Even Beyoncé Can’t Bribe Me
I’m deprived, uncultured, basic even. At least, everyone who hears I hate seafood–literally anything from the sea (except canned tuna!)–tells me I’m missing out. Indeed, going to an island in the Atlantic Ocean known for its fishing industry makes for some dining difficulties.
Because of this barrier, I was driven less by yelp recommendations lauding the fresh catch of the day and more by hunger and curiosity during my short three day layover in Sao Miguel, the largest of the nine Azorean Islands. I was making my way to remote Graciosa, the Azorean island my great-great-grandparents came from, and the only way from either the U.S. or mainland Portugal was to pass through Sao Miguel Island first. With only two flights to Graciosa from Sao Miguel per week, both of which require flying 20 minutes to Terceira Island to either hop a ferry or a connector flight, I decided to allow myself a few days to discover Sao Miguel’s natural wonders. Overall, my taste buds weren’t overly impressed with anything specific (except the pineapples!), so I amused myself with engrossing conversations, learning about distinctive cooking processes, and getting myself into some ridiculous situations.
I was hungry for a light meal after landing and yelp told me the vegetarian spot Rotas da Ilha Verde was nearby. I trounced over around 3pm, but it was closed. A café was open next door, but only serving espresso and cigarette smoke. Lesson 1: Most places close at 3pm and reopen for dinner at 7pm. So I wandered and came upon a blue-tiled restaurant called Casa de Pasto Taveres. It was open, but empty.
From a hand-written menu I chose bife de vaca (beefsteak) and maracuja (passionfruit) soda made in Sao Miguel. Chunks of passionfruit floated in the glass.
The bife de vaca was hearty, stewed in garlic, onions and red pepper. Over the next week, it would become my go to meal when I couldn’t decipher anything else on the menu and wasn’t feeling adventurous.
The table, like every other in the Azores and Portugal, came set with crusty bakery-fresh white bread and cheese that was an additional, not included, charge. It’s always worth it, and I hope you set your carb-free dairy-free deliciousness-free diet aside. From the sobremesas (desert) menu, I chose “um café.” Lesson 2: Coffee is always an espresso in the Azores and Portugal.
One of my favorite things to do when traveling is to go to the grocery store. Knowing nothing of how it tastes, this was the most incredible item I found.
Volcanic Hot Spring Stew: Cozido das Furnas
A perk of living on a volcanic island is that you can let the Earth do the cooking for you!
Fill a pot with cabbage, carrots, beef shoulder, pork shanks, blood sausage, yam, and potatoes, bury it in the ground, let it sit for 6 hours in volcanic steam vents, and viola! You’ve got cozido das furnas, “hot-spring stew.”
Cozido das furnas at Restaurante Banhos Ferreos cost me a pretty $16, and as person suspicious of that much meat, it was surprisingly delicious! I even ate the blood sausage, which may have been my favorite of the meats!
The story continues past the meal…in typical Sao Miguelian fashion, my parking spot was narrow and steep. In trying to turn the car around in a 16 point turn, I got stuck between the building and a raised platform, revving the engine while I attempted to ramp up backwards without sling-shotting too far forward.
Apparently I was quite loud and annoying during my ordeal. A waitresses came out and asked me, “Is it a normal car?” I stared at her deadpan, on the verge of laughter, wondering if she meant to insult me. I said, “No, it’s stick!” She smiled and responded, “Yes, so normal for me. Can I help?” I had been working at it for at least four minutes, had just began to sweat with frustration, so I gladly accepted her offer. She turned that sucker around in less than 30 seconds! While I was relieved, I chided myself for underestimating a woman who was “merely” a waitress…and for not shooting a video of her extraordinary feat.
All in Flavor, Say Aye!
Merely four food trucks lined the pier in Ponta Delgada at sunset. You could say the industrious couple cornered the market on fresh, local ingredients; the other trucks served hot dogs, pizza, and soft-serve ice cream. Tonight’s special at Areguinha (The Sweet One) was simple: fava beans with carmelized onions, an “ancient recipe with spices from Morocco brought back by the pirates…I’m trying to make you into a pirate,” said the chef, winking. If that’ll help me on the road to owning a boat, then bring on those fava beans.
Opening just a month ago, the couple meticulously put together a fruit salad for me, complete with Sao Miguel’s ubiquitious pineapples, while I waited for my fava beans. The unhurried locals and tourists walking along the pier to enjoy the cool breeze occupied my imagination while I impatiently waited 25 minutes for a bowl of favas.
I kept my musings to myself, for fear of distracting the chef and further delaying his painstaking process. Served in a biodegradable bowl, with a fork of the same material, the fava beans were worth the wait, and I was happy to support the first hipster food truck in Sao Miguel.
A Farmer’s Market and Fresh-Squeezed Juice
Mercado da Graca is a good stop to pick up fresh ingredients to cook at home/your AirBnb. It’s a covered open-air farmer’s market selling local fruit, vegetables, cheese and all kinds of locally caught fish. Pineapples might as well be on Sao Miguel’s flag they’re so ubiquitous (and more succulent than the average). It’s here you can buy the buttery, tangy Sao Jorge cheese, made in the neighboring Azorean Island of the same name. I lived on this cheese! With a soft local-style English muffin called bolo levedo and a locally made tangy maracuja jam that I’ve never seen in the U.S, it was my go-to road trip snack for my day-adventuring.
One of my favorite finds at Mercado da Graca is Sabores Local Foods, where I stopped to get a freshly squeezed pineapple juice from Ricardo, the head-honcho. The ingredients are different everyday, depending on what’s fresh in the market. Strangely enough, I literally ran into Ricardo on Terceira Island a few days later, and he shared his insights on island comparative politics.
One evening, I returned to Ponta Delgada late from adventuring around the island all day. I was hungry, impatient, and desperate, so a bland queijo tostada (cheese toastie) on white bread from what can be best described as a outdoor corner store shamefully came to be what I chose to put into my body that evening. The exciting part was when the local biker gang started to gather nearby. I found myself wondering like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, “Are you a good witch/biker club, or a bad witch/biker gang?”
Associacao Agricola, on the northern shore, is decent for a dinner after a day at Caldeira Velha (the natural hotsprings), but I wouldn’t make a special trip for it. I had their acclaimed steak, but wasn’t impressed, and it’s quite expensive by Azorean standards. On the plus side, their bread was luscious and I tasted vinho verde for the first time. Highly recommended! It’s crisp, light and summery, and pairs well with dinner in the Azores!
What and where did you eat in Sao Miguel? What do you avoid eating at all costs when you travel?