On our last day in Funchal on the island of Madeira, a very knowledgeable tour guide suggested we visit the Mercado dos Lavradores, the farmers’ market. I wanted to take some fruit back to Lisbon, so I agreed. What was intended to be a quick stop for healthy souvenirs turned out to be a really fun visit to a bustling food market.
The ground floor of the pretty – and large – building dating back to 1940 smells fishy: hardly surprising, given how much sea food is available in Madeira! It was fascinating watching enormous, fresh tuna being cut with huge knives, which everyone gathered to see. Here, you can find fish of all shapes and sizes, and you can’t help but want to grab some and put them on a grill. Going up the stairs, you end up in a courtyard where they sell a wide variety of vegetables and even flowers.
One level up, past some hand-drawn azulejo murals, you end up in the fruit section, which is what we had come for. Aside from fruit, there were flowers, dried herbs, hand-made trinkets, the traditional fennel and eucalyptus candies of Madeira, and dried fruits and nuts. We tried some delicious locally-grown fruit: the famous Madeiran bananas (smaller and sweeter than your usual grocery story variety), custard apples (which, despite the name, don’t look or taste like apples), monstera deliciosa (which taste like a pineapple-banana hybrid) and tamarillos. We tried varieties of passion fruit that lasted like orange, lime, and strawberries as well as the very delicious “regular” passion fruit. We were given samples of sugar cane to chew on, something I had always wanted to try due to my interest in (read: addiction to) sugar.
Aside from the tempting fruits and nuts and dried herbs, you will find a quiet and pleasant café where you can rest your feet and have a drink or a snack away from the busy market stalls. There is even a glass case with old weighing scales and other measuring instruments, so you can almost classify your visit as educational…
We bought some eucalyptus candies and several unusual fruits back to Lisbon. Whether it was our lack of knowledge on the ripening process of the fruit, or whether we were purposely given subpar fruit, we still don’t know. However, when we opened some (not all) of the fruit, they didn’t seem ripe enough to eat, so we were quite disappointed. My advice when you go: 1) make sure you get fruit that is ripe enough to eat over the next day or two – ask questions about when it will be ready to be eaten; and 2) it doesn’t hurt to hedge your bets and get fruit from different sellers in case one of them is less than honest with you. I can’t stress enough how delicious the fruit is in Madeira: you really don’t want to miss out on these tasty – and healthy – treats!