The 15 Most Popular Foods in Madeira
Madeira is a Portuguese archipelago, located in the Atlantic Ocean. It is known not only for its unique geography, consisting of rugged valleys, cliffs, mountains, and the lush green landscape that covers most of the island, but also for its immense beauty, its seasonal events, its unique climate, its distinctive culture and, of course, its gastronomy.
Before we go into the typical foods of Madeira, it is worth mentioning that this archipelago is made up of four islands: the island of Madeira, the island of Porto Santo, and the uninhabited islands of Desertas and Selvagens.
Its capital is the city of Funchal, which welcomes visitors from all over the world looking to enjoy its natural landscape, outdoor activities, and vibrant culture. The island has countless attractions, including hiking trails, botanical gardens, water sports, traditional festivals, and, of course, the famous Madeira wine.
When it comes to gastronomy, Madeiran cuisine combines local traditions with influences from Portugal, Africa, and other Atlantic islands.
Fresh seafood, traditional dishes such as Espetada and regional specialties like Bolo do Caco are, without a doubt, the trademark of Madeiran food. Even so, restaurants all over the island offer a wide variety of gastronomic experiences to satisfy every taste, while enjoying the breathtaking landscape or even the famous cultural events such as the famous Carnival, Flower Festival, New Year’s Eve fireworks, and the Atlantic Festival.
Let’s round up some of the most popular Madeiran foods that you need to try out on your next trip to the islands.
1. Flatbread (Bolo do Caco)
Created on the island of Porto Santo with the primary objective of reusing dough leftovers from homemade bread, it became one of the most common and well-known appetizers of Madeira and Porto Santo.
It’s widely consumed as a snack at popular festivals, as well as an appetizer with different side dishes, or as a main dish such as Prego em Bolo do Caco.
In the past, this flatbread was cooked on a basalt stone over hot coals, which was called caco, hence its name.
2. Madeira Fried Cornmeal (Milho Frito)
This dish, one of the most famous Madeiran foods, dates back to a time when many ingredients weren’t always available on the island, so fried corn became one of the most popular dishes. Easy to make and rather affordable, this highly versatile food was used to complement several dishes, from kebabs to fish recipes.
As times changed, Madeira’s gastronomy also changed, reducing the use of corn. For this reason, this recipe is today served mostly in traditional restaurants.
Milho Frito is seasoned with spices and herbs, which gives it a salty taste and a crunchy texture.
3. Grilled Limpets (Lapas Grelhadas)
Grilled limpets are one of the best ways to enjoy the delicious taste and flavor of the sea and the best place to do it is in Madeira, where you can find clear waters full of nutrients.
Madeira is the perfect spot for healthy and tasty limpets, thanks to the lack of pollution on the coastline, great for catching and eating them fresh on the very same day, making them a signature of the Madeira archipelago.
Grilled limpets are usually served as a starter, grilled in a pan in their shell, and seasoned with butter and garlic.
4. Corn Soup (Sopa de Milho)
This soup, known as Sopa de Milho, originates from the beautiful island of Madeira and represents the rich culinary heritage of this region.
Corn produced in Madeira is used in various culinary preparations, with Sopa de Milho being one of the most popular dishes. The fresh corn kernels are harvested and used to prepare the delicious corn soup, giving it a distinct flavor and sweetness.
The cultivation of corn in Madeira is primarily concentrated in the rural areas and terraced fields of the island. The steep slopes of Madeira’s landscape are often transformed into terraced fields known as poios, where crops like corn are grown. These terraced fields not only prevent soil erosion but also maximize the use of available land.
5. Tomato Soup (Sopa de Tomate)
Madeira tomato soup is a tasty and warming dish that highlights the use of fresh ingredients and the traditional flavors of the island. It’s a versatile soup that can be enjoyed all year round and is often served with crusty bread or alongside other traditional Madeiran dishes.
It’s a popular dish that showcases the island’s culinary traditions.
This soup is frequently garnished with herbs such as basil or oregano, which enhance the natural sweetness of the tomatoes. Some variations may also include a little wine or vinegar to add a subtle spicy note. Salt and pepper are used to season, and the soup is usually cooked until all the flavors have melded together.
6. Black Scabbardfish Fillet (Filete de Peixe Espada Preto)
The black scabbardfish fillet represents the close connection that Madeira has with the sea and its abundant resources. It’s not only a culinary delight but also a symbol of Madeira’s heritage. This fish has been an important part of the island’s fishing industry and local cuisine for generations.
Black scabbardfish is a deep-sea fish found in the Atlantic Ocean, particularly in the waters surrounding Madeira. It has a unique appearance, with a long slender body and a large head. The fish is known for its dark, almost black skin, hence the name Black Scabbard.
There are several ways to prepare this delicacy, the most popular is the fried black scabbardfish fillet, accompanied by fried bananas (i.e. plantains).
7. Tuna Fish Steak (Bife de Atum)
One of the most common dishes in Madeira is tuna, which is commonly eaten in the form of steak. For a long time, Madeira’s main economic activity was fishing and being an abundant fish in the island’s seas, tuna is a very popular dish in the local cuisine.
