Culture Europe Spain & Portugal

Madeira – On The Menu

Photo: Rob Philpott

Naturally, fish figures large on Madeira menus, the majority we had never seen or heard of before. But what we tried was all delicious and so very, very fresh. Anybody interested in inspecting the creatures of the deep should head for Funchal’s market and head downstairs to see the catches of the day being prepared and waiting to be purchased.

The island also produces an amazing array of tropical fruit.

Bacalhau: Cod.

Espada: Black scabbard. One of the island’s fishy specialities is a strange looking fish with wide eyes and sharp teeth, long, thin and ugly. It lives at about 1000m but rises to 500m to feed. A pale opalescent colour when in the deep but as it is pulled up to the surface on the fishermen’s long, lines the pressure causes the fish to turn black. It is often served with sliced banana or Milho frito.

Milho Frito: fried cornmeal.

Gata: When we were exploring Câmara de Lobos we couldn’t but fail to notice fish pegged out on lines to dry. Gata (kitefin shark), also known as Câmara de Lobos codfish, is filleted, salted and hung on racks like giant bats to dry in the air. Prior to cooking it is reconstituted in water for one day. A gata sandwich is an island speciality.

Espadarte: swordfish.


Aguardente de Cana: a spirit made from sugar cane.

Cortadinho: coffee laced with dry wine and lemon peel.

Nikita: a combination of white wine, vanilla ice cream, pineapple and sugar, topped up with white beer. A speciality of Câmara de Lobos.

Pé de Cabra: dry wine with dark beer, sugar, lemon peel and chocolate powder.

Poncha: a blend of sugar cane honey and spirit, plus fresh lemon juice, served either warm or cold.

Quentinha: coffee laced with sugar cane spirit, sugar and lemon peel.

Madeira wine

Madeira does produce table wines but it is more usual to find Portuguese wines on menus. It is the fortified wines for which the island is most famous.

Madeira was noted for its fine wines even as long ago as the 15th century, especially the Malmsey. Shakespeare probably had a liking for Malmsey, certainly he refers to Malmsey in his play Henry IV.

The main grape varieties are Malvasia (Malmsey), Verdelho, Bual, Sercial and Terrantez.

It would appear that Prince Henry the Navigator sent Malvasia vines to Madeira for wine production. Early on it was realised that by adding brandy to the wine it stopped the fermentation, thereby aiding its preservation and increasing the alcoholic content. Over the years of trading it was also noticed that the barrels of wine from Madeira that had crossed the equator and subjected to heat were of a much better flavour. Consequently barrels of wine were shipped backwards and forwards over the equator until 1794 when the technique of artificially heating the wine was discovered.

Unlike table wine Madeira wine can remain in good condition for a couple of hundred years. And for anybody able to resist the temptation of swiftly finishing a bottle it can remain opened for a year without detriment to the quality of the wine.


Periwinkles Burriés (Gaiado): salted or dried limpets

Tremoços: preserved, salted lupin seeds. Nip the skin with teeth and suck out the contents.

Meat dishes

Carne vinho e alhos: a stew made from diced pork which has been marinated in wine vinegar with garlic, bay leaves and sometimes fennel for 24 hours before being braised in the marinade.

Cozido Madeirense: a stew of pork, chicken, steak and vegetables usually served with sweet potato and rice.

Espatada: Diced beef seasoned with garlic, bay leaves and salt threaded onto a skewer of bay (laurel) wood and cooked over open coals. A number of restaurants bring the meat to the table on long skewers hanging from a metal frame.

Bread and Sweets

Queijadas: small pastries made of cottage cheese, eggs and sugar in flaky pastry cases.

Also popular are Passion Fruit Puddings.

Bolo de Mel: Honey Cake dates back to when the island was an important sugar producer and is traditionally baked at Christmas. Our island guide Roberto said it took his baker father three days to make their annual honey cake. Their old family recipe included breadcrumbs, rum, malmsey, sugar cane honey, rind of oranges and a lemon and cider cooked in old family tins. After baking the cakes are wrapped in greaseproof paper and stored several at a time in airtight tins to mature for several months.

Bolo de Caco: a type of flat bread, traditionally cooked on a Caco (hot stone/tile), but nowadays on a solid hob plate. Traditionally made including sweet potatoes but today it is more likely to be just flour. Frequently served with garlic butter, or filled with steak, lettuce and tomato to make a Steak sandwich

Eating Out

Walking back to our hotel on our first evening we were accosted by a waiter standing outside a restaurant down by the marina. Normally we would have walked on by, but we were tired, hungry and the fish looked interesting and wonderfully fresh. We dutifully followed him to a table. The story has a happy ending – the wine was inexpensive and good, the meal was inexpensive and excellent and the service was great. We booked up there and then to go back to the Marina Terrace Restaurant on our last evening on Madeira. Av. das Comunidades Madeirenses- Marina do Funchal, 9000-055 Funchal. 00 351 291 230 547

We were also impressed with the Restaurante Grand Café Columbus next to the cable car station for their light lunches. A very good Club sandwich packed with chicke, bacon, cheese, hard-boiled egg, tomato, lettuce and mayo cost €4.30. Avenida do Mar, 36 | Frente ao Teleférico, Funchal 9060-190. 00351291242170

Roberto our guide, introduced us to the very good steak sandwich at the Salgueiro restaurant and snack bar, Vila do Porto Moniz, Porto Moniz, Madeira 9270-095.

He also wanted us to try another speciality, but more particularly one from the Santana district – Wheat soup – Sopa de Trigo. The soup, made from wheat, carrots, potatoes, beans, and pork or beef and served with some excellent local bread was a meal in itself €3.50 for a large bowl at the O Colmo restaurant. Sitio do Serrado S/N | Santana, Madeira 9230-116.

Apart from the restaurant in our hotel the Quinta da Penha de França there were a number of restaurants all within a three minute walk. We also enjoyed our meals at:

Bernini, Rua Imperatriz Dona Ammelia; Casa Velha Restaurant, Rua Imperatriz D. Amelia; Casal Da Penha, Alley Ataide 1; Dona Amelia Restaurant, Rua Imperatriz Dona Amelia and Casa do Vizinho, Rua Imperatriz Dona Amelia.

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