Madeiran Cuisine

Eating out can be fun whilst in Madeira as there are so many different types of restaurants and café bars to choose from wherever you are on the island.

Although in abundance it is a way of life here, sipping coffee on a side street in the warm sunshine, eating a ‘prego’ as a snack or going for something with a little more flavour and trying out the local cuisine. All establishments serve alcohol and even at some petrol stations with café bars that annex them!

Whilst most visitors are willing to try the delights of Madeiran foods, there are a selection of restaurants that do cater for the International clientele, with a recent surge of Indian, Chinese and Japanese fayre, it’s not hard to find something to suit the tastes of every individual.

The staple diet of the Portuguese islanders always consists of meat or fish, potatoes, vegetables, salad and rice. This is mainly because all of these basic food stuffs are grown locally making the island self supporting albeit the odd import of beef and lamb. Dishes are invariably made with a marinade of garlic, salt and bay leaves and also other herbs on occasion and are also grown locally.

Here are a few items that one would expect to find on a traditional Madeiran menu:

Soups are very popular as they are a meal in themselves. With age old tradition and eliminating waste, soups in the Madeiran household are generally made out of the leftovers and are served with the family at lunch. Madeira is a very family orientated place and meal times are an important social family get together.

  • Caldo Verde – is a thick soup made with potatoes and finely shredded cabbage, sometimes it has the local sausage added to it called Chourico.

      • Tomate e Cebola (Tomato & Onion) – is served typically with a poached egg.

          • Canja de Galinha (Chicken Soup) – is made from the stock of boiling the bones and chickens feet and sometimes has pasta or vermicelli added to it.
            • Bread is another important part of the diet and many different varieties are made using local ingredients. Most are quite ‘heavy’ and therefore are very filling.

              • Bolo de Caco – is the most well known of all the breads and is typically served in restaurants or used as the ‘bap’ for ‘Prego’ (Hamburger). Its main ingredients apart from flour are sweet potato and are cooked over a hot plate making it a thick but flat round and heavy loaf. Bolo de Caco is always served hot with lots of melted butter and fresh garlic.
                • The Madeirans are big meat and fish eaters, although some meat has to be imported, fish is caught locally and is always freshly available. Cod or Bacalhao is dried and then re-hydrated, so don’t expect to find fresh Cod on the menu. This dish can also be quite salty, something that most Europeans are not used to. Meat on the other hand is plentiful if you like chicken, pork, goat or rabbit whereas some beef is imported from as far as Brazil and Venezuela. Lamb has become more popular recently as now it can be imported from New Zealand.

                  • Caldeirada – is a mainland dish which is a rich, mixed fish stew, cooked with olive oil, potatoes, onions and tomatoes.

                      • Bif de Atum (Tuna Steak) – is usually grilled and served with potatoes or rice and vegetables.

                          • Espada – Is a scabbard fish and is the most popular fish dish in Madeira as it is caught in the deep waters around the island. It can be grilled, fried or stewed in wine and in most restaurants is served with a banana!

                              • Espetada – Is usually chunks of beef but can be chicken is skewered onto sticks of Laurel and cooked over a wood fire. The meat is marinated in rock salt, bay leaves and garlic and has an exceptional flavour once cooked

                                  • Chicken Piri Piri – Is a grilled chicken marinated in garlic and hot pepper or chili and is usually served with chips and salad.
                                    • Another traditional accompaniment is ‘Milho Frito’ which is Maize or cornmeal flour mixed with lard, water and herbs, then it is cut into cubes and deep fried. Although it is delicious it can be a bit heavy on the hips!

                                      The local people also have a sweet tooth and indulge at coffee time in cakes and pastries. Puddings are also important at meal times and are usually made with fresh fruit of the season. Bolo de Mel is a cake made with honey molasses, fruit and nuts and is similar to our version of the Christmas Cake, it is not however, anything like the Madeira Cake we see on supermarket shelves back home!


                                      Although alcohol is also another accepted way of life, there are many different home or locally produced beverages to try. Vin Sec is the local wine, made from grapes and can differ in taste and strength from region to region.

                                      The local ‘cure all ills’ called Poncha, is a very alcoholic drink with a distinct and powerful taste. It is made from locally produced ‘Aguardente’ (rum made from sugar cane), sugar, honey and freshly squeezed lemon juice and in some cases oranges as well. If one is driving it is not advised to drink more than one as this is very potent and will put you over the drink drive limit! On a lighter side, it is said that “a poncha a day, keeps the doctor away” this may well be true, as after a couple of tipples of these, any injury forthcoming as a result, won’t hurt you as it is very easy to get sloshed on them very quickly by which time one is passed caring anyway!

                                      Madeira Wine is probably what and why Madeira is so famous. It is only made here and is a fortified wine, there are four main varieties:

                                      • Sercial – Is a dry wine served as an aperitif

                                          • Verdelho – A rich golden wine which can be served before and after meals or with soup, cake, cheese and nuts.

                                              • Bual – A medium coloured wine which is full flavoured and can be served with dessert or after a meal.

                                                  • Malsey – This is a rich and luscious wine and has a fine bouquet. It is sweet and can be enjoyed at any time.
                                                    • There are a good selection of bottled regional wines from the mainland and are priced very reasonably in supermarkets and liquor stores around the island.

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