The Madeirans love to go out and eat, and whilst it is very affordable for many western Europeans, it is comparatively expensive for many people on Madeira on minimum wage of around €500 per month.
Madeira has snack bars and restaurants in vast numbers from one end to the other. Most of the snack bars prepare steak sandwiches and burgers, but there are a great many restaurants specialising in local recipes, and others serving more familiar dishes, including Italian, Indian and Chinese food, with some excellent seafood establishments.
Vegetarians are catered for on Madeira, but mostly in Funchal, where there are several restaurants serving a variety of dishes.
All restaurants and snack bars serve a large variety of soft and alcoholic drinks, and tea and coffee also. The wines are both Madeiran and imported, the main beers on offer will almost certainly come from Coral,
a local producer that has a huge dominance over the Madeira market, and produces light and dark beers, as well as non-alcoholic brews. Many of the soft drinks will be familiar too, with Coca Cola being a major brand. Most of the other juices and fizzy drinks come from Brisa, who also manufacture on the island, with a huge range of the usual and more exotic flavours.
Most of the locals and visitors like to eat outdoors when out for the night. The people of Madeira tend to eat quite late at night, often with friends and families, including children.
Service charges are not normally included in the bill, and tipping is optional.
Madeira is well blessed with 3 large supermarket chains, with one or more represented in most larger towns. Modelo and Pingo Doce are Portuguese national brands, whilst Hiper Sã is a local supermarket, just trying to reach out and establish itself in mainland Portugal. There are plenty of other smaller privately owned supermarkets and food shops to choose from, but the larger ones have a significant pricing advantage, and small businesses struggle in the competition.
However, on Madeira, there is a third source for fresh vegetables, fruit, meat and fish, and that is direct from the farmers and fishermen, of which there are many, If you live outside of the city, and you get to know your neighbours, for sure there will be packages and boxes turning up with bananas and oranges, as these are plentiful and often surplus to requirements. Once you know your way around a bit, if you live in the country you will probably find that a lot of your heavy and fresh shopping comes home this way, with a bit from the neighbours, something from the man in the fish van, some wine from a local winery, and so on.
Having established your bulk food sources, you go out and buy everything else in your local shops or supermarkets, and quite likely end up with some goods imported to Madeira.
The quality of food is good, the fruit and vegetables are wide in variety, and usually good in flavour. Prices fluctuate widely, due to seasonal availability and importation costs. The meat (limited in choice) and fish (big choice) prices usually stay more steady.
Here are some rough price guides
for basic food & drink from 2008:
Potatoes €0.60 – €1 / kg
Oranges €0.50 – €1 / kg
Tomatoes €1 – €2.50 / kg
Bread €0.70 – €2 medium loaf
Lean beef €4 – €6 / kg
Chicken €1.70 – €2.50 / kg
Small fish €1 – €3 / kg
Large fish €4 – €8 / kg
Milk €0.40 – €0.70 / litre
30cl local beer €0.20 – €0.45
Wine starts at €0.70 / litre, up to several Euros for a reasonable bottle
The average Madeira family shopping bill for 2007 was €399 per month
EATING & DRINKING OUT
Portuguese & International Cuisine
If you are up for a burger, steak sandwich, chips or whatever, then you will need to walk no more than a few meters in any town to satisfy your appetite, as there are numerous snack bars and cafés on Madeira, catering for the most popular local tastes in snacks. There are also plenty of restaurants, but as you will no doubt wish to try some local dishes, this is where we will start.
Several dishes stand out as being particularly Portuguese or Madeiran, and are very popular with the locals. The first is Espetada, which is a kebab type meal of grilled or barbecued beef, in very large chunks, well flavoured with garlic. You will often see the huge skewers hanging upright on the tables. You may see it served with chips, vegetables, or salad, or fried corn is also popular. This dish and other grilled and barbecued meat will certainly be found in any restaurant marked or named as a churrascaria, and if you go to a street festivals you will almost certainly see it on sale, and perhaps even cook it yourself.
Fish is also very popular, and one deep sea fish caught locally is called espada (scabbard fish), and although you won’t recognise it on your plate, if you look in a Madeira supermarket it will be the very long black fish with large eyes and wicked razor sharp teeth. The other very popular fish dish is ‘bacalhau’ or cod fish. This is familiar but imported cod, usually dried and salted when brought, but this is unnoticeable when rehydrated and prepared.
There are specialist fish restaurants, mostly in Funchal, but as much of the more exquisite fish is imported, they can appear expensive, and you may pay for the fish by uncooked weight. Look out for ‘Marisqueira’ outside a restaurant.
One stew of worthy note, named feijoada, is made of boiled beans, and can be made with a variety of meats and flavourings, in a sauce. It’s very filling and very popular with Madeirans.
International cuisine restaurants are common place in Funchal, but are much harder to find on the rest of the island, with the exception of Italian style restaurants serving pizza and pasta dishes. In Funchal there are several Chinese and Indian restaurants, as well as the Italian ones, and French, and a few more obscure themes dotted around the city. Also, but barely under the theme of ‘International Cuisine’, you will find MacDonalds & Kentucky Fried Chicken, and familiar looking fast food Pizza outlets in Funchal.
Money Saving Tip – Meals are well renowned in Portugal & Madeira for being rather large, so if you have children with you often you can ask for a half portion “Meia dose de … se faz favor”. It will probably cost more than half the price of a full portion, but that’s to be expected.
