The beautiful Madeiran archipelago is an autonomous region of Portugal that rests just off the Northwest coast of Africa and is comprised of four islands. The main island is volcanic, which gives the soil a mineral richness that produces an abundance of lush vegetation, much of which is endemic to the region. Madeira is truly an emerald gem in the crown of the Atlantic Ocean. The mountainous landscape, the sheer cliffs and the rousing swell all add to the stirring drama, and the verdant soils allow farmers to grow just about anything year-round with tremendous success.
Because of this special mix of natural beauty, rugged landscape, incredible produce and mild subtropical climate, Madeira is quickly becoming a favorite travel destination for all generations. It’s often the first stop for big cruise liners traveling across the Atlantic and as such has earned a bit of a reputation as being an island for retirees. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, it’s a massive draw for adventure seekers on holiday, professional big-wave surfers and discerning foodies alike.
Speaking of foodies and great produce, here are the top five foods all BUCKiTDREAMERs must try while visiting the Madeira Islands.
Try Something As Delicious As It Is Ugly Black scabbardfish is a ghoulish-looking beast that lives in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. To look at its fearsome face with its big white eyes and toothsome smile feels like a waking nightmare. However, to eat its sweet, soft flesh tastes far more like a dream. Black scabbardfish are native to the waters around Madeira and have historically played an important role in the local economy for fishermen who head out at 2 a.m. to catch these delicious monsters. Once they’re in the kitchen, chefs often coat the fillets in a thick, spongy batter and serve them with fried bananas. The result is an interesting and deeply satisfying dish that you’ll find on the menu of pretty much every restaurant in Madeira (often disguised under the name espada com banana).
Get a Taste Of the Tropical With Madeira’s Fruit Offerings The fertile soils and mild climate found in Madeira make it the ideal place to farm agriculture of pretty much any kind. In fact, locals refer to the island’s geography in terms of whether you are above or below the “banana line,” a point on the island with the best altitude to cultivate the bendy fruit. Mercado dos Lavradores is the farmers market located in the island’s capital and chief port, Funchal. Here, you’ll be able to find all manner of tropical delicacies including eight types of passionfruit, tamarillo, custard apple, philodendron fruit, anona, guava, sleeve, pineapple and, of course, Madeiran bananas. Just be careful as prices in the market can be extortionately high, especially if you’re opting for the more exotic fruit. So make sure you know exactly how much you’re paying before they load you up!
Lift Your Bar-Snack Game with Lupini Beans Salted lupini beans are a traditional Portuguese bar snack that are high in protein and ridiculously delectable. They’re served in nearly every informal bar throughout Madeira, and they make a delightful departure from the regular offering of olives and peanuts (although these a very common, too). Often, they’ll come with a smattering of garlic, red pepper, olive oil and parsley. You’ll find all the locals nibbling on them while sipping beer and enjoying the afternoon sun.
Take Shakespeare’s Advice, and “Have Some Madeira, M’dear” The island’s namesake fortified wine is an obvious must-try while visiting the archipelago. It’s produced in a variety of styles ranging from dry (to be had as an aperitif) all the way to richly sweet (which is usually consumed either with or as dessert). The Madeiran islands have a long history of winemaking dating back to the 1500s when Funchal was the standard port of call for ships heading toward the New World or the East Indies. When being transported on long sea journeys, the wine would be subjected to excessive heat, which dramatically changed its flavor profile. This change in flavor was only discovered much later, however, after an unsold shipment of the wine was returned to the bay. Now it’s customary to purposefully heat the wine to temperatures of 115 F to lend it its trademark taste.
Got the Sniffles, or Just Want To Party? There’s Some Poncha For That Poncha is a traditional alcoholic cocktail made from Madeiran rum, honey, sugar, lemon rind and different juices (typically lemon). Poncha is strong, sweet and particularly tart and is made with a specialized mixing tool called a caralhinho, which is a type of muddler. Locals believe that poncha can help cure a common cold, and the sick are often encouraged to drink it when they come down with flu-like symptoms.
If you enjoyed reading about Madeiran cuisine, BUCKiTDREAMERs, then check out A Guide to Fine Dining in Madeira, or if you’re just interested in more info on the islands, then read: Top 4 Surf Spots in Madeira; If You Only Have One Day in Funchal, Here’s How to Spend It; and the Top 5 Hikes in Madeira.