Last Updated on 28/09/2023 by secretmoona
From mountains to waterfalls to stunning viewpoints, there are so many things to do and see in Madeira, but whether you are a foodie or not, you will also need to discover the food in Madeira. Read on to find out what food to eat in Madeira.
Nicknamed the “Pearl of the Atlantic “, the island is a fantastic destination. Madeira is known for its magnificent landscapes with a mild and sometimes humid climate all year round. The rich volcanic nature of the island allows for a cuisine based on local products.
Tasting Madeira’s traditional food is essential to enjoying the beautiful island. From fish and seafood dishes to meat options, delicious bread with garlic butter, a variety of tropical fruits, delicious pastries and refreshing drinks, there will be something for every taste. Here is a selection of traditional Madeira food and drinks you must try.
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What is unique about Madeira Food
Madeira cuisine is mainly based on fish and seafood (what do you expect, it’s an island, after all?). Although you can find traditional Portuguese cuisine on the island, Madeira has specialities you will not likely find anywhere else. Madeiran cuisine owes a lot to fish (mainly cod “bacalhau” and swordfish “espada”, seafood, meats and vegetables. Not to mention the sweets you can enjoy with your coffee or Madeira wine.
Traditional meat dishes are often simmered or in stew served with rice or potatoes. You will find dishes such as ensopada do cabrito (goat stew), ensopado de borrego (lamb stew) or picadinho (beef or veal stew) popular with the locals.
Madeira cuisine will include lots of fish specialities, so fish and seafood lovers will have many options. Grilled chicharro (small round fish), limpets and the famous breaded swordfish with banana are some delicious foods you can get in Madeira.
Traditional Madeira Food to Try
Espada com Banana e maracujá – Banana Scabbard Fish
Espada, or black scabbard fish, is on the top of our list of Madeira food to try for a reason: it’s Madeira’s national dish. Looking at the unprepared black scabbard fish, you might be put off by it. With its elongated body and sharp teeth, the fish has good flavours despite its ugly appearance.
It is believed that the espada lives in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, and Madeira fishermen catch the fish at night. This has been the way since the 14th century.
Although the fish looks scary, when done perfectly, espada com Banana is incredibly delicious. The swordfish fillets are seasoned with garlic, lemon juice, salt, and pepper and then dipped in egg and flour before being fried. The fish is usually served with banana or maracujá (passion fruit). Mixing fish and fruit might sound strange, but I guarantee you that the result is perfect. The sweetness of the banana or passion fruit works well with fish without overpowering it. I recommend tasting both versions.
Where to eat Espada in Madeira?
You won’t struggle to find a restaurant serving this dish. However, if you want the best place to try this traditional Madeiran speciality, head to Caravela (São Vicente). If you want a nice view while tasting your fish, go to Restaurante do Forte (Funchal). They have a few tables on the terrace with a view of the sea or on the very bright veranda.
Espetada Madeirense – grilled beef skewers
Espetada Madeirense is grilled beef skewers cooked on laurel wood, giving the meat a unique taste. The meat is cut into cubes, seasoned with garlic, bay leaf and rock salt, and cooked over a charcoal fire.
Espetada is usually eaten with a side dish of milho frito (fried maize) and bolo de caco. It is a popular dish enjoyed by locals and tourists; however, back then, it was a luxury as beef prices were very high.
Where to eat espetada in Madeira?
Bolo do Caco
One for bread lovers. Bolo de Caco is an absolute must (unless you are gluten intolerant). The round traditional Madeiran flatbread is named after the caco, a slab of basalt on which it is baked. The bread is incredibly soft because it is made with wheat flour and sweet potatoes.
Bolo do caco is served as a side dish and comes plain or with garlic butter and parsley. The bread can be accompanied by several ingredients such as octopus, swordfish, espetada or grilled steak, just like the prego sandwich.
Where to eat Bolo de Caco in Madeira?
