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The Real Madeira Food Guide

Find out what to eat in Madeira and what dishes you must definitely sample during your vacation on the Atlantic Island

Chorizo on flames in Madeira - a delicious food in Madeira you need to try

You're visiting the island of Madeira and you are a foodie traveller. Food in Madeira is extraordinary, and you are in for a real treat. There are so many dishes and so many restaurants to be discovered and if anything, Madeira food is so delicious, that you won't want to leave.

In this Madeira food guide, you'll discover fantastic traditional dishes, excellent drinks to lift your spirits and desserts that will speak to your soul. The local menus will tempt you with treats so good you'll want to move to Madeira just for its food. Add to this an incredible lush landscape, tall peaks piercing through the clouds, dramatic cliffs stretching for miles and relaxing beaches fringed with tropical plants, and you'll realize you just discovered one of the best kept destinations in the world: Madeira.

To sample every local delicacy, take a local tour guide that knows all the secret food spots with the best possible dishes. This is a great opportunity to discover the local restaurants selling the best food in Madeira. We recommend booking Madeira Food on Foot.

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Pastel de nata

You might have heard of it, Pastel de nata a Portuguese egg custard tart from mainland Portugal. Outside Portugal, they are particularly popular in other parts of Western Europe, Asia and former Portuguese colonies, such as Brazil, Mozambique, Macau, Goa and East Timor.

But in Madeira, you need to sit down with a refreshing lemongrass tea and enjoy a bite of authentic pastel de nata. The first bite meets a crunch from the pastry layers, followed by the sweet and smooth custard, perfectly baked, so it's just the correct consistency. This extremely popular dish can be found in any bakery across the island, but we especially recommend them for breakfast. What a bright way to start the day.

Madeira Food Pastel de Nata

Bolo de mel

Visit the Fábrica Santo Antonio, a secret biscuit shop in Funchal, where most locals purchase their bolo de mel, sugar cane biscuits and traditional jams. Entering this old fashion shop will bring you sweet memories of the Christmas season. The whole place is tastefully decorated, with old-school wicker baskets filled with sweet goods: an absolute joy to look at. You'll want to taste the generations of crafting which went into the making of the most outstanding biscuits you'll try. Now, you must try the bolo de mel (honey Madeira cake), a traditional Madeira food made with wheat flour, butter, lard, honey, walnuts, almonds and spices. This honey cake is considered Madeiras's oldest dessert, first noted in the 15th century. Forget about the calories and bite into the island's historic cake. Wash it down with a little port wine. Delicious!

Madeira Food Biscuits Factory

Black scabbard fish

The black scabbard fish (peixe espada) looks like some mythical creature from the depths of the ocean, and you won't be too far off. The black scabbard fish is believed to live in the twilight zone at depths from 100 to 500 m (328 to 1,640 ft). One look at it, and you'll be forgiven for getting shivers down your spine. The black beast has an extremely elongated body, with fang-like teeth and large eyes accounting for 18% of its head length. In Madeira, the fishermen often try and catch the espada at night, when the waters are all dark and dangerous. As the Madeira wine was not spirited enough to invoke the Dutch courage in all these fishermen, some created a rum-based mix which warmed the spirits during nighttime. Some say this is how the Madeiran drink poncha came to be.

Try a grilled steak of espada fish with boiled potatoes. It's a traditional dish you'll have to try at least once, since this is definitely not your most typical fish dish.

Madeira Food Espada Fish

Poncha

It's all about food in Madeira, but drinks are just as important here too. Try the local spirit, poncha made with distilled alcohol made from sugar cane juice, honey, sugar, and either orange juice or lemon juice. Enjoy it on the rocks and sip it slowly while taking in the beauty of the Madeiran landscape all around you. The local cuisine here is something to celebrate and travel for.

Madeira Food and Drink Poncha

Local fruits

Some things are great eaten as they are, and that includes the tropical fruits Madeira is famous for. Madeira island grows its own banana, passion fruit, mango, goiaba, tangerines, plums, cherries, also figs, avocados, limes and anona. You'll find this rainbow of colours and tastes in the local markets, including the Funchal main fruit market. Thanks to the mild climate, these absolutely delicious fruits are available year round fresh or in local drinks. There are so many passion fruit varieties, make sure to eat and drink everything with passion fruit in it. Besides, these tropical fruits are not just delicious, but full of vitamin C too. The most typical passion fruit in Madeira is the purple passion fruit, full of antioxidants.

You'll find the use of these exotic fruit in cocktails too. Passion fruit is widely used on the island too, and a great dessert to try is passion fruit pudding.

Passion Fruit Madeira

Madeira wine

Madeira wine is a fortified wine made on Madeira island, ranging from dry wine (consumed as an apéritif) or sweet wine (consumed with a dessert). Madeira island has a long history of winemaking and it is still noted for its unique winemaking process. Madeira wines sold under the term Madeira or Madère are protected and can only come from the Madeira islands.

There are several types of wine to try. Servial - a wine with very little sugar and high acidity. Verdelho - also low in sugars, with smokey notes and high acidity. Bual - known for its dark colour, rich texture and raisin flavour. Malvasia - dark colour, rich texture and a delicious coffee-caramel flavour. You'll come across Terrantez - a noble grape that went almost extinct.

Wine Madeira

Bolo de caco

Polo de caco is a traditional Madeiran flatbread made with sweet potatoes shaped like a cake. The bread is usually served with garlic butter and parsley or eaten as a sandwich. Purchase it from a local bakery or sit down in any casual restaurant to try it. think of it as the Madeiran version of garlic bread.

