Portugal is well known for its port wine, but there are plenty of other delicacies to eat in this charming country. When taking a European cruise, you’ll have the opportunity to spend a day strolling through the historic town of Funchal, where you can experience some of the best cuisine in all of Portugal. After all, it’s the capital city of the Autonomous Region of Madeira (meaning the region has political and administrative freedom from other parts of Portugal).
There are many things to do in Funchal, from shopping for leather shoes and boots to watching artisans embroider fine luxury tablecloths. Ride cable cars, explore palaces, walk through botanical gardens and experience the famous Funchal snowless toboggan ride. After all the activity, take a break to refresh and fortify yourself. Here are 15 ideas of what to eat in Funchal.
If you’re looking for the best lunch in Funchal, try this simple, traditional Madeiran beef dish. Small cubes of beef are seasoned with garlic and pepper then fried. Picadinho is usually served family-style on a platter and shared by several people who use a toothpick or fork.
2. Pastel de Nata
Of all the delicious things to eat in Funchal, you’ll want to start with a breakfast of pastel de nata. The mini pastries are flaky and crispy, filled with a light egg custard and a small bit of lemon. Every Portuguese baker has their own proprietary recipe, but no matter where you find them, you’ll become addicted to these sweet little Madeiran specialties.
3. Sugar Cane Honey Cookies
Madeiran sugar cane honey cookies symbolize good memories. The simple cookie is made of wheat flour, eggs and honey. Every bakery has its specialty flavor, and the cookies can be customized with spices such as anise or fennel. If you bring them home as souvenirs and gifts, make sure you purchase cookies that are pre-packaged and unopened to board your ship.
4. Tropical Fruits
Fresh fruit lovers will swoon over the abundance of mangoes, papayas, pomegranates, grapes, bananas and more at Funchal’s Farmers Market. Try a juicy Funchal favorite, tabaibos (prickly pear), also called “figs of the devil,” that come from a species of cactus.
5. Carne Vinha D’Alhos
Another unique snack found in Funchal is a traditional Christmas dish that’s available year-round. The dish is made with pork, white wine, garlic, bay leaves, salt and pepper that marinate for a couple of days. You’ll find carne vinha d’alhos in the Funchal Farmers Market.
There are two Madeiran soups you shouldn’t miss while in Funchal. Tomato and onion soup, along with a poached egg and bread, is a traditional Madeiran cuisine. Sopa de Trigo, otherwise known as wheat soup, is also a specialty of Funchal. It has a gummy, dense texture thanks to the ample amount of vegetables in the recipe.
7. Cozido à Madeirense
If soup isn’t your style, how about this famous Madeiran stew made of salted pork, sausage and vegetables. It’s also typically served with couscous, though a round of wheat bread would be delicious, too.
This beef dish is grilled over charcoal then skewered on a metal or laurel stick. You’ll find restaurants in Funchal with tables that have built-in grill structures in the middle to prepare the espetada. The dish typically comes with fried maize (chunks of cooked corn flour) and bolo do caco (bread).
9. Bolo do Caco
This is one wheat bread you’ll love. It’s flattened out with rounded edges and used with a melted garlic butter spread. Of course, it’s also used for sandwiches with fillings such as steaks, ham, swordfish and yes, octopus. For a taste sensation, try bolo do caco made from sweet potatoes drizzled with the hot garlic butter.
10. Bife de Atum (Tuna Steak)
Tuna is extremely popular in Funchal — and all around Madeira — because it’s an abundant species in the surrounding seas. It’s eaten in steak form. Try tuna steak and fried maize, which is corn flour cooked and then cut into small cubes.
11. Black Scabbard fish
There’s plenty of fish in Funchal, including the common espada (sword) black scabbard fish. It’s very tasty when prepared with passion fruit and banana sauce, a Madeiran specialty.
12. Passion Fruit Pudding
Passion fruit is a Madeiran favorite, and it comes in various species for all types of dishes. The sweet and aromatic Passiflora edulis is used for desserts and drinks. Try the pudding made with passion fruit pulp, jelly, condensed milk and cream.
If you’re a seafood fanatic, you’ll want to try this odd little Funchal delicacy. Cracas are calcareous formations found on the rocks of the coastline. They’re harvested through hammering them off the rocks. They have a “sea” flavor, so if you like seafood you’ll have to try this fine snack to experience how delicious it tastes.
14. Port Wine
You can’t dine in Funchal without tasting the famed port wines of Madeira. A bottle of port is one of the very best things to buy in Funchal and take back with you for memories or gifts. Carnival allows you to bring one 750 ml bottle per adult if you’re over 21 years of age, but check with the cruise staff just to make sure.
15. Wine and Garlic Pork
Cubes of pork marinated in white wine, garlic cloves, vinegar, bay leaves and pepper are cooked and served as a sandwich. Though it’s a Christmas classic, you’ll find it in Funchal all year round.
In addition to touring the gastronomical delights found in Funchal, you’ll be able to explore Portugal’s other wonders, as well. A Carnival cruise can bring you to the cosmopolitan city of Lisbon, the historic seaport of Leixões (Porto) and the volcanic marvel of Ponta Delgada (Azores). Just be sure to enjoy every inch of Funchal’s fairytale setting before you embark on the next phase of your European cruise.