Bolo de Caco is served everywhere in Madeira, including restaurants, bakeries, and local festivals. You can eat bolo de caco any time of the day. If you are in Funchal, the Casa de Bolo do Caco, as the name implies, serves good garlic bread.
Lapas – Grilled Limpets
Interestingly, we nearly didn’t try this as it needed to be better translated into French. Madeira is an archipelago that benefits from the water surrounding it. Therefore, there are lots of delicacies from the sea to try out. Lapas or limpets are some of that must-try seafood.
Limpets are served grilled with garlic butter. You can eat them on their own or with a squeeze of lemon. They look like a mix of mussels and clams with a slightly firmer texture. If you like seafood, you must try them as they are delicious.
Where to eat the best lapas on Madeira Island?
We had the best-tasting limpets at Taberna Ruel, located in the Zona Velha.
Polvo – Octopus
Octopus is a popular dish, although not traditionally something Madeiran would eat. Seafood takes centre stage in Madeiran cuisine. After all, you are on an island!
Octopus is usually sauteed with onions and served as a starter, as a side with salad, boiled potatoes, or mainly rice. If you love seafood and octopus in general, then be sure to try it.
Where to eat octopus?
Lots of restaurants serve octopus on the island. We had a good but copious serving at PVP – Pao Vinho e Petiscos in Funchal.
Bife de Atum – Tuna steak
Tuna is one of the popular dishes in Madeira. Again, the fact that the sea surrounds Madeira means an abundance of fish. Steak in Madeira is usually served as a steak and prepared with a delicious marinade called molho vilhão. The special sauce is made with olive oil, garlic, oregano, salt and vinegar. Just like many other dishes, tuna steaks are served with fried corn.
Where to eat tuna steak in Madeira?
Lots of traditional Madeiran restaurants will serve the dish such as A Tendinha.
Milho Frito – Fried corn
Milho Frito is another Madeiran speciality. I fell in love with this side dish. The fried cornmeal cut into small cubes is just amazing. Crunchy on the outside and fort inside, it’s just the perfect combination to eat with any meat or seafood dish. You can find milho frito in most local restaurants.
Bacalhau – National Dish of Portugal
Impossible to miss the national product! Every Portuguese restaurant has at least one cod dish on its menu. For lunch or dinner, simmered or fried, in a soup or grilled, traditional or with a contemporary twist. You can always find a tasty cod recipe for a reasonable price. The salty fish is prepared with popular and local products such as potatoes, onions, garlic, olive oil, and eggs.
Where to eat bacalhau in Madeira?
Just like the swordfish, cod can be found anywhere on the island. You can try it at Restaurante Many (Sao Vicente) and The Old Pharmacy (Ponta do Sol).
Prego no Bolo do Caco – Beef sandwich
The perfect dish to eat when on the go, prego is a sandwich made with bolo do caco, a spread of the delicious garlic butter, lettuce, tomato, cheese and slices of grilled beef. It is sometimes served with fries. This is the best choice if you want an inexpensive, quick lunch.
Where to eat prego in Madeira?
Saudade Madeira is a cosy cafe which offers light lunches such as salads and prego sandwiches.
Castanhetas – Grilled fish
The “castanheta” is a type of small round fish found in abundance on the island and neighbouring island Azores. It is usually fried with a bit of salt and olive oil and served with a slide of lemon. It’s simple compared to many other dishes mentioned, but if you are a fish lover, you will love this. They can also be eaten grilled or baked.
Popular Dessert in Madeira
If you have a sweet tooth, you will be delighted with pastries in Madeira. After all, the Portuguese are known for creating some of the sweetest desserts. Among the desserts you will find on restaurants menu are bolo de mel (cake served at Christmas), bolo de arroz (rice flour muffin), queijada (cheesecake) and pudim de maracujá.
Pudim de maracuja – Passion Fruit Pudding
Passion fruit is one of the most popular fruits in Madeira. There are several passion fruits, such as the banana passion fruit. It’s very sweet with some acidity, depending on its ripeness. You can have it on its own or as a dessert or drink. The Mercado dos Lavradores and other markets around the island will have the fruit in their stalls. However, be aware that the latter sometimes has exorbitant prices.
