Cozido das Furnas. Yum!
One part of culture that should not be ignored when visiting the Azores is the food. To make sure you have the best bites the destination has to offer, here is a visual guide to the most delicious dishes I had on my recent trip to the islands — including São Miguel,São Jorge and Pico — with recommendations on where to get them.
Where: Terra Nostra Garden Hotel, Rua Padre José Jacinto Botelho, 5, 9675-061 Furnas, Sao Miguel; +351 296 549 090
Everyday at 12:30pm, you can go to Lagoa das Furnas on São Miguel to watch locals and chefs pull pots filled with meats and veggies out of the ground. These people aren’t foraging — although almost all of the meat and produce used in the Azores is grown locally — they’re using naturally occurring steam from the geothermal hot springs to cook the ingredients for Cozido das Furnas, a typical dish in the São Miguel parish of Furnas. After watching how the ingredients are prepared, head to Furnas Village to the Terra Nostra Garden Hotel to savor the dish for yourself — a hearty plate of beef shoulder, black pudding, pork shanks, chorizo, pork belly, pork foot, chicken, kale, cabbage, carrot, yam and potato all gowned in its own juices — before wandering the onsite 12-acre/5-hectare botanical garden (€6/about $6.80 USD per person entrance fee).
2. Steak & Pineapple Cake
Where: Restaurante Alcides, Hintze Ribeiro, 67 Ponta Delgada, São Miguel; +351 296 629 884
First of all, the Portuguese don’t call it “steak,” they call it “beef” — although when it has a bone they call it “costela” and specify the type of meat. One of the best beef filets you can get in the Azores is at Restaurante Alcides in the capital of Ponta Delgada. It’s so tender and juicy you can cut it with a butter knife, and sits in a thick garlicky butter sauce that perfectly coats and compliments the fried onion-topped meat.
Walk off your meal with a stroll near the port and enjoy the water views. Make sure to also take a walk through the iconic Portas da Cidade (Gates to the City), the historical entrance to the Ponta Delgada, and make a wish, a local tradition.
Where: Restaurante Açor, Avenida dos Baleeiros, 9800-548 Velas, São Jorge +351 295 430 100
This laid back restaurant, with its cafeteria feel and cultural touches like island-inspired paintings by local artists, São Jorge mural and wine racks showcasing local product is a great venue for exploring local culinary culture. One must-have dish is the alcatra — actually more traditional on the island of Terceira but loved by São Jorge locals, too. It consists of overnight slow-cooked stewed beef made in a traditional clay pot and served with island chorizo and sweet potato.
Other dishes to note here are the local São Jorge clams — a specialty of the island that allows you to really taste the local ocean — and Morcela, savory fried cakes made with green onions, parsley, rice, flour, eggs, spices, piripiri and pig’s blood that are all boiled together before being fried in pork fat. Go around lunch time for their special menu of the day for a starter, meal, coffee and glass of wine for around $6-7 USD.
Sao Jorge Cheese
Where: São Jorge cheese factories: *Uniqueijo, Beira 9800-501 Velas São Jorge; +351 295 438 274/5; firstname.lastname@example.org — *Finisterra, Santo Antão, 9875 – 039 Topo São Jorge; +351 295 415 216; email@example.com
São Jorge Cheese is not just any cheese. It’s a semi-hard to hard cheese made from unpasteurised cow’s milk specifically on the island of São Jorge — although you’ll be able to find it at restaurants all over the Azores. It’s so good it has Protected Geographical Status (PDO) certification, given only to food products of particularly high quality that are also an important part of local tradition.
Cheese from every tank must be analyzed based on the shape, the outside and inside appearance and texture, the smell and the flavor in a blind tasting done by a member from the Confraria do Queijo São Jorge. This is because only the most perfect cheeses can get the PDO label. Realistically, though, if it’s from this island you’re likely getting a high quality product regardless.
Factory tours end with a comparative tasting, and you’ll quickly see the difference between a young and old, or São Jorge and non- São Jorge cheese.
5. Torremos de Porco
Where: Carneiro, Estrada Regional, Biscoitos, São Jorge; +351 911 938 220
This uber local restaurant is simple in ambiance and explosive with flavor. Start with a bowl of the local São Jorge clams, which they serve spicy, before having the Torremos de Porco — aka the best pork belly of your life. The meat is marinated in red wine, salt, paprika, garlic and other spices and then fried in pork fat until well done. One also should not miss their Polvo Assado, boiled octopus coated in red wine and spices and placed in the oven with potatoes. Like the clams, they serve it spicy.
