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Adventure

Ponta Delgada, Azores

To be perfectly honest, and I’m slightly embarrassed to say this, I really had no idea where the Azores were and by definition Ponta Delgada, apart from basic geography from my school days. I knew they were a part of Portugal and the Atlantic, but that was the limit, so I thought I’d better research. Now I know the Azores are about 1500km or just over 900 miles west of Lisbon. They are a set of 9 islands, the largest being Sao Miguel. The weather is pleasant all year round but not as warm as Tenerife. It can get relatively warm in the summer months, May and October; its warm breeze and sunshine make a great escape from the UK in only about five hours. Plus, there is only a one- or two-hour time difference.

Weather Woes

I flew to St John’s via Toronto to pick up the cruise ship. Bad weather further down the Canadian coast had meant that the ship had to make a considerable detour, losing two days. The last stop was Halifax in Nova Scotia, then went straight across the Atlantic to the Azores. There, they would refuel and re-supply and then sail back to Portsmouth.

The staff, as always, were immaculate and charming. I was shown to my suite, which is immaculately clean and well presented, my home for the next few days. My butler Herbert was straight on the case with wine and my favourite crisps and gave me a full rundown of the restaurants, food and opening times.

I recommend visiting Ponta Delgada from July to September, although visiting the city is good any time of the year

Month High / Low(°C) Rain
January 17° / 12°12 days
February 16° / 12°10 days
March1 7° / 12°12 days
April 17° / 12°9 days
May 19° / 14°7 days
June 21° / 16°4 days
July 24° / 18°3 days
August 25° / 19°4 days
September 24° / 18°8 days
October 22° / 16°9 days
November 19° / 14°11 days
December 18° / 13°13 days
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As for the food here, as you’d expect, there’s plenty of fish, shellfish, and cephalopods. Cheese is a huge part of the Azorean culture; the lush green climate is perfect for grazing cows, and the selection of island cheeses is staggering. Meat is mostly sausages of fresh and cured pork, beef, veal, and chicken, which dominate the menus. Almost all the local bars (Taberna’s) and restaurants serve the same time-tested dishes such as Polvo (octopus) limpets, tuna, sardines, and mackerel in various guises. 

These dishes, plus grilled and braised meats, form the backbone of the local cuisine. As you know, I will always seek out local places, generally in a back street or around a vegetable, fish or meat market. This way, I think you get to the true heart of the local grub; generally speaking, it’s good value.

Phil on Floyd

Just going off the point slightly, I have been rereading Keith Floyd’s travel books purely because I came across them while cataloguing them at home. One in particular I forgot was Floyd Round the Med, published in 1999. This book was published at the end of his notoriety as he sadly died some ten years later. His television career was spectacular, to say the least; at his peak, he was a huge star, commanding huge amounts of money globally. But as his fame dwindled and food on television moved on, he did become a little grumpy. Towards the end of his last few cooking series, he started to argue with the director or be sharp with the cameraman and would make sarcastic comments. 

My Great Inspiration

It is all a bit sad, but I loved his early presenting style and how he casually drew you into his world with his relaxed, charming, intelligent wit and humour, which has never been repeated. (I based my early cooking presenting style on watching him) ‘So my dear faded gastronaut’, as Floyd would say. Well, after rereading his Med book what comes through is he had a massive dislike for touristy food or from the big restaurant chains. 

He would look at even supposedly local food in places such as Cannes or Athens (a place Floyd called a dump) with disdain if he didn’t think it was real food for the everyday person. With his book fresh in my mind, I thought about what he would say about Ponta Delgada’s food. Hopefully, like me, he would be rather happy with my choices and will share them with you.

"In Ponta Delgada, Azores, I discovered a culinary haven—grilled limpets, octopus, and fresh sardines. Keith Floyd's spirit approves of authentic, local dining over touristy fare."

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My Daily Caffeine Fix

My first look at any place is good coffee, and as a recently purchased T-shirt says, ‘Okay, but first coffee.’ I found two coffee shops, one average, the other good, and a third I will visit when I return.

