Simon Calder discovers an irresistible food scene in and around the archipelago’s capital

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In the midst of skilled chefs and wine producers on the island, the emphasis is strongly placed on locally sourced food and drinks. Given that the closest point of mainland Portugal is 500 miles away, this focus makes perfect sense. The heart of this culinary scene can be found in Funchal, the capital of Madeira. To embark on a gastronomic journey, it is best to start with the raw ingredients.

Funchal is a vibrant city with a rich heritage, and it is home to the Mercado dos Lavradores, a double-deck Farmers’ Market that dates back to 1940. This iconic market showcases an array of fresh produce from across the island, accompanied by the vibrant colors of exotic flowers. The market is not only a vital part of the daily lives of locals but also a must-visit for tourists. Here, visitors can not only experience the bustling atmosphere but also find unique crafts such as the carapuça, a pigtail cap worn by agricultural workers in the 19th century. Interestingly, unmarried women would leave the pigtail untied, indicating their single status.

Funchal, known for its diverse culinary scene, offers a multitude of options for every hungry visitor. Kampo, a new addition to Funchal’s dining scene, was created by celebrity chef Julio Pereira. With an open kitchen and innovative culinary techniques, this restaurant offers a gastronomic performance while delivering delicious food. Liliana Abreu, one of the chefs, explains that there is “food for everybody” at Kampo, catering to everything from gourmet delicacies to simpler dishes like steak and chips.

Another popular restaurant in Funchal is Chalet Vicente, housed in a converted family mansion. This establishment, founded in 2011, has become a go-to spot for locals and tourists alike. Co-owner Guadalupe Brito guarantees that visitors will find an appetite if they didn’t bring one, and suggests trying the local specialty, espada (scabbard fish), which is known for its exceptional taste despite its unassuming appearance.

Just a few miles west of Funchal lies the fishing village of Camara de Lobos, which offers a variety of restaurants to satisfy culinary cravings. One standout is Vila da Carne, where the chefs excel at preparing a local specialty called espetada. This dish features chunks of beef cooked on a skewer and coated in garlic and laurel-infused butter, resulting in a flavor-packed experience.

For a lunch with a view, head to Patio das Barbosas in Monte. Here, visitors can enjoy the Prego, a sandwich filled with thinly sliced beef. The name “prego” translates to “nail” in English, symbolizing its ability to quickly satisfy hunger until dinner.

To complete the culinary journey, a visit to B Heaven, the rooftop bar of the Barcelo Old Town hotel in Funchal, is a must. This retro-inspired bar allows guests to cool off in the rooftop pool while enjoying a cocktail and the sunset, preparing the palate for the next delectable feast.

In summary, Madeira, with its emphasis on locally sourced food and drink, offers a tantalizing culinary experience. Funchal, with its vibrant market and diverse dining scene, serves as the epicenter of this gastronomic journey. Whether sampling fresh produce, savoring local specialties, or enjoying a picturesque view with a cocktail in hand, Madeira satisfies both the body and soul with its culinary delights.

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