Madeira is one of my favorite places to visit nowadays. The Island is widely known for its wonderful beaches and natural pools, but one more charm it has is the high level of gastronomy.
One of the characteristics of Madeiran cuisine is that it has a great variety on the menu. From meat cuts as a specialty in its cuisine to exotic drinks, traditional desserts, and amazing wines.
Its products are fresh and of good quality, so food lovers cannot resist trying the wide range of dishes this beautiful destination offers. Including me, of course.
Without further ado, here is my list of the most famous culinary delights of the Island!
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It is known for being the typical drink of the archipelago. It is made from “aguardiente” (the secret to its authentic flavor, originally prepared in Madeira), mixed with sugar cane, honey, and lemon juice. This is the traditional recipe. However, there are variations using: Tangerines, oranges, and passion fruit.
Poncha, although common among the island’s population, is not for everyone. It has a very strong flavor and a high alcohol content, so some people prefer a milder version
This is the most popular poncha on the whole island but you can also find good tavernas in Camara de Lobos (my absolute favorite place to drink Poncha and Nikita)
Would you dare to try it? It may become your favorite cocktail!
Also called “Lupini beans“, they are a type of legume seed seasoned with garlic and parsley. It’s usually served as a snack with a beer, perfect to share with good company on a summer afternoon!
Although they look like a very simple snack, I can tell you from my experience that they require a little more effort to prepare than other dishes, that’s why I give the Portuguese a deserved recognition.
Do you know why they dedicate so much time to a simple legume? If the answer is No, let me explain: Lupinis have a high level of neurotoxic alkaloids, which besides being harmful to health, give them a bitter taste that is not very pleasant.
Therefore, they need to be soaked for 4 to 7 days approximately, while changing the water 2 to 3 times a day. Yes, a real responsibility that Madeirans constantly assume. I admire them.
The result is the perfect snack, that you can store in your fridge for up to a month. It’s also a good protein source in case you’re vegan. A truly super food.
A curious fact is that the seeds of the tremoço mixed with those of other cereals, can be used to elaborate flour to make bread. Interesting, isn’t it?
Bolo do Caco
This bread has conquered the center of the island’s table since it was created. It consists of a round dough based on wheat, and sweet potato.
What makes Bolo do Caco stand out is the way it is prepared. Unlike other bread, this one is baked on a Basalt slab, which gives it a slightly golden color, a crispy crust, and the original flavor of the place where it was made.
You won’t believe it, but this bread is an icon on the island because of its history. I tell you that Madeira went through a very difficult time in the middle of the 15th century. Due to the absence of wheat, Portuguese bakers activated their creative mode. They mixed sweet potato with the little wheat they had, and the perfect dough emerged to solve the situation.
Thus, it earned its place as a common but delicious starter among the Madeirenses.
Of course, I had to include the popular Espetadas. These have evolved, originally they were a piece of meat accompanied with bread and wine.
But nowadays, they are made differently. First, the beef is seasoned with the typical seasonings of the region, such as Thyme and Garlic. Then, laurel branches are stuck in the meat and voilá the perfect grilled meat skewer.
It’s usually served with salads, french fries, or Milho Frito. I consider it the best you can find of the high Portuguese Gastronomy.
A classic but tasty and tempting drink for everyone. The Nikita is usually made of white wine, normal beer, white beer, vanilla ice cream, and pineapple chunks.
It can also be prepared without alcohol, so it gives it an extra point among other cocktails offered in bars and restaurants.
As you may be thinking, it is sweet, creamy and has a variety of flavors that make it an excellent option to choose from while enjoying a walk on the beach!
They are fried corn flour dough. A garnish that is very appreciated on the Island and of great value for its people. Garlic, olive oil, pork lard, and water are the main ingredients of this delicacy.
You already know that they serve it with the Espetadas, but they also use it to accompany fish, lamb, pork, and whatever you can think of. The versatility of milho frito is huge.
Peixe Espada com Banana
This may sound like a strange combination, but it is recognized as another culinary delicacy. It consists of fish (in this case, they use swordfish) that is marinated with salt, garlic, pepper, and lemon.
After this, it is coated in egg and wheat flour and finally fried in very hot oil.
On the other hand, the banana is also fried, and the secret of this dish is that they do this process in the same oil in which the fish was cooked.
Depending on the restaurant you choose to eat at, they may serve it with Broccoli and Potatoes as garnish.
Gambas a Diablo
Personally, I love seafood, and these “Gambas a Diablo” are out of this world because of the star of this dish: The Sauce.
And what makes this dressing so special? Simple: The combination of Tomato, Garlic, Red Pepper, Salt, Sugar, and Pepper enhances the flavor of the prawns and adds character to this meal.