A great way to use bolo de caco and slice it into half, add small cubes of pork cooked in Madeiran wine. Story has it that one of the restaurants just outside the Funchal market gained a solid reputation among the locals by selling over 15000 sandwiches during one Christmas season.

Madeira Food Pork Sandwich

Ginjinha

Another local produce, which you'll need to bring home as souvenirs too, is ginjinha. Ginjinha is a strong cherry liqueur served in an edible chocolate cup. Food in Madeira is all about transforming simple foods into a celebration for your soul. Ginjinha is essentially an open chocolate bonbon that will eat and drink at the same time. These sweet treats are addictive.

ginjinha in Madeira in chocolate cup

Octopus

Madeira island is pretty literally in the middle of the Atlantic, so naturally seafood plays an important role in traditional cuisine. Octopus is very popular, and it's usually served as a starter. Octopus legs will be soft and butter, covered in marinate, typically served with salad or just boiled potatoes. It's not uncommon to find octopus on most restaurant menus in Madeira.

Octopus Portugal

Chorizo Sausage

You'll absolutely have to taste this incredible food in Madeira: a whole chorizo sausage covered in alcohol and cooked on a flame. Not only it looks unbelievable but the tastes it's fantastic. The alcohol sips into the chorizo sausage and once cooked, you'll bite into a crispy sausage skin, followed by a mixture of spicy chorizo with a hint of local spirit. This has to be a dish you try at least once.

Chorizo on flames in Madeira - a delicious food in Madeira you need to try

Grilled limpets

Limpets are a type of snails that live along the rocky shores of Madeira. A delicious dish for the seafood lovers, limpets are often grilled and served with garlic butter. This food is typically found in the Azores too but also in Portugal.

Eat them on their own or add a squeeze of lemon to bring out all those sea flavours. Limpets are crunchy and taste a little sweet and savoury. They are akin to the taste of mussels.

Grilled limpets as part of a large seafood platter in Madeira

Carne Vinha D'Alhos

Since we're talking meat, then you will want to try this traditionally prepared pork meat left to marinate in garlic, little olive oil, wine vinegar and bay leaf. Carne de Vinha D'Alhos is cooked in very hot oil in a frying pan. It's served with garlic bread (bread with garlic butter on it), potatoes or rice.

Madeira Food Pork Sandwich Small Bite

Long laurel skewers

The beauty of the food in Madeira is that you'll find simple ingredients turned into the perfect dish you'll want to eat over and over again. Long laurel skewers, or espetada, are soft cuts of beef seasoned with garlic and bay leaves. They often grill the espetada over grape wood embers. To enjoy the full experience, eat espetada with a side dish of milho frito (fried maize) and bolo do caco with garlic butter and parsley.

long laurel skewers madeira

Sopa de tomate e cebola

Madeira island is full of beautiful hikes on the well known levada and after a long walk, you'll want to sit down for lunch to enjoy a warming dish, served in a rustic restaurant overlooking the ocean. In Madeira, this is effortless to achieve. Order Sopa de tomate e cebola (tomato and onion soup) and enjoy it with a slice of bread. This tomato soup is crowned with a poached egg.

Cheese and wine

Madeira might be a small island, but it's the perfect place to find some of the best food in the world. Spend at least a day exploring the island for its food, and you'll be pleased. At the end, nothing beats a relaxing evening with a glass of white wine and overlooking some of the most impressive landscape on Madeira island.

Book a table at Restaurante do Forte, a fancy restaurant, located in one of the most beautiful spots in the capital city, overlooking the crystal clear ocean. Order their braised tuna steak or the banana espada, followed by their delicious cheese board. Enjoy the sunset with a glass of Madeira wine.

It's hard not to fall in love with Madeira food, and for the island it's not just the nature, but the food to that has such great appeal to all its visitors. Once you visit Madeira once, you'll want to keep coming back, especially as there is so much to do on the island. Besides, every place you stay in Madeira has its own charm. You'll love it.

Madeira Food Cheese Platter

Quick questions about Madeira food

Many of our readers are sending us message asking us all about Madeira food and local delicacies.

What drink is Madeira?

Madeira is a fortified wine that comes from the island of Madeira. It tastes similar to fruit, caramel and toffee. There are many profiles, but caramel and nuts being the most prominent.

How expensive is food in Madeira?

Food in Madeira is affordable. For one person, expect to pay around €30 for a delicious main curse with a glass of local wine. You will find cheaper dishes, too, like bolo do caco sandwiches from smaller establishments.

What food is Madeira known for?

The unique food in Madeira is peixe espada (scabbard fish), bolo de caco, and Carne Vinha D'Alhos, especially beloved during the Christmas season.

What is the national dish of Madeira

The unique traditional food in Madeira is scabbard fish with fried bananas. The bananas are locally grown on the island as well. You can find it in most restaurants on the island. The bananas are local and grown on the island as well.

What do you think?

Did you like this article? Do you have any questions or suggestions? Leave a comment below.

Your Comment

M
Michelle Loftus
22 Dec 2020

Hello, Cory, thank you for this superb article and introduction to the best way to learn about Madeira's local foods, with a tour from Madiera Food on Foot! Your photographs are superb as well. :)
Best wishes, Michelle

J
Judith Chidgey.
08 Jun 2019

Very useful, so looking forward to my visit in June.