Passion fruit pudding is made with the fruit’s pulp, condensed milk, cream and jelly. Highly recommended if you like pudding type of dessert.
Thanks to its mild climate, the island benefits from fertile soil; therefore, many lovely and exotic fruits are grown all year round. Among the fruits you can discover in Madeira are passion fruits or “maracujá” in Portuguese. The fruit is used in everything from pastry and main dishes to drinks.
Bananas are also very popular in Madeira. However, Madeira bananas are smaller in size with a slightly orangey colour. It’s sweeter than the bananas you will find in Europe. Another type of exotic fruit you can find on the island’s markets is the “banana mango”. This type of mango is smaller and more elongated than a classic mango. It’s not as sweet as Indian mangoes, but it’s delicious.
Wandering the market in Funchal, you will find lots of fruits that you will usually see in Africa, such as pitanga, guava or anone. After all, Madeira is not far from Africa.
Where to buy Madeira’s local fruits?
The best and perhaps most expensive place to find and buy the island’s fruits is Mercado dos Lavradores.
Pasteis de nata – Portuguese custard tart
It would only be possible to talk about Portuguese desserts by mentioning the famous pasteis de nata. If you had been to Portugal, you would have heard of them. If not, they are little crispy puff pastries filled with egg cream-flavoured vanilla, lemon and cinnamon. The Madeiran version has a little twist since it is flavoured with passion fruit and is called “pasteis de maracujá.”
Where to eat pasteis de nata in Funchal?
Confeitaria is a chain of bakeries in Funchal where you can have a coffee and taste local pastries, including the Madeiran pastel de nata. You can eat in or order take-out.
Madeiran Drinks – What to drink on Madeira Island
The island has some traditional, well-known and unique drinks you can taste during your trip. Here are some options from alcoholic to non-alcoholic drinks.
Chances are you will stop in a cafe for a coffee break. There are lots of charming cafes on the island. To help order your preferred type of coffee, see below the types of coffee sold on the island.
- Uma bica: espresso served in a tiny cup
- Um carioca: long espresso served in a small cup
- Uma chinesa: coffee with milk served in a large cup
- Um garoto: coffee with cream served in a small cup
- Um galâo: coffee with milk served in a large glass
- Uma meia de leite is similar to a flat white or latte. It’s half coffee, half milk.
- Um abatanado: this coffee is between an espresso and an Americano
- Um chá: If you don’t like coffee and instead order tea, then you can get a black tea (chá preto), or if you want tea with milk, you could ask for “chá preto com leite “.
The wine on Madeira Island might not be as famous as in mainland Portugal, but it is as good. The fortified wine is produced in various styles ranging from dry wines, which can be drunk on their own, as an apéritif, to sweet wines, consumed usually with dessert. Madeira has been making wine since the 15th/16th centuries.
This cocktail created in Câmara de Lobos is made of aguardente, sugar and lemon juice. It is, above all, the most popular and sipped cocktail on the island! There are many variations, such as the poncha a pescador, the poncha de maracujá, the poncha de tangerina
Although Madeira is more known for its wine, other alcoholic beverages are also popular. Beer lovers will appreciate the Imperial, the Sagres or the Super Bock. The local “Coral” beer has been brewed in Madeira since 1969. It also exists in a non-alcoholic version.
It’s another traditional Madeiran drink which can be with or without alcohol. Nikita is made with a mixture of vanilla ice cream, pineapple rings and beer. However, you will find variations. Pineapple slices are sometimes replaced with pineapple juice, and beer is replaced with wine. It’s a cocktail to try out.
It’s a non-alcoholic drink with different flavours like apple, lemon, orange, etc. The most popular is the Brisa Macuja, made with passion fruit.
Thank you for reading this Madeira food guide. Now that you have learned about some of Madeira’s most popular foods, all you now have to do is try them. What was your favourite dish if you have already been to Madeira and have tasted some of these?