This dish is seasoned with garlic, salt, vinegar, white wine, and oregano, and served with corn (boiled or fried) or potatoes, rice, and salad. This recipe is a simple and practical way to enjoy a great fresh tuna steak, whilst taking advantage of all its nutritional benefits.
8. Dry Skipjack (Gaiado Seco)
Dried tuna is a traditional delicacy from Madeira. It is made by preserving and drying skipjack tuna, creating a tasty and long-lasting product.
It is prepared by cleaning, skinning, and filleting the fish, then seasoning the fillets with salt and sometimes with other spices or herbs, depending on the recipe or personal preference. Once seasoned, the skipjack tuna fillets are left to air dry in a well-ventilated, sunny area.
The drying process can take several days to weeks, depending on the weather and the desired level of dryness. Both sun and wind help remove moisture from the fish, preserving it and intensifying its flavor.
Skipjack tuna is a gastronomic tradition in Madeira and shows the island’s confidence in seafood conservation and the use of local resources. It is a testament to the island’s historical connection to fishing and the importance of sustainable food practices.
9. Fried Chicharros (Chicharros Fritos)
This famous dish, called Chicharros Fritos, is a traditional fried fish dish. Chicharros refers specifically to a type of small fish, often scales or horse mackerel, commonly found in the waters surrounding Madeira.
The dish is prepared by cleaning and flaking the fish before seasoning it lightly with salt, pepper, and sometimes additional herbs or spices. The fish is then coated with flour or cornmeal and fried until crispy and golden brown.
Fried Chicharros are typically served hot, straight from the pan, and are often accompanied by boiled or baked potatoes, rice, or a fresh salad. The crispy texture and intense flavor make it a popular and enjoyable dish with Madeirans and visitors.
10. Madeiran Kebab (Espetada Madeirense)
This dish was formerly only eaten by wealthy families. The luxury of eating meat was not accessible to most people and therefore the Madeiran kebab was only eaten on feast days.
There are no great secrets to cooking this dish. The big trick is to choose quality meat with the right amount of fat. From there, all you need is a little coarse salt and a bay leaf.
This dish is traditionally cooked over an open fire, giving the meat a smoky flavor, and it is served with traditional accompaniments such as Milho Frito (cubes of fried cornmeal) and grilled vegetables.
11. Marinated Steak Cubes (Picado or Picadinho)
Picado is a popular dish in Madeira. It is a flavorful and hearty meat dish that showcases the traditional flavors of Madeiran cuisine.
It consists of small pieces of meat, usually beef or pork, marinated in a mixture of wine, garlic, and various spices. The meat is typically cut into bite-sized cubes or strips, making it easy to cook and eat. The marinade helps to tenderize the meat and infuse it with flavor.
The dish is known for its robust and savory flavors, thanks to the marinade of wine and garlic. The combination of tender meat, aromatic garlic, and the richness of the wine creates a delicious and comforting taste. The marinade infuses the meat with its flavors, resulting in a delightful and flavorful dish.
12. Vinha d’Alhos Meat (Carne de Vinha d’Alhos)
The name of this dish translates as meat in wine and garlic marinade. It is a beloved dish that is deeply rooted in the culinary traditions of the island.
A symbol of Madeiran cuisine, it may not be the lightest dish, but it is certainly one of the tastiest. The pork is marinated in garlic for 2 to 3 days and then fried with lard, accompanied by roasted potatoes.
The dish has a long history in Madeira and is often enjoyed during festive occasions and special celebrations. It showcases the island’s rich culinary heritage and the influence of Portuguese flavors and techniques.
13. Vinha d’Alhos Meat (Carne de Vinha d’Alhos)
This dessert originated in the archipelago of Madeira in the golden age of sugar cane production. It is now a specialty known also outside Madeira and is found on many tables at Christmas time.
Prepared with sugar cane, it can be preserved all year round. According to its origins, this honey cake is prepared on the day of Nossa Senhora da Conceição, thus beginning the Christmas preparations.
Here’s a comprehensive list of the most popular Christmas dishes in Portugal.
14. Passion Fruit Pudding (Pudim de Maracujá)
Passion Fruit Pudding is a very popular dessert in Madeira. It is a creamy and refreshing pudding made with passion fruit juice, eggs, sugar, and sometimes condensed milk. The spicy and tropical taste of passion fruit gives a delicious touch to the pudding.
15. Madeira Cheesecake (Queijada da Madeira)
Queijada da Madeira is a traditional Madeiran sweet resembling a small cheesecake. It is made with a creamy filling of fresh cheese (requeijão), eggs, sugar, and lemon zest, all baked in a delicate pastry shell. This cheesecake has a smooth, creamy texture with a hint of citrus flavor.
In Madeira, gastronomy is both traditional and contemporary, with a subtle blend of regional products of the highest quality, allowing for a varied menu of gastronomic specialties, from regional to international, as well as gourmet cuisine while enjoying breathtaking views.
Come and taste the delicious Madeiran gastronomy, which will certainly make your stay truly memorable. Experience the pleasure of socializing and the pleasure of savoring!