Monday, July 11, 2016

Sao Miguel: Culinary Highlights

When travelling, I make it a point to immerse in the culture through food (and drink). In high school a Portuguese classmate joked that their Canadian cousins must be Newfoundlanders because of their shared love of seafood. While most of us are familiar with fish, various shellfish and crustaceans, the introduction of sea limpets was the highlight of my seafood experience. These molluscs have a texture between calamari and mussels. Azoreans eat them raw as well as cooked; we had 'em grilled with butter, garlic, wine and spicy chilies with a squeeze of lemon. While it's no surprise that seafood is a staple of the Azorean diet, the other (that was a surprise to me) is beef and dairy.

On-site milking done in the fields and a cow in pasture
Most of the cattle raised is exported and they make A LOT of cheese. Every restaurant features fresh white cheese and Sao Jorge cheese as appetizers; one custom we were not familiar with before dining in Sao Miguel is that upon being seated, the server brings a plate of cheese (generally the fresh white one kind) and spicy sauce with bread--whether you ordered it or not. If you're not going to consume it, I'd recommend you tell them that, before being seated or it'll be added to the tab.

The countryside is intensively sectioned into walled plots of mixed farming, by lava stone, ranging from small residential gardens, to beef/dairy farming, to pineapple or passionfruit "orchards". Driving around the island, it is common to see holstein cows grazing on the sides and tops of hills as well as people's front yards. But as history has it, the original major agricultural export was oranges, until a disease wiped out the island's crop. Wine grapes are another crop grown but the best wine in the region is that from Pico Island. Another notable super drink cultivated is tea, with two plantations still active: Porto Formoso and Gorreana, from the inception of the cultivation in the 1870s. Gorreana is a functional museum where visitors can learn about the process and sample the tea.

Tea fields of Gorreana
Dining in Sao Miguel is quite the experience and you will not be disappointed. My most memorable meal is the Caldeirada de Peixe (and my mouth waters reading the linked page describing the dish in all its amazingness) at Restaurante Mariserra in Ponta Delgada. Yes, we are wearing bibs; be fore-warned not to wear any light coloured clothes or you'll be redecorating that shirt.

Restaurante Mariserra
The first meal of the stay was a little less memorable but one we still enjoyed: a steak sandwich and fries, and fried sardines (*yum*) at a cute hotel Solar do Conde near our own hotel. This was our first exposure to beef on the island and it was really good so expectations were high.

Hotel Solar do Conde
The only place on the island that topped our beefy expectations, was the farming coop (Associacao Agricola de Sao Miguel) which also has a restaurant on site, open to the public. We enjoyed our meals here so much that we went twice and both times, it was a full-house. The signature dish is the Portuguese steak: a fried steak with an egg on top. An unusual combination was the blood sausage and pineapple but worth it!!

TravelAdvisor rates them high
Our first meal out on the town was at a Portuguese restaurant (and accommodations) in Ponta Delgada established in 1908, called Alcides. We over-did ourselves this time since we hadn't been informed about the cheese and bread custom. But boy did we enjoy ourselves! Conger eel stew and fish egg scramble/fry.

Fish egg fry/scramble and Conger eel stew!
Another specialty dish is cozidos. Foods cooked with the heat of the geothermal energies of the Furnas area. Pots of ingredients, generally meats, potatoes, vegetables and rice, are buried in the ground and then dug up several hours later. It was at Tony's where we first tried sea limpets accompanying the cozidos and deep fried forkbeard fish.

Cozidos in Furnas
Despite going out to explore different tastes, we did spend one dinner at the hotel we stayed, Pedras do Mar, and had a lovely night in, with a fresh salad, cod and grilled octopus.

A night in, at Pedras do Mar

We couldn't forget the best way to spend our lunch after horseback riding at a little seafood place by the ocean called Bar Caloura. This unassuming place took advantage of its location by the ocean and the catch of the day menu changed daily. You'd just pick a fish you wanted, they'd grill it up for you with access to the salad bar. Very relaxing and wonderful way to spend lunch after a ride.

A photo posted by Deborah (@my_examined_life) on

Food and drink is always such a highlight of our travels but being prepared for the trip is pivotal for a good experience. Coming up next, preparations and other thoughts about making the most out of a trip to Sao Miguel!

4 comments:

  1. Loved that fish stew, wish I could have it again. And the cozidos was really interesting, tasted like how the geothermal vents smelled.

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    1. i think about that fish stew regularly :D

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  2. Making me hungry! Those tea fields are gorgeous!

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    1. haha!! it was absolutely delicious! when you get the chance to go, you won't regret it. and yeah, i love how manicured the tea fields are!!!

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