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5 of the Azores’ undiscovered culinary experiences

As the chilly breeze of Autumn approaches, adventurous food lovers should escape to mouth-wateringly warmer climes in the Azores because the archipelago is plating-up some truly “smoking hot” dishes. So why not hop on a flight (less than four hours direct from the UK) to São Miguel Island, your gateway to experience an abundance of quirky and traditional “foodie” experiences? Azores Volcano cuisine in Furnas Ever wondered what volcano cuisine tastes like? In a village named Furnas (which exists actually within the crater of a “sleeping” volcano) on the island of São Miguel is a charming Azorean restaurant which serves the islands’ traditional dish which is slow cooked in the ground using the heat generated by the volcano. Throughout the village, there are hot springs spewing from the volcanic yet lush landscape. You can even witness your meal, Cozido Das Furnas as it is pulled out of the ground in a large pot before it’s served to you. The traditional dish is a hearty stew mainly consisting of different kinds of local sausage, beef, chicken and a variety of vegetables. The restaurant, located inside the recently re-launched four star Terra Nostra Garden Hotel, overlooks one of the most beautiful gardens in Europe, Terra Nostra Park. Perched actually within the village’s breathtaking park and gardens, the restaurant and newly opened hotel serves a number of traditional Azorean meat and fish dishes. Just steps away, travellers may choose to take a dip in a beautiful natural thermal swimming pool, or explore the gardens and more than 2000 different trees. Horta’s world-famous sailors’ café Thanks to the Azores’ unique positioning in the heart of the Atlantic, Faial Island’s bustling and colourful Peters Café has become one of the most famous stop-offs en route for sailors, yachtsmen, even international celebrities and whalers in times gone by. Inside, you’ll hear languages from around the world and sample delicious fresh fish. Today, it boasts a lively atmosphere praised by visitors the world-over, and a colourfully nautical interior. Stop by for a drink and a warm welcome from the owner, José, who is well-known on the islands as his grandfather launched this legendary café on Christmas Day in 1918. Steps away, stroll along the marina to discover the many paintings created by passing sailors (it is considered bad luck for passing sailors not to complete a painting before leaving), which beautifully clutter the stonework of the harbour to the backdrop of Mount Pico. Sear your own seafood on local lava stone in Horta However you like your meat cooked, you won’t have to worry about how “well” your chef chars the steak at Canto Da Doca, a modern and stylish restaurant in the heart of Horta on Faial Island. A “must eat” for visitors to the Azores, it serves a variety of delicious seafood and local meats and is popular as guests can cook their own food to preference on their very own, piping hot slab of local lava stone from the table. Replaced throughout the evening to ensure an even cooking, the lava acts as a grill and is normally accompanied by a variety of side dishes. Cook and then savour a variety of meats and seafood with friends or family, including various steaks of beef, pork and chicken, as well as seafood such as salmon, squid and “lapas” limpets. Enjoy the nautical theme and merry atmosphere, with views over Horta’s famous sailing Marina and across to the tallest mountain in Portugal, Pico on Pico Island. Dishes of Azorean ancestors at Terceira’s 18th Century farm Quinta Do Martelo, an 18th Century working farm, restaurant and rural accommodation hidden in the heart of Terceira Island’s countryside, offers delightfully quirky age-old Azorean cuisine and has been frequented by Portuguese celebrities looking to break-away from the cameras and retreat to a slower-paced way of life. Amidst the tranquillity of the farm guests will be greeted by their host, Gilberto Vieira before savouring award-winning National Heritage dishes including soups and meat sourced from the surrounding farm, as well as freshly caught seafood. These authentic dishes are served in the rustic farm style restaurant and prepared in a wood-burning stove before being served just as the locals’ ancestors would have. Decked out with traditional décor, utensils and furniture, the restaurant and kitchen showcase organic produce and a real old Azorean feel. After a hearty meal, you can even stay a night or two in a charmingly rustic 16th century stone home, complete with traditional straw beds, fixtures and fireplaces. Back to basics: from food harvest & production to the old markets Known for their signature small bananas, guavas, passion fruits, teas, pineapples and plentiful seafood and meats, the Azores offer ample opportunity to learn about traditional produce, from the harvest and production to the market stall. First, whet your appetite with fruits and seafood (such as squid, clams, tuna, swordfish, limpets and crabs) at bountiful markets, such as the traditional market in Horta on Faial Island and Ponta Delgada’s Graça Market. Later, learn how the produce is harvested and prepared on São Miguel Island at the Pineapple Plantation (to sample the juicy fruit and a pineapple liquor) or the Gorreana tea factory, where travellers can learn about the collection of Azorean tea before sampling the different flavours. Take in the breathtaking UNESCO-listed vineyards on Pico Island, the home of the Azores’ delicious Pico white wine. Relish the tasty local São Jorge cheese (named after the island on which it was born), regarded as one of the archipelago’s best at its Cheese Factory. The landscapes of the islands are criss-crossed with fields full of cows, and the beef and dairy products are truly excellent.

Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson is Editor of A Luxury Travel Blog and has worked in the travel industry for more than 30 years. He is Winner of the Innovations in Travel ‘Best Travel Influencer’ Award from WIRED magazine. In addition to other awards, the blog has also been voted “one of the world’s best travel blogs” and “best for luxury” by The Daily Telegraph.

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