The Madeiran ‘Café Culture’
Cafés and Bars form a huge part of the social life enjoyed by many Madeirans and Portuguese people. As well as a simple and often practical way of feeding and hydrating yourself, the bigger role is the social environment it provides, with friends and family, business acquaintances and anybody else who might turn up! This life is generally a daytime affair, with little if any alcohol being consumed, but plenty of very strong black coffee in very small cups.
Most of this socialising takes place daily outside the numerous cafes and bars that are spread out across the island, weather permitting of course, and mostly during the day. At night-time, especially later on, it is more normal to see younger people, often with children but still sitting outdoors. Again, drinking mostly coffee and juices.
Not so much these days (unless you ask), the staff will give you a dish of something to eat with your drink, known as ‘dentinhos’, something like the tapas bars of Spain do. Sometimes you will be given a small plate of yellow beans (tromoços), or salted peanuts or monkey nuts, others may give you something hot like tripe, or chicken hearts, or ‘patinhas’ (pigs feet).
Bars, Pubs, & Drinking Establishments
The opening times of most the bars, pubs and cafés is pretty universal, and usually pretty early, but the closing times vary from town to town and from establishment to establishment, with the bars further away from residential areas usually having later closing times (later licences are allowed if the establishment is not going to be disturbing people).
All bars / pubs / cafes sell alcoholic drinks, but they would normally represent the smaller part of the days trade where coffee, juices and snacks give the owners their main income, though that may vary with establishment that serve a lot of tourists.
Many of the bars have TVs, but most people don’t watch them unless there is a big football match on.
On 1st January 2008, Portugal introduced measures to stop smoking in public places. Madeira was equally affected, but the president of Madeira, a cigar smoker, had the law changed for Madeira. Now there are bars and restaurants that allow smoking, and by law they have smoke extraction equipment installed.
In public places such as the airport and on buses, smoking is not permitted. Bars, cafes and restaurants can choose to be a smoking or non smoking establishment. There are stiff fines for businesses, and fines for smokers themselves who do not comply with the law. A red sticker is used is used to indicate ‘no smoking’ establishments and areas. The majority of places have opted for the ‘no smoking’ option.
However, for those who still wish to smoke, it shouldn’t be a problem, as with a climate like that on Madeira, who wouldn’t rather sit outside anyway? Cigarettes are priced in the range of €1.50 to €2.80 per
packet, the higher price being for imported cigarettes. Most bars and cafes have vending machines that are operated by a remote control to stop underage use, so you may have to ask for the machine to be switched on.
The prices in bars, pubs & cafes vary enormously around Madeira, and going from one extreme of a café in a busy tourist area in Funchal, to a small bar in a small Madeiran village, exactly the same drink could cost you half as much, maybe less. At the lower end of the scale, a small beer should cost between 80 cents and €1, a large white coffee 70 to 90 cents, a bottled juice or cola probably €1 or just under, a large shot of spirits between €1 and €2, depending on the measure and spirit chosen.
The food is limited in choice, burger and steak sandwiches being more popular with the locals on Madeira, but you can buy your lunch for between €3 and €5 as long as you don’t stray from the regular menu or the dish of the day which should have it’s own price marked up.
The prices discussed above are the prices you should pay and those normally advertised or listed somewhere in view, but legally, owners of bars, pubs & cafes are permitted to charge a service charge if they take your order and serve you outside, and normally this would be as little as 10 cents a drink, but some owners or their waiting staff take this to new levels by adding 50% or 100% or more onto a drinks bill, and this is a big problem with foreigners whether they realise it or not. Normally with food there is never a problem, and most bars, pubs and cafés do employ honest staff.
Another favourite trick is to take your €5 note, and ‘forget’ to give you the change, unless you ask for it of course, so you should keep an eye open for these small but annoying and costly tricks. Another warning, some bars / pubs / cafes & restaurants have tills that can produce different priced bills / receipts for the same item!
The staff and the customers in the Madeira bars & pubs are generally helpful, friendly and understanding, and you will see this manifest itself in different forms, from the busy city centre bars & cafés to the remote snack bar in the middle of nowhere. You ought to experience this for yourself.
Tips To Avoid Being ‘Had’
1. Use the bars / pubs you know and trust.
2. Order your drink at the bar, and make a mental note if you see the price list (which should be displayed). Likewise, if you order anything from the menu. By law, these establishments are permitted to charge more for outside service. The chances are the locals will not be charged this, or if they are it will be 10 or 20 cents per drink. However, some pubs / bars / cafes will mark up huge amounts in order to charge foreigners more.
3. Where convenient, pay your bill inside the bar / pub / cafe, and check your change.
4. If you don’t see a bill and are unhappy with the amount charged , ask the bar man or pub manager for a ‘recibo’, and check that what is printed is correct.
5. If you want to ask for the manager, ask ….. “quero falar com o gerente”
6. As a last resort, ask for the ‘Livro de Reclamacões’ (complaints book), and that should resolve matters. This should always be as a last resort, as there can be serious repercussions for the business involved.
DISCLAIMER – THE INFORMATION PROVIDED HERE DOES NOT CONSTITUTE PROFESSIONAL ADVICE, AND IS PROVIDED FOR BRIEF GUIDANCE ONLY, ON A BEST ENDEAVORS BASIS.
NO RESPONSIBILITY CAN BE ACCEPTED FOR THE ACCURACY OF INFORMATION SHOWN HERE, AND YOU SHOULD SEEK INDEPENDENT VERIFICATION OR PROFESSIONAL GUIDANCE. THIS PAGE WAS LAST UPDATED IN 2008.
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