First up, Tea Rooms. It is only a brisk 5-minute walk from my hotel and up a back street behind the main town. It was not what I expected: a simple shop, a relatively empty place with a scant offering of cakes, pastries and a few sandwiches. I loved the sign on the door telling punters precisely what to expect: ‘Come in and take your turn!’. The cappuccino was good, not too bitter, and the ratio of milk to coffee was spot on.

Worth the Wait

The second was an experience! Again, it was up a side street at the back of town and closer to my hotel. It was rated as the best coffee in Ponta Delgada by a few reviews. I duly waited my turn and, once I had placed my order, was told by the owner in no uncertain terms that it would ‘Take a bit of time’ as he was busy and ‘If I had patience, fine; if not, go!) Blimey. As asked, I did wait, erm, for 55 minutes, and to be honest, I was too scared to leave as he continued to scold people as they left or dared ask where their food or coffee was. 

He became increasingly agitated and had a heated discussion with some German customers regarding Bitcoin and how he hated banks. But once he had dropped some plates, a customer had smashed a glass accidentally, and a few people left bizarrely, he calmed down and finally delivered my coffee. It was excellent, but after waiting an hour, it should be!

Lunch with a View

Stage is a large open-plan restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating right on the quay, two minutes from the main port area; you can’t miss it. Set under a concrete flyover for walkers, delivery trucks, and buses for the cruise ships. I wasn’t sure what to expect as these places are usually touristy, expensive, and of poor quality. Gosh, I’m sounding like a certain man!

However, as I walked in to get a table, I realised the place was full of locals all enjoying lunch, which is always a pretty good sign. The menu looked okay and was relatively good value for money. Lunch would be grilled limpets (like Funchal) with garlic butter and grilled octopus with potatoes and vegetables.

A large glass of local rosé was the only thing to drink on such a warm, sunny day. The limpets arrived spluttering and sizzling, looking somewhat like large octopus suckers. The potent garlic and parsley butter mist wafted over me like a weird, savoury air freshener. 

Granted, they are a little salty and chewy, more like an overcooked whelk, and the softer upper and inner texture is akin to urchin reproductive glands (and yes, I really like them); that aside, they are rather delicious. I’ve often eaten octopus, but I think this is the best.

Getting it Just Right is Tricky

I have cooked the cephalopod occasionally, and it’s tricky to get right. You must hit a particular cooking window once you start to simmer or steam, typically anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the size of the octopus. If you miss that window, the flesh can be like chewing an old bicycle inner tube. However, this octopus was cooked and seasoned perfectly and was a stunning dish. The texture was soft but firm, with deep flavour and colour. It was so good. I returned the day later with two friends once the ship had docked, and it was exactly the same, so it wasn’t a one-off.

Taberna Acor

That evening, I wandered into town to check out three restaurants, choose one and get some dinner. I opted for Taberna Acor. It’s in a street that runs parallel to the main drag, and I walked straight past it earlier; I didn’t notice it. When I returned, there were tables outside, and downstairs was packed. It looked a bit dingy. The owner, who incidentally looked scarily like Uriah Heep, ever so nicely took me upstairs, where there were a few tables between the locals.

I start with a small beer and Caiado, a rather splendid white wine, fruity and floral and excellent value. The simple fish soup was more like light broth with red peppers, rice, small chunks of fish, and large chunks of dried bread to dip. What a perfect way to start the meal. Next, fried mackerel. Visualise a whole pan-fried fish, say 350-400g nope. The small fish were like large whitebait. I’m sure in the UK, the size of these fish would be frowned upon if not allowed to be caught and landed at all. But to coin a Mr Floyd phrase, ‘I’m not here to moralise.’ That aside, they were rolled in beaten egg and fine ground corn (polenta), perfectly cooked, sweet and fabulous and served with boiled potatoes, pickled onions in red wine and vinegar and a dip of sweet soft peppers, spices and olive oil.

