Sweets and Cocktails – Madeira style

Do Madeirans have a sweet tooth?

Nooooooo….. We don’t even eat many sweets! Our diet is a healthy Mediterranean diet, with fruit, vegetables, grilled meat/ fish and olive oil to drizzle our salads. Sometimes we do enjoy our queijada, nikita, poncha, pudim de maracujá , licorzinho de morango ou ginginha. But who doesn’t?!  Who doesn’t?! – My nanna would say, while shaking the ‘occasional’ Bola de Berlim in an attempt to reduce its sugar content, because ‘sugar isn’t good for my diabetes, you know!’

Well, aside of my nanna’s beliefs, the reality is that we do have a sweet tooth! Our culture and history is intimately linked with the sugar cane plantation and refined sugar production with all the subsequent applications.  Even the fruit at our disposition is sweet and used in the regional cuisine.

With sugar cane, Madeira produced the emblematic aguardente (firewater) and mel de cana (sugar cane honey), two ingredients that are still strongly present in the confection of sweets and cocktails.

So, when in Madeira what should you definitely try?

Drinks

With alcohol

  • Nikita – typical Câmara de Lobos drink created on the same year of Elton Johns ‘Nikita’ song hence the name. It can be made with alcohol or alcohol free and nowadays you can find not only the traditional pineapple nikita but also in an array of new flavours.

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  • Poncha – strong flavour to alcohol; the typical Fisherman’s poncha is made with bee honey, sugar, aguardente, and lemon. These days you have the choice of different flavours: whisky, tangerine and passion fruit.

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  • Traditional liquors: Strawberry, tangerine, passion fruit, banana, Annona, anise, Morello cherry (ginja). The majority of them are sickly sweet, small quantities are then advised.

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  • Vinho Madeira (Madeira wine) – fortified wine and my personal favourite is the Malmsey, the sweetest one.

Soft drinks

  • Brisa & Brisol – are a range of soft drinks produced in Madeira with a collection of different flavours. My personal favourite is passion fruit, but there is orange, mango, apple and pineapple too.

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The Brisol range is not fizzy.

Sweets

  • Queijada da Madeira (cottage cheese tart) – traditional cake that can be eaten any time of the day. Lovely with a cup of coffee!

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  • Broas de mel (sugar cane honey biscuits)
  • Bolo de mel (traditional Madeira cake) – made with sugar cane honey and sometimes a dash of Madeira wine

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  • Pudim de maracujá (passion fruit pudding) – one of the best Madeiran delicacies
  • Pudim de veludo (Velvet pudding) – pudding made with sugar eggs and milk, covered with sugar syrup.

Tips

  • For Poncha visit ‘A Taberna da Poncha’ in Serra de Água (is outside of Funchal), here the poncha is sold individually or by meter. You can buy a meter of poncha! But do try one poncha before ordering a meter of it.

In this tavern, you will be able to add your business card to the others already covering the tavern walls.

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  • The nikita and ponchas are normally served with roasted monkey nuts, popcorn or marinated Lupin beans.
  • The locals say that there is nothing better to heal a common cold than a good, strong poncha.
  • Many even say that the nikita is a ladies’ drink, while the poncha ‘gives you hair in your chest’ – a male drink. But be fooled no more! Girls and boys do appreciate both drinks alike.
  • If you visit the Madeira wine cellars, you will be able to try different types of Madeira wine.

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If you do visit the island, then eat, drink and be merry as a truly Madeiran does.

Don’t worry if you do catch the ‘Madeiran bug’, it is friendly, big hearted and sugar fuelled!

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