Saudades: Foods of São Miguel, Azores (Food Series on Portugal No. 2)

Food Series on Portugal—More than just Bread & Wine    

Every time I visit São Miguel—where I was raised before immigrating at the age of 7 to California with my family—I long for the island’s balance of traditional and regional dishes with new variations of its unique cuisine. This recent trip was no exception.

I share insights into traditional foods and cuisine unique to São Miguel, some of which can also be found in the other islands that make up the Azorean arguipelago of 9 islands. I found food surprises in São Miguel, but also while island hopping in Faial and Pico.

This is the second story in my Food Series on Portugual. The first focused on the influence of the Romans on Portuguese food and cuisine


A Glimpse Into Azorean History

Dairy cows grazing on pastures in the Azores.

The Azores, discovered between 1426 and 1437 by Gonçalo Velho Cabral on behalf of Portugal’s Prince Henry the Navigator, are a group of nine volcanic islands located in the mid-Atlantic ocean off the western coast of Portugal. The Azores is an autonomous region of Portugal with its own government. Throughout the islands, you can embellish in exotic shades of emerald green mountains, mineral-rich hot springs, blue hydrangea-covered hills, and historical lava rock-buildings and roads.

Did you know? Some say the Azores is home to the lost city of Atlantis.

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Hortenses (hydrangea), while not native to the Azores, grow wild on the islands and are used as a natural border.
The town of Sete Cidades on the island of São Miguel. Small villages with their own character are typical in the Azores.
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The large volcanic craters in the village of Sete Cidades on the island of São Miguel.
Street in Ponta Delgada, the main city in São Miguel and the capital of the Azores. Buildings and streets were originally built with lava stone, still seen throughout the Azores.
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Most laundry is still hung out to dry.
View of Horta Marina on the island of Faial. You can see the islands of Pico (on right) and São Jorge (on left) from Faial. Ferries tranport goods and passengers inter-island.
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Dairy farmers are decreasing in number, but some can still be seen transporting milk on horseback.

Saudades + Azorean Food

Each of the islands enjoys traditional foods and unique cuisines. Yet, the islands share a special linkage and bond of saudades—a special longing for the past that resonates into their foods. Initally, saudades was a longing for Portugal’s grandar as a global sea power, but it has come to signify a longing by immigrants (the diaspora around the globe) to their roots and way of life. Saudade is similar but much more than nostalgia, a sentiment that also exists in Portuguese culture.

Cuisine, after all, is a result of a region’s physical and cultural history. The foods of the Azores comforts and is kept simple like saudades does for its people and diaspora. Azorean cuisine differentitates from Portuguese cuisine by its volcanic soil, salt air, exposure to the vast Atlantic Ocean, and local-inspired ingenuity.

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Impossible to sit down to a meal in the Azores without bread and cheese, two staples of Azorean cuisine.

Foods of São Miguel

Known as Ilha Verde (green island), São Miguel (named after the Archangel Michael), is the largest and most populous (approx. 150,000 inhabitants) of the 9 islands. Ponta Delgada is the main city on the island where a third of the population lives as well as the capital of the Azores. I am from the town of Arrifes in the urbanized area of Ponta Delgada.

Geothermal Cuisine: Cozido das Furnas 

The Cozido das Furnas is the most celebrated local cuisine in São Miguel as well as only found on this island. It is a scrumptious dish of beef, pork, chouriço (pork sausage)morcela (Portuguese blood sausage), and a mix of vegetables (yam, sweet potato, cabbage, kale, carrots) cooked for several hours in the natural heat of the volcanic waters and soil in the village of Furnas. Onions and garlic are usually added for flavor, and while the cozido may vary on ingredients and spices used, all are sourced on the island.

Cozido in the island of São Miguel
Cozido das Furnas in the island of São Miguel used to be cooked primarily in sacks and put into the boiling volcanic waters.

While no major eruptions have occured since 1630, this unique cooking is possible due to the active volcanic nature of the island. The cozido was traditionally cooked in sacks. Today, pots are used and put into the volcanic openings that cook for 5-7 hours at a natural heat of 90 degrees Celsius. Once done, the pot is lifted from the ground.

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Today, the cozido is mostly cooked underground in the volcanic soil in covered pots.
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Volcanic openings on the ground in Furnas.
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Do not touch! Very hot.

Several restaurants in Furnas serve the cozido with advance reservations. It is a special treat to visit the volcanic cooking site in Furnas where you can order your dish, smell sulphur in the air, await the delicious, mouthwatering mix pulled up from the ground, and eat it on-site at community tables. It is a must experience!