Locally Grown Pineapples

Dessert was pineapple mousse, a dish that is very difficult to make as there is an enzyme in fresh pineapple called bromelain that certainly inhibits the setting of the mousse quality when using gelatine. Now, some other thickeners or starches could and may set raw pineapple (something I need to look into), but if you want to set a pineapple mousse, you will need to cook the flesh first to destroy that enzyme, so canned pineapple is fine. The only trouble with that is you lose that lovely, fresh, sweet taste, which I’ll return to later. The mousse was okay; it was a bit sweet and slightly split or separated. They didn’t cook the pineapple!

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Pineapple Plantation

After sampling the amazing pineapple mousse why not visit the famous Augusto Arruda Pineapple Plantation. This family-friendly venue hosts plenty of pineapples as well as places to walk around, and you can sample the famous Pineapple Liqueur.

Address: R. Dr. Augusto Arruda, 9500-454 Ponta Delgada, Portugal

Walking tour of Ponta Delgada

Walk through the history of the town, which started as a fishing village in the 15th century. With a history of being plundered by pirates and corsairs, and witness to many naval wars and battles

Taberna Açor

What a wonderful experience, a small restaurant with a big character. A restaurant where people make friends and friends meet friends. Come for a meal,stay for a drink!s.

Address: Rua dos Mercadores N 41, Ponta Delgada, Portugal

Menu: Facebook Taberna Açor

So good, I ate there twice

Returning the following day to the Stage restaurant with my friends. I opted for the fish soup this time, similar to Taberna Acor’s. Phil had grilled snapper, and Helen had garlic prawns and salad; all were excellent!

Cais Da Sardinha

The following day was my last lunch before sailing back to Blighty. I had found a relatively modern-looking place right on the quay, a 10-minute walk further down from Stage. Cais Da Sardinha is cool and modern, and as you walk in, like many restaurants here, there is a fridge stuffed to the gunnels with snapper, black bream and various other fish. Large blackboards let you know what the specials and wines are. The staff are friendly and efficient and sit me down.

The menu is a mix of things I have already seen or eaten, so I order the fish soup and local bread. I am drawn to the sardines, grilled with garlic and olive oil, a fish I haven’t eaten for a long time and adore. The soup is so nice, light and deep flavoured, peppered with chunks of bass, snapper, and braised rice; I’m getting used to this.

Sardines arrive promptly, impeccably fresh and grilled to perfection. I could see the oils running out of the charred marks from the grill. They are grilled whole, including guts, and served with lemon, boiled sweet potatoes and braised/roasted peppers. The flesh is soft, juicy and full of flavour. It’s also great to eat the soft liver of a very fresh fish, something I miss in the UK. While sipping a glass of local white wine, I saw what looked like a table of five well-to-do local business people had ordered the same, so it must be okay, and it was perfect.

Final Thought

I shall return to Ponta Delgada in a few weeks to pick up a ship for my next gastronomic adventure to the Caribbean. I will be visiting seven islands in total, and with Mr Floyd in the back of my mind, I’m researching local restaurants, coffee shops and food markets. Rest assured, dear departed fellow, there will not be a chain of phoney places in sight.

Inspired Recipes

Some recipes inspired by my all-too-brief trip to Ponta Delgada.

Roasted Red Pepper & Sardines on Toast (Diabetes Meal Planner)

This old classic of sardines on toast, combined with sweet red peppers and seasonings, is simply delicious.
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Warm Smoked Mackerel with Marinated Roast Carrots and Horseradish Mayo

I love all smoked fish; eels are my particular favourite. There are two types of smoked fish - hot or cold smoked. Cold smoked fish, such as smoked salmon, are just warmed in a low smoke to take on the flavour. Mackerel and eels, though, are actually cooked in hot smoke.
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Salt & Pepper Squid

Imagine biting into a crispy, golden-brown exterior that gives way to tender, succulent pieces of squid with just the right amount of seasoning. That's precisely what you can expect from Salt & Pepper Squid.
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