This restaurant sits along São Jorge’s most scenic stretch of driving between Velas and Topo, with views of the active Mount Pico volcano rising above the cloud line, and rolling hills of São Jorge dotted with stone homes and woodland sloping down to the Atlantic.
Dinner at Restaurante Fornos de Lava
5. Coal-Grilled Local Meats
Where: Restaurante Fornos de Lava, Travessa de S.Tiago, nº46 Santo Amaro, 9800-347 Açores São Jorge; +351 295 432 415; firstname.lastname@example.org
For those looking for a bit of island gourmet, Restaurante Fornos de Lava in Santo Amaro takes local meats and produce and gives them a modern spin, cooking food on coals instead of frying. Located on the water in an old corn threshing floor — the place where they loosened the edible part of the corn by hand — you can savor beautiful views of the Atlantic and Pico Island paired with local music and a glass of Azorean wine. Actually, they’re one of the few Azores restaurants that sell wine by the glass and not just by the bottle. Start with the house chorizo bread before ordering a local beef fillet topped with specialty São Jorge Cheese, tender chicken breast topped with a creamy prawn sauce, or an entire grilled local fish.
Pico Island delicousness!
6. A Fresh Local Seafood Tower With Homemade Wine
Where: Ancoradouro Restaurante, Rua Rodrigo Guerra, N7-Areia Large, 9950-302 Madalena do Pico; +351 292 623 490
Located within the UNESCO World Heritage wine area of Criação Velha, home to the most extensive network of vineyards on Pico Island, you can take a walk through the basalt wall-lined vineyards and do a tour or tasting at the local wine cooperative, before heading next door to Ancoradouro Restaurante. Sit outside — even in winter they have a heated, enclosed outdoor patio — for Atlantic Ocean views paired with fresh catch. Start your meal with a plate of locally-made cheese and Pico Island honey with bread before ordering a glass of house-made white or red wine. The best item on the menu is undoubtedly the tower of local seafood tangling over salad and potatoes (top these with olive oil to savor like a local). Save room for dessert, as the island is known for its Pudim Mel (honey pudding), a sort of pie with sugar crisp crunch made from a simple recipe of sugar, honey, eggs and cinnamon.
Delicious dishes from Sao Pedro
7. Traditional Dishes Gone Gourmet
Where: São Pedro Restaurant, Largo Almirante Dunn, Ponta Delgada, São Miguel; +351 296 281 600; email@example.com
When traveling it’s important to savor the local cuisine; however, sometimes you’re also looking for something a bit different from the rest of the menus in town. That’s where São Pedro Restaurant comes in. They use all Azorean products — seafood, beef, pineapple, diary (including the famous São Jorge cheese, which has protected status) — but give traditional dishes a unique twist. For example, a starter of local blood sausage served with pineapple is a typical meal, although they dress it up by serving the meat in a pastry crust bowl with fruit chutney.
Succulent local prawns are prepared in a dressing of olive oil, garlic and red pepper for some spice, with an orange slice on top for a touch of citrus. Their beef steak is a must, tender and juicy and served with island potatoes done three ways and a pastry bowl of creamed spinach. For dessert, an expansive list is offered, although it’s recommended to go with one of the many pineapple-laced desserts, as Azorean pineapples are known for their high acidic taste unlike any other in the world.
Have you eaten in the Azores? What are your favorite meals and restaurants? Please share in the comments below.
Jessica Festa is the editor of the travel sites Jessie on a Journey (http://jessieonajourney.com) and Epicure & Culture (http://epicureandculture.com). Along with blogging at We Blog The World, her byline has appeared in publications like Huffington Post, Gadling, Fodor’s, Travel + Escape, Matador, Viator, The Culture-Ist and many others. After getting her BA/MA in Communication from the State University of New York at Albany, she realized she wasn’t really to stop backpacking and made travel her full time job. Some of her most memorable experiences include studying abroad in Sydney, teaching English in Thailand, doing orphanage work in Ghana, hiking her way through South America and traveling solo through Europe. She has a passion for backpacking, adventure, hiking, wine and getting off the beaten path.