In Madeira, it is usually served with bread as a garnish, although it depends on your preferences.
It should be noted that this culinary wonder comes from Spain, and Portugal improved the recipe declaring it a must on your visit to the island.
Sopa de trigo
Who doesn’t like good soup? I love them! And in Madeira, the “Sopa de Trigo” is known for its taste, besides being very nutritious.
The main ingredient is wheat but Also contains potatoes, carrots, onions, pork, and yellow pumpkin, so there are no excuses to keep a good diet while you are out of the home.
The locals usually eat this soup on a daily basis, and there is always space in your tummy for a delicious soup. Pilgrims regularly ask for it to provide vitamins and proteins to continue their hiking activities.
It has a striking appearance, so it looks like something interesting to try at first glance. For some reason, it has such an important position in the area.
I can say with certainty, that Portuguese cuisine has dishes with essence and originality because I could not find a place that prepares the “lapas” (a type of mollusk) as in this place.
They are cooked on the grill, hence part of its name “Grelhadas”. What makes them different from other regions is that they are seasoned with helpings amounts of butter, lemon, garlic, and parsley.
And what gives them the special touch is the freshness with which they are prepared. A true delicacy for seafood fans.
My favorite restaurant in the island is located in praia formosa Barra Azul
Frango ao Molho Madeira
When I thought of traditional island food, I imagined dishes made with fish, shellfish, seafood, and anything else from the sea.
But once again, it gave a different point of view to my expectations. It turns out that a classic of any restaurant on the island is the Chicken with Madeira sauce.
The fusion of beef broth and Madeiran wine in the form of dressing, turn a simple piece of chicken into a dish that you will probably want to eat more often.
Bolo de Mel
In this article, I couldn’t leave out desserts. Come on, you can’t deny that this was part of the guide you were waiting for! I don’t judge you, I admit it’s mine too.
First of all, this Madeiran sugar cane honey cake is a must when eating on the island, for its pleasant taste, which commemorates the golden age of the history of this place.
Its intense taste is due to honey, candied oranges, and dried fruits such as almonds and walnuts. I am sure that the magic of this delicacy is to enjoy it with a good coffee or a glass of wine.
By the way, in the past, it used to be prepared on December 8th, to be eaten at Christmas dinner. And something even more curious is that the duration of this cake is long, it can have several months and remain edible.
Pudim de Maracuyá
What impresses me even more about Madeira Island is the number of tropical fruits that are found, such as Mango, Avocado, Apple, and Pineapple. This is because, in case you don’t know, Madeira is closer to Africa than to Europe and has a subtropical climate.
Maracuya or “Passion Fruit”, is the center of attention of the Pudding. Its citric flavor mixed with the sweetness of condensed milk, is the perfect combination not to cloy anyone.
Bolacha de Mel
Madeira cane honey is a common ingredient used in many typical Portuguese pastries. The cookies or as they call “Bolacha” that are prepared with this ingredient have the characteristic of being very simple but delicious.
Probably, if you decide to travel to this place, you will see many people consuming this type of cookie as a regular snack, (I don’t blame them, they look tempting).
Here is my recipe for these honey cookies.
Pé de Cabra
As you can see, Madeira Island has a great number of drinks and beverages to satisfy the tastes of those who visit it. One is the Pe de Cabra, made with black beer, chocolate, Madeira dry wine, sugar, and lemon. An original combination.
It has huge popularity in the region, although I find it a bit unusual for its mix of ingredients.
I always have space for one more dessert, so I could not miss the classic sweet that is available in all the bakeries of this destination.
The “Queijada Madeirense” is a dough of wheat, butter, and sugar, filled with cheese. In its beginnings, it was considered one of the most luxurious and refined sweets, which is why it managed to establish itself on the Island and is still in the showcases of Portuguese confectioners.
For the Madeirenses (and Portugueses in general), food has to be accompanied by good wine. So they have a great variety of them. Dry, semi-dry, sweet, and semi-sweet, are some of the types that you can find.
Their wines are unique and original, you can not get a copy of them anywhere, because the fruits, aromas, and essences contained in each bottle come from the soil of the island.
Thanks to the tourism that has taken place over the years, they have become a success and are now recognized worldwide.
Every time I hear someone returning from a trip to Madeira, they mention the famous Madeira Wine as the first place.
Finally, I hope you’ve enjoyed this list with dishes that you must try when travelling to Madeira Island.
I’m Maria and I love cooking—and mostly EATING—food from all around the world. I’ve been sharing my abuela’s secret Latin-American recipes for the last 7 years with the world on this blog. I’ve been a full-time food blogger for many years and I’m always trying new delicious meals that don’t require a culinary degree or a Michelin-star chef. I also love traveling, cats, and knitting.