Cozido das Furnas dish.
The result: Cozido das Furnas, the local speciality.

Lapas

In the Azores, we eat fresh lapas (limpets), raw off the shell by using a tip of a knife to remove them. Lapas are harvested off the shoreline as they attach themselves to the rocks. They are served as a whole meal or an appetizer. Besides fresh, they are also served grelhadas (grilled) in butter or sautéed in oil with garlic or wine. Some like their lapas with a bit of squeezed lemon or in a rice dish (lapas com arroz). They can also be baked in the oven or cooked on a barbeque grill.

I love them with pão de milho (corn bread).

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Lapas grelhadas with lemon.

Chá Plantations

Yes, it’s true, São Miguel has a rich chá (tea) history and is home to the only chá plantations in all of Europe.[1] The word chá is Cantonese, and adopted by the Portuguese most likely because of its trading post dating to 1577 during the Ming Dynasty on the island of Macau.

Views of the tea plantation and ocean from Chá Porto Formoso.

As history goes, the Azores was a significant orange exporter in the 17th century (mostly to England), but plant disease destroyed the orange plantations in the 1860s. Pineapples (see below), sweet potatoes, tobacco, and beetroots were brought to the Azorean island of São Miguel from Brazil in the 19th century to replace the fleeting orange crop. Then, in the 1880s, tea plants were given as a gift by the Emperor of China to the Portuguese King João VI who was at that time living in Brazil. As the tea plants flourished in Brazil, tea seeds were brought to São Miguel, planted throughout the northern coastal region of Ribeira Grande to counter the diseased orange crops along with the other crops introduced.

Did you know? With competition from Spain in the late 19th century and the diseased organge plantations, this led to the first wave of mass Azorean emigration, particularly to the United States.

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At Chá Goreanna tea leaves are sorted by hand. Machines assist with packaging but inspection is done by a human to assure quality.

While camellia sinensis was already growing wild on the island, the new crop from Brazil was intended for cultivation and exportation to Europe. A tea expert from Macau was brought to São Miguel. The humid climate combined with the mineral-rich soil continues to provide ideal growing conditions on the island with harvest from March to August/September.

Cha Porto Formoso.
Sign at Chá Porto Formoso made from traditional azulejos (ceramic artistic tiles).

The production of Azorean tea is different than elsewhere. The tea leaves dry in open air. As a result, the leaves absorb the salty sea air which, in turn, when brewed release an earthy and distinguishable Azorean flavor.

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Packaged tea for sale at Chá Porto Formoso also found in stores.
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At Chá Porto Formoso. Green tea has gained popularity, including in other items like green tea syrup, ice cream, and candy.

Of the 14 tea plantations from the 1880s, two survive today on the island. Chá Gorreana has been owned and operated by one family for five generations. It produces black (about two-thirds) and green teas, and ships to Europe, Japan, and United States in addition within the Azores, Madeira (another Portuguese autonomous region of two islands Southeast of the Azores on the Atlantic) and mainland Portugal. There is a tea museum on the premises where you can also buy packaged tea and sip a cup or two of tea.

Outside terrace at Chá Porto Formoso.

Chá Porto Formoso grows only black tea and sells exclusively in the Azores, Madeira, and mainland Portugal. What a delight to lounge on their beautiful open air terrace, overlooking the rich plantation with lush rolling hills and ocean views over a kettle of tea and something sweet. I indulge in this ritual on every trip.

Did you know? Tea is the most widely consumed drink in the world after water.[2] Portuguese Duchess Catherine of Braganza married English King Charles II in 1622, and is credited with popularizing the tea-drinking custom—which was quite popular among the Portuguese elite—in England.[3]

Ananás Plantations 

Ananás (pineapple) was introduced to São Miguel from Brazil in the 19th century as a new crop. Yet, it initially remained an ornamental plant as pineapples need direct tropical sun and warm rich soil, and they did not grown well on the island with a nontropical climate with cooler months, ocean currents, and winds. Through local ingenuity, farmers eventually figured out how to grow this fruit by growing them in estufas (greenhouses); about 6000 found all over the island today.

The Arruda Pineapple Plantation in Fajã de Baixo on the island of São Miguel. The Azorean pineapple is very sweet and has a small crown.
A view of the pineapple estufa (greenhouse) from the outside.
A view of the pineapple estufa from the inside.

The estufas, unique to São Miguel, shelter the ananás during their growing cycle of 2 years from flower to fruit. The soil is made of organic matter, and about half way during their 18 growing cycles, the estufas are filled with fumo (smoke from burning leaves and branches) to fertilize the plant as it grows. Actually, the fumo method was discovered by accident due to a greenhouse fire years ago. The Azorean pineapple is rather small with a small crown, yet fragrant, super juicy, and extremely sweet.

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The Azoreans make liquors from local fruits, including pineapple (bottle on the right).
Morcela served with pineapple.

One of my favorite desserts found on the island is ananás with melted chocolate! You can also find pineapple cake, ice cream, liquor, candy, and jams. Locals also use pineapple to garnish roasted meats and morcela (super delicious!).

Pineapple ice cream and a pineapple-infused drink.
Pineapple ice cream and a pineapple-infused drink at the cafe at the Arruda Pineapple Plantation in Fajã de Baixo on the island of São Miguel. Take a free tour!

Malasadas

Malasadas look like a doughnut without the holes in the middle. This sweet is another version of massa sovada (Azorean sweet bread) as it is made from the same yeast dough which must be kneaded hard to give it its unique texture and taste. While massa sovada is found throughout the Azores, malasadas originated in Såo Miguel. These delicacies are deep fried in oil and sprinkled with granulated sugar.

Malasadas
Malasadas are deep fried with sprinkled sugar or cinnamon.

Growing up in São Miguel and California, we would wake up to the smell of malasadas on religious holidays, including Easter and Christmas. They are best eaten warm but are equally tantalizing cold. Give this recipe a try; my mom makes her malasadas from memory with no specific recipe!

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Homemade massa sovada (Portuguese sweet bread).

So much more…There are many other foods unique to São Miguel to share, but I will save them for a future story. In the meanwile, I leave you with memories of foods and venues we enjoyed on the islands of São Miguel, Pico, and Faial. ♣

name of salad? at Casa Ancara in Sao Roque on island of Pico. A brand new restaurant that specializes in modern Portuguese tapas (petiscos) with a twist opened by a Russian couple who came to the island to surf and make it their home today. They were open 4 days! Highly recommend this dish as well as the bruschetta ???
A salad made with watermelon, strawberries, sweet potatoes, queijo fresco (local white cheese) on top of greens and sprinkled with pomegrante and other seeds at Casa Ancara in São Roque on island of Pico. This is a brand new restaurant that specializes in modern Portuguese petiscos (tapas) with a twist, opened by a Russian couple who came to the island to surf and make it their home today. They were open 4 days when we visited in August 2016!
Bolos de Arroz (Rice Cakes) found on all the islands, eaten throughout the day. Delicious with a cup of coffee.
Bolo de Arroz (Rice Cake) is eaten throughout the day. Delicious in the morning with a cup of coffee. This bolinho de arroz is one of my food weaknesses, even in transit at the São Miguel airport to other destinations it’s a must have!
Vineyards in Pico.
Vineyards grow wild on the island of Pico where Azorean wine production began in the 15th century, reaching its peak in the 19th century and has since gradually declined due to plant disease and desertification. A modest level of grape growing and quality wine production continues in Pico.[4]
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The small Bar Fim do Mundo on the island of Pico.
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A restaurant with outside seating in Horta, Faial with phenomenal views. We enjoyed the live music of a guitar player one evening.
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The 6-course meal at Quinta dos Sabores (farm and restaurant) in Rabo de Peixe, São Miguel was top notch, combining local food traditionals with a twist. I did not know about this place, and immediately when we stepped inside I knew I was in for a gastronomical journey with farm fresh and locally-sourced ingredients!
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The appetizers at Quinta dos Sabores.
Queijo da Ilha Velho, a local cheese produced in São Miguel from cow’s milk. There are a variety of Azorean cow and goat cheeses from the Azores with São Jorge cheese being one of the most popular in the Azores and through the Azorean diaspora.
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Portuguese kale, a staple in the Portuguese and Azorean cuisines. This vegetable is know best as the main ingredient in Caldo Verde soup.
In addition to eating it as a fruit, liquors, desserts, and a fruit-flavored soft drink called Kima (produced in Melo Abreu factory in São Miguel) are made with maracujá (passion fruit).

Wandering + Wondering Around…♣ 


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Venilde visiting with her uncle Adriano in São Miguel.
**All photos and images are copyrighted work of Venilde Jeronimo unless otherwise noted.

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