One morning I went to the market in Funchal. Now, I love markets. In every city I happen to be – Reims, Tbilisi, Yerevan, Barcelona, I spend time in the city market relishing the buzz, colours and smells.
The market in Funchal is called “Mercado dos Lavradores” or Farmer’s Market and is in the heart of the old town. It has a covered area of 9,600 square metres in two floors. The main entrance is decorated with traditional hand-painted blue azulejo tiles and in the lobby, women in traditional red dresses and black hats sell flowers.
The display of exotic fruit, vegetables, spices and herbs on the first floor is dazzling. Persistent young men and women dressed in red, rush about offering free samples and trying to entice you to visit their stalls. “Watch it!” Sophie warned. There is dried hibiscus and dried chillies of various sizes, colours and ferocity and sachets of intensely fragrant herbs.
The beautiful trumpet-shaped Hibiscus flower has a sweet/tart flavour similar to dried cranberry and is delightful spooned over ice cream or brewed as a tea. Sour sops too make a wonderful fruit drink.
Further into the market and down steps to the ground floor is the area where fresh meat and fish such as fierce looking black scabbard fish, tuna, octopus limpets, dried skipjack tuna and cuttle fish are sold.
The most spectacular fish on display is the Espada Preta or Black Scabbard Fish (Aphanopus carbo) which looks much like a giant black monster eel with a large head with fierce fangs for teeth attached to a three and a half foot slimy and iridescent body. It lives in the Atlantic ocean at depths of between 180 to 1,700 metres but rises towards the surface at night to feed on crustaceans. They are caught in vast numbers by Madeiran fishermen in their little boats and every restaurant on the island has it on the menu. The flesh is light, white and flavorful and is served grilled in small, flat pieces rather than whole. Madeirans love it. Grilled Black Scabbard roe is equally popular and is often served with the fish.
There are mounds of limpets, another popular seafood in Madeira. They are served often as a starter, quickly fried with butter and garlic and eaten with a drop or two of lemon juice.
Dry salted skipjack tuna and limpets are the Madeiran fishermen’s favorite dish during the Feast of Our Lady of Mercy that takes place in the east coast village of Caniçal between September 17 and 18. The fish is first soaked in water and cooked and the flakes are eaten with a sauce made with olive oil, vinegar, sliced onion, red pepper and parsley.
We bought some small sweet plantains that are grown all over Madeira, for a mid-morning snack and wonderfully aromatic dried herbs including oregano and lemon grass to take home and headed up the hill to Monte for a toboggan run.
Our visit was arranged by:
Rita Galvão CEO / Diretora Executiva +351 912304517 www.discoveringmadeira.com www.winetoursmadeira.com