Portuguese Food - What to Eat on Madeira and Sao Miguel (Azores)
If you are a foodie heading to Portugal and looking for suggestions of things to try in the region - look no further. This guide has pulled together advice on the delicious local specialties in Portugal, with a particular focus what to eat on Sao Miguel island in the Azores and on Madeira. Fish, meat, sides, fruit and desserts - everything you need for a perfect meal is covered below, with restaurant recommendations where appropriate.
What to eat in Lisbon
Well, Lisbon and everywhere else in Portugal really... Since I only spent a couple of days in Lisbon, I only had a chance to enjoy one Portuguese specialty there - pastel de nata. It's basically a custard tart, which it seems that every single cafe and pastry shop in Portugal is able to bake to perfection. I have tried custard tarts in the UK, but they are nowhere near as good as the ones in Portugal. So if you have a sweet tooth, make sure you try one!
What to eat on Madeira
On Madeira, I spent a week, so had plenty of time to experiment with the local delicacies. Of course, pastel de nata is very much loved here as well and tastes delicious.
Secondly, Madeira grows lots of different varieties of passion fruit (maracuja). Until I visited, I didn't even realise there was more than one kind of passion fruit! A good place to try some (though expensive to buy) is the market hall in Funchal, which we left with four different types - tomato, pineapple, orange and strawberry.
Of the lot, strawberry was the least exciting - a) it didn't look anything like a strawberry inside or outside and b) even though it tasted great in the market hall and cost €3, all I can say about the taste when we cut and ate it is 'sour', which made me think they may have added something to the tasting samples.
Orange passion fruit, on the other hand, was awesome - the peel looked and felt almost like a real orange! Tomato and pineapple versions were great as well.
Passion fruit in general is much loved - you can get passion fruit juice and even passion fruit tea (which I suspect is actually hot passion fruit juice).
On the subject of more substantial food, a great local dish to try is espetada - big chunks of beef on a skewer. We tried that in restaurant O Colmo in Santana, and the beef was very tender and cooked to perfection. Rather than served on a plate, the skewer is hanged onto a special stand - in some cases stands are actually permanently attached to the tables. You also get several sides. Some will be very normal, like chips, but of the local specialties, I absolutely loved the fried polenta cubes (milho frito). So much so that on our second visit to a Portuguese restaurant, this time Casa das Espetadas in Funchal, I had to order them again.
The final discovery of Madeira was herbal tea from a plant called carcueja (Lat. Baccharis trimera). Apparently, it is anti-inflammatory and good for digestion and blood circulation. Not sure if the claims are true, but I liked the tea!
If you are looking for more information to help you plan your trip to Madeira, you might also want to check out my post on places to see on the island. For the review of the hotel I stayed at in Funchal, click here. Otherwise, keep reading to discover the local delicacies of Sao Miguel in the Azores.
What to eat on Sao Miguel (Azores)
My next stage of introduction to Portuguese cuisine took place on the island of Sao Miguel in the Azores - a fantastic place for foodies! If you are spending time here, you have to try the local seafood - many a restaurant prepare a delicious and nutritious meal from a selection of fresh fish. It is here that we tried black scabbard (espada in Portuguese and also very typical on the island of Madeira), parrot fish (veja) and bluemouth rockfish (boca negra) for the first time. The grilled fish is usually served with a simple side of potatoes and vegetables, nothing fancy, but fresh and tasty! Another must-try seafood here is limpets (lapas), which are essentially sea snails - we had them grilled, served on a sizzling hot pan with lots of garlic - delicious, but unexpectedly a bit chewy. Apparently you can also have them raw, but we haven't seen that option on the menu. The restaurants that we really enjoyed for seafood in Ponta Delgada were Casa Marisca and Jordao.
Bolo levedo burger
The most well-advertised food on Sao Miguel is probably cozido - stew of meat and vegetables made on volcanic heat at Furnas. However, I have to say that looking at the photos, I did not find it appealing, with massive chunks thrown together, so that particular local specialty remains an unknown.
While passion fruit reigns on Madeira, on Sao Miguel pineapple is king. It is served as a starter (blood sausage with pineapple is typical), grilled as a side and on its own for dessert. Super juicy and sweet, the local pineapples are another great souvenir - some of them are even sold boxed. If you don't want to carry around the bulky pineapple, at least get some pineapple jam!
Speaking of jams, Sao Miguel has the most creative jams I have ever seen - apart from pineapple jam, we also discovered and of course purchased sweet potato jam and grape jam. And honey too while we were at it.
Azorean jams and honey
Parrot fish and bluemouth rockfish heading to the kitchen to be grilled
Dairy production is big in the Azores, with this group of islands providing Portugal with a significant proportion of its dairy products, so for a cheese lover like me Sao Miguel was paradise. Cheese was served as a starter in most of the restaurants that we visited, and boy was that some tasty cheese - the best one was served with pineapple jam! Azorean cheeses also make a great souvenir - you can get some well-packaged cheeses from the supermarket, which is exactly what we did.
Now of course the big dairy industry means lots of cows and, as a result, beef. We were expecting great quality steak from all those free range cows, but unfortunately this was the one foodie letdown. We tried the signature 'Alcides' steak in the restaurant Alcides (again in Ponta Delgada, check them out here) and though the way the steak was cooked was delicious, soaked in a garlicky sauce, the meat itself wasn't as tender as we would have wanted and we have definitely had better quality meat elsewhere. However, what I did love was burgers served in the traditional bolo levedo buns - had one in Green Love in Sete Cidades whilst sitting on a terrace overlooking the lake. If you don't fancy a burger, at least make sure you try the bolo levedo at some point during your visit - delicious for breakfast with some cheese and jam as well!
Alcides steak with grilled pineapple on the side
Blood sausage with pineapple
Moving on to desserts, of course pastel de nata is everywhere, but there are some other interesting options. The first one is something I had read about before going to Sao Miguel and it is queijadas da vila - pastry created in a town called Vila Franco do Campo on Sao Miguel. It has a kind of a hard shell and is softer on the inside. I have to say I am glad we could try one as dessert in a restaurant instead of buying a whole pack in the supermarket - I wasn't a fan and will choose pastel de nata any time!
What I didn't know about in advance but really enjoyed was queijadas de inhame, a cocoyam mini tart created in Furnas - unlike queijadas da vila, these are soft throughout and have quite a unique flavour. If you go to the fumaroles in Furnas, you can get the queijadas from the small food stand there.
Queijadas da vila
Queijadas de inhame
As for drinks, there are two things you need to try on Sao Miguel. First of all, there is a great locally made carbonated soft drink called Kima, that we saw in two flavours - passion fruit and pineapple. I really enjoyed both and it is certainly a great alternative to Coke/Fanta.
Finally, you can't visit Sao Miguel without getting acquainted with the produce of the only tea plantation in Europe - Cha Gorreana. You can visit the plantation itself, wander around on one of the hiking trails and drop by the shop for a free black and green tea tasting. Or you can simply pop down to the nearest supermarket and buy some Gorreana tea there - both teabags and loose leaf tea are available. Most of the cafes and restaurant that we visited also served the local tea.
Kima passion fruit soft drink
Azorean local cheese
Cha Gorreana tea
Azorean pineapples for sale at the market
Sao Miguel is such an awesome foodie destination - I am sure you will enjoy your time there and hopefully this post has given you some ideas about yummy things you need to try. Writing this post has certainly made my mouth water! If reading this has made you excited to start planning your trip to the Azores, click here to read all about the hotel I stayed at on Sao Miguel.