Situated in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, around 1,500 km from Lisbon lies the Azores archipelago. Although a part of Portugal, The Azores is very different: the climate is different, the scenery is different, and the food is different as well.
Unless you go to a specialist Azorean restaurant or shop in continental Portugal, you’ll struggle to find any of these dishes on the mainland. And, outside of Portugal: forget it.
So, if you’re visiting The Azores, you have a chance to try lots and lots of unique dishes that you won’t find anywhere else in the world – and this foodie guide is here to help you and your belly make the most of your time on the Portuguese islands.
Bolo Dona Amélia
Bolo dona Amélia combines flavours of cinnamon, raisins, and spices, all ingredients that passed through The Azores when sailors stopped off here on their way back from the New World.
The cake, which is adapted from another cake known as “cake of the indies” was created in preparation for