Madeira, island of dreams, part one – eat, drink, laugh, repeat
Listen to the music while reading blog post.
Madeira. The name of the island means wood in Portuguese language. And this is not a coincidence, as the island was totally covered with forest when it was discovered. I certainly not visited this island when it was discovered, therefore I found there quite a lot of other things as well, not only wood. What exactly, I’ll try to explain in a series of blog posts.
Caninha, poncha and vinho seco.
Let’s start with a little gastronomic exploration in the world of madeiran alcoholic drinks, and intentionally I don’t mention hereb the wine with the same name, probably you already know about it. Anyway, I have to admit, I always try to keep distance from sweet red wine.
So caninha is made of Madeiran sugarcane, it’s like rum, strong enough and this is the main ingredient for poncha. In the bottle of the drink you can easily find some of the actual sugarcane as a decoration. Unfortunately I missed to take any photos of this, but we tasted sugarcane in the alcohol-free state as well so I can show you some pics. Sugarcane itself is a long stick, which you have to attack with a machete, peel it like a fruit and voilá, you can consume it. The experience is quite like chewing sugar cubes.
P oncha is made of this sugarcane rum, adding some lemon and honey. It is stirred over and over with a special poncha stick and presented in front of you, expecting you to black out ecstaticly. I have to admit, in my case no black-out happened, no ecstasy either, ’cause I think this is a bad drink. But to be totaly honest, I feel the urge, from time to time to taste poncha with different flavours (e.g. passion fruit or peppermint) to be completely sure I still badly hate it.
And another local tradition lastly. In the bars with your drink usually comes a bit of peanuts or something similar just to not get drunk in the second minute after arriving. Surprisingly, with the shell of the peanuts you are allowed to do exactly what your mother would never allow you: to drop it in chic style directly to the floor and contentedly reach out for the next bite. Not a single person will complain.
Last but not least, vinho seco. We can translate it somewhat to dry wine. My quick romance with vinho seco lasted for exactly 3 seconds. At that time I’ve been to Madeira for a month and never tried this drink, so on my very last evening, in moody tiki bar, Pukiki, the owners insisted on my tasting it. They literally prohibited to leave the island before trying vinho seco. Not because it would be the peak of Madeiran culinary, but it is extremely popular on the rural parts of the island, kept in big barrels and is usually drunk quick as it would be some spirit. To be honest, at this moment I started to suspect that something was wrong with this drink, this quickness seemed a bit awkward on an island that is proud to produce excellent quality wines, but the owners smoothed my nerves and once in a while a nice amount of vinho seco appeared on the table.
Well. For a while we just stared at each other with this drink. Me a bit mistrustfully, the vinho seco apparently in unconcernedly. Then I tasted it very slowly, very cautiously and started coughing immediately and surrounded by the wide smiles of the owners I couldn’t help saying that I wouldn’t drink the leftover. Period. They were just laughing and telling me that they had expected some reaction like this and just wanted me to be able to tick off this item from my bucket list.
About the difference between espada and espetada
The names are quite similar but one dish is fish and the other is not. Espada is the monster fish of Madeira, pretty ugly (so much as I didn’t dare to take a photo of its head) therefore it lives very deep in the ocean not to frighten anybody by mistake. Let’s give it a big red point for this act of kindness.
Fishermen though are not a bit afraid of its ugliness or the depth of the water, in this autumn season of the year they fish espada with big pleasure. This is not the best news for the fish, but good enough for us who can finish its delicious parts off of our plates with satisfied growling.
Espetada, on the other hand, is beef meat, and has no common interest with the monster fish. If not that both dishes are quite delicious. Espetada is medium rare with a pinch of salt and a bit of garlic served on enormous sticks. Sometimes you’ll find some Rorschach test like decoration on your plate as well, to measure your mental health before eating. We suspected something like this, at least, seeing the unusual table setting. Oh, and as for my Rorschach test, I think this is an extremely happy man, jumping in joy. What do you think?
So this is about culinary of Madeira for today. There is a lot to tell about the island of dreams and I’ll continue in the next blog post, but for a while we leave drinks and dishes behind to make space for other interests.