ingredients: wheat flour, yeast, water and salt. It is traditionally cooked on a preheated basalt stone, until a thin slightly burned crust is formed in both sides of the bread.
It can be served with a spread of garlic/parsley butter as a starter or with a thin beef steak as a main meal Prego no pão (nail in the bread) or with any filling you wish. You can even have a cheese and ham toasty in Bolo do Caco!
Pão de Batata Doce caseiro (homemade sweet potato bread) – it is a traditional light bread with a slight sweet tinge, given by the sweet potato. You can eat it at any time of the day. In the past, when visiting the countryside you could stop by the roadside and buy this homemade bread from the elderly ladies that would keep the bread warm and fresh in covered big wicker baskets.
Espetada (beef meat skewers) – small meat pieces on a laurel or metal skewer. It is probably the most famous dish and the most served in picnics, parties and festivals in Madeira. Traditionally the laurel sticks were used to add flavour to the previously seasoned meat. The marbled beef is grilled with its fat and nerve cover, avoiding the need for any artificial fat. The fat and nerve cover will be removed by you at the table, so you can only enjoy the meat.
Nowadays you can not only order beef meat skewers but also tasty pork and chicken skewers.
Recommended Restaurants for espetada:
O Polar – very affordable and good quality
Address: Rua do Pico da Torre 9,Estreito de Camara de Lobos, Madeira
In the past you were seated in laurel made shelters and the barbecue fire was fed with vine leafs. Today, the fire is no longer fed by vine leafs and you are seated in a ‘modernized’ restaurant.
Address: Rua da Achada 17, 9325-017 Câmara De Lobos, Madeira
Restaurante Santo António – good quality
At one time you could choose your meat in the butchers located on the ground floor and eat it in the restaurant or even just buy regional meat to take home. You could also see Dona Maria by the fire cooking the Bolo do Caco. These days the butcher is no more, but you can still see the fire and the meat/ Bolo to caco being cooked.
Address: Estrada João Gonçalves Zarco, nº 656, 9325- 087 Estreito Câmara de Lobos – Madeira
As a side dish for espetada is traditional to order: salad, fries and milho frito. The fries sometimes are served with crushed garlic and oregano.
Milho Frito (golden fried ‘polenta’) – typical Madeiran delicacy, made with corn flour, finely sliced kale, garlic cloves, water and a dash of olive oil. It forms a sloppy mix that after cooked is left to harden at room temperature or served still warm with fish. Once hardened, is usually cut into cubes that can be served fried or not.
Carne vinha d’alhos (pork meat marinated in garlic and wine) – a traditional Christmas dish that can be enjoyed all year round as a main dish or a sandwich filler that many times is eaten as a breakfast accompanied by a latte.
Picado (pieces of beef meat served with fries, tomato and black olives) – fried meat seasoned with garlic and served in different sizes dependant on the number of people.
Espada preta (black scabbard fish): fried or grilled or even as fillet dipped in egg yolk and served with fried banana or passion fruit sauce.
Bife de atum (tuna fish steak): normally served with a garlic, oregano and wine sauce with boiled or fried milho as a side dish.
Cavalas com molho de vilão (mackerel with villain sauce)
Castanhetas (fried Bluefin damselfish): typical from Canical
Lapas (Limpets): Grilled with garlic butter and drizzled with lemon juice, limpets rice or in seafood stew.
Caramujos (periwinkles): boiled in seawater with garlic and bay leaves. Served still warm and eaten with the help of a pin needle.
Arroz de marisco (seafood risotto)
Recommended restaurants for fish/ seafood:
Muralhas Bar – great value for money ‘fish tavern’
Address: Rua da Pedra d’Eira, Caniçal, Madeira 9200-031
Restaurante Camarão – affordable, fresh fish in big portions
Address: Vila Da Calheta, 9370-135 Calheta – Madeira Vila do Peixe – you can choose your fresh fish from the counter.
Address: Rua Dr. João Abel de Freitas, Câmara de Lobos – Madeira
If you wish to celebrate a special occasion or just have a more refined dining experience I would then recommend one of the following three restaurants in Funchal:
Restaurante do Forte – same owner and cuisine as the Mozart restaurant
Address: Av. Santiago Menor 14, Forte de Santiago, 9060-250 Funchal
Address: Rua Dom Carlos I, nº 50, 9060-051 Funchal
Armazém do Sal – Refurbished salthouse
Address: Rua da Alfandega, 135, Funchal 9000-059
I hope you enjoy the Madeiran gastronomic delights and have a look on my next post for more tips about the island treats.
Bolo do caco can be found in any restaurant, but if you go for the skewer meat in Estreito, then you will be able to try the very tasty traditional Bolo do Caco with the garlic butter
In some places espetada is served with butter that is added on the top of the skewer after the meat is grilled, you may ask your espetada to be butter free
You may find that espetada can be served with or without bone, traditionally is bone free but some locals say that meat with bone is tastier. Remember however, that a typical restaurant sells meat by the Kg or by the number of skewers; meat with bone will weigh more resulting in less meat for the same price or a more expensive price when comparing with the bone free one.
Have a sneak a peek of the restaurants photos and reviews in tripadvisor