Restaurants and Eating Out in Madeira
Eating out in Madeira's restaurants can be a unique experience especially when finding that perfect combination of great food at a great price. Food and drink plays one of the most important roles in the Madeiran culture and what is very interesting is that traditional Madeiran food and drink is becoming increasingly more appreciated by non-locals with many already having their favourite restaurants to eat in upon their return to Madeira island. Tradition is everything and the majority of restaurants in Madeira will grant you exactly that.
With so many places to eat in Madeira comes the task of choosing exactly where to eat in Madeira, what to eat in Madeira and which restaurants will suit your budget. Hopefully Madeira Restaurants can help make those decisions easier for you meaning you can go directly to the restaurants you know will suit your tastes and requirements.
Madeira is divided into 11 municipalities; Funchal, Santa Cruz, Machico, Santana, São Vicente, Ponta do Sol, Porto Moniz, Calheta, Ribeira Brava, Câmara de Lobos and the neighbouring island of Porto Santo with any one of these locations offering a list of quality restaurants, snack-bars, cafés, bars and pubs. Each location offers you something different whether it be restaurants by the sea, in busy city-centres or in the countryside. The more urbanized cities have restaurants specializing in both Regional/Portuguese and international foods whereas the northern regions of the island, in the country, tend to have traditional and basic food types on the menu as much is grown in the surrounding lands. All in all, these differences help to make eating in Madeira a versatile experience. It all depends on what you prefer.
For those that love to sample different flavours and textures, dining in Madeira and sampling the traditional delicacies on store is a must. It is safe to say that Madeirans truly have been successful in making a food culture of their own be it by their own experiments or by influences brought over from mainland Portugal. Sometimes even the most simple of dishes are exquisite and full of colour. The Madeirans love mixing and marinating fresh local herbs with wines, garlic, virgin oil, salt and bay leaves to produce fantastic flavours that will tickle anybody's taste buds! They love meats such as beef, pork, chicken, rabbit and goat and fish such as cod (dried and salted), blue fin tuna and scabbard fish which is in abundance and always fresh due to their successful fishing industry. It is also common to use local fruits in many typical plates. They have even created dishes that are now traditional to particular festive seasons and during these times most restaurants in Madeira will have this on the menu. One thing that can be said about cooking in Madeira is that dishes are natural and healthy and you can be certain that fruit and vegetables are always fresh due to Madeira's rich and fertile lands.
Here are the names of some Regional/Portuguese dishes for those tempted in trying something a little different:
- Espetada (meat- on- a-stick): juicy chunks of meat (beef or chicken) marinated in garlic and salt then cooked over a small fire on a bay leaf stick. Normally served on a skewer on a hook which is then placed in the centre of the table. Served with ‘bolo do caco’ (Madeiran bread) or ‘milho frito’ (fried squares of corn). Hugely popular meal eaten on any occasion.
- Cozido à Portuguesa (The Portuguese ‘cozido’): composed of pork, beef, smoked sausages and chicken boiled together with vegetables such as cabbage, carrots, potatoes and turnips all in one single pan. Depending on the region rice can also be included. Known as being a ‘heavy on the stomach’ type of dish originating from mainland Portugal. A traditional weekend meal.
- Prego (beef steak sandwich): grilled beef steak (thin) served in the traditional Madeiran bread ‘bolo do caco’. If you ask for the ‘prego special’, this will come with lettuce, tomato, ham and cheese and sometimes with chips on the side. A low cost meal which is extremely popular among locals at lunch.
- Carne de Vinho e Alhos (Meat in wine and garlic): pork or rabbit marinated in white wine, garlic and salt. A traditional Christmas dish. Some snack-bars make tasty ‘carne de vinho e alhos’ sandwiches which is perfect when looking for a quick bite to eat.
- Guisado (stew): tender meat or fish slowly cooked with small potatoes, tomatoes and carrots in a broth of water, wine, stock or sometimes beer. Served with rice, this meal is full of intense flavours designed to heat you up on a cold night.
- Espada (scabbard fish): known as ‘the ugly fish that tastes good’. It is tender and normally served as a fillet, which can be fried, boiled or grilled. Light dish served with fresh vegetables or sometimes cooked banana. Most snack-bars/cafés will make delicious ‘espada’ sandwiches also perfect for a quick snack.
- Bife de Atum (tuna steak): Tuna steak (fried or grilled) normally served with fresh vegetables.
- Bacalhau com natas (cod with cream): layers of salted cod baked in a sauce of cream with diced onion and potatoes. Popular meal fit for any occasion.
- Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá (cod dish invented by Gomes de Sá): a casserole type dish of salted cod mixed with sliced potatoes, onions, olives, salsa and boiled eggs; seasoned with herbs and olive oil. A family favourite meal originating from the mainland.
- Arroz de Marisco (Seafood Rice): rice cooked with various kinds of shellfish with tomatoes, onions, garlic and olive oil.
For those with a sweet tooth, below are some of the pastries and cakes popular with the locals:
- Malassadas (lightly roasted): very similar to doughnuts; yeast dough that is deep-fried until golden brown. Traditionally coated with ‘mel-de-cana’ (sugar cane honey) or sugar. Commonly eaten during carnaval time (february).
- Bolo de Mel (honey cake): dark coloured cake due to the honey, soft and sticky. Contains walnut inside the cake and almonds on the top. Traditionally eaten with your hands and is considered a Christmas cake. Because of its long validity, it is a cake that can be eaten all year round.
- Pastel de Nata (Egg Tart): puff-pastry with a custard-like mixture in the centre. Originating in Lisbon.
- Vinho Madeira (Madeira Wine): a long-lasting dry-wine which can come in various styles. Madeira Wine is most often drunk as an aperitif or during dessert. The Madeira Wine is what Madeira Island is most famous for.
- Aguardente: rum made of sugar cane. An extremely strong drink which is produced locally and is not for the faint of heart.
- Poncha: a cocktail of aguardente mixed with honey, sugar and most typically lemon juice. A drink which the locals believe to cure coughs and colds or are simply drunk to heat you up on a cold night.
- Café (coffee): can come in various types ranging from small to large. Most popular coffees are Bica, Garoto and Chinesa. Coffee plays a huge role in the Madeiran culture. The typical resident may drink up to 4 or 5 coffees a day.
When eating out in Madeira, make sure that you speak to the waiters which are very helpful and most often multilingual. Do not be afraid to ask what dishes are composed of and be aware that it is tradition in many restaurants to serve aperitifs which normally are free of charge but there is no harm in asking just so there are no surprises when it comes to paying the cheque! Also, if you choose to eat in a touristic area, you may need to book a table in advance.
For those visiting the island for the first time it is advised that you search for restaurants in the area you will be in (city or country) and look for other people’s recommendations and critiques about the various places to eat. It can be frustrating when you finally find that perfect restaurant but only on the final days of your holiday. So do your research!