It was hard to prise myself away from the luxurious surroundings of Reid’s Palace during my trip to the Portuguese island of Madeira. While I may have been reluctant to abandon my pool side lounge chair, once I did I was delighted to discover Funchal’s fascinating seafood market along with a real locals place, a simple seafood restaurant right by the sea.
|One huge chunk of tuna at the seafood section at the market|
Mercado dos Lavradores
The seas around Madeira are so deep that the fish on display at Funchal’s Mercado dos Lavradores (farmers market) seem almost prehistoric in appearance. In the depths of the ocean not much has changed over time and tuna almost the size of a small car is deftly filleted by fishmongers wielding huge machetes.
|Fruit sellers at the market|
It’s certainly a sight to see the monstrously ugly black scabbard fish with its beady eyes and long black slimy body.
|Are these the ugliest fish you have ever seen? The black scabbard fish|
The market which dates from the 1940‘s also features an amazing variety of fruit and vegetables showing off the fertility of Madeira’s soil. Local ruby beets are sold alongside tropical fruits such as different varieties of tangy passionfruit and so ripe they melt in your mouth mangoes.
|Different varieties of passionfruit on display at the market|
There are also ladies selling chamomile which locals prescribe for a cold using three, five or seven buds, only ever uneven numbers. Happily, unlike some of London’s markets there are just as many locals buying food as there are camera wielding tourists marveling at the dazzling array of produce on offer.
Details: Largo dos Lavradores Funchal, Madeira 9060 158, Portugal.
|Limpets at Doca do Cavacas|
Doca do Cavacas
Clinging to the bottom of a cliff just like one of the limpets it specializes in, Doca do Cavacas is a tiny, rustic seafood restaurant. The decor inside is no nonsense with bare wooden tables and tiled walls however there is no need for decoration with panoramic views from the roof terrace and a dazzling array of fresh seafood.
Arriving at our table in a sizzling hot iron pan limpets (€6.50) were simply dressed with a squeeze of fresh lemon. It was the sort of unexpectedly brilliant dish which makes life worth living, slightly chewier than a mussel but even tastier. Octopus (€12.50) was tender and teamed perfectly with a sauce of slow cooked tomatoes and onions. So simple but so bloody good.
Despite its fearsome uncooked appearance black scabbard is actually a rather mild flavoured fish so at Doca do Cavacas it was battered to add some texture and interest and served with its traditional accompaniment of banana (€10.50). No such gussying up was needed for the mussels (€9.50) which were so big, fat and flavoursome that they must have been wild.
|Black scabbard fish|
We drank an excellent crisp and clean bottle or two of vinho verde from Alvahrino deu la deu and finished our meal with a slab of cream drizzled with fresh passionfruit. It was a stonking meal all round even taking into account the fact seafood always tastes better by the sea.
Details: Estrada Monumental, Ponta da Cruz , Madeira, Portugal (Ph +351 291 762 057).
|Fresh cream drizzled with passionfruit|
Gourmet Travel Tips
- Easyjet flies direct to Funchal from London. Flights start at £60 return.
- I stayed at Reid’s Palace, Estrada Monumental 139, 9000-098 Funchal, Madeira, Portugal (Ph +351 291 71 71 71). Room rates start from €280 a night for bed and breakfast.
- Reid’s Palace is a 20 min cab ride from Funchal airport.
- Must do activities are catching the cable car up to the Monte Palace Gardens (€10) and then careering down the streets in a wicker toboggan (€25 for two people).
Gourmet Chick was a guest of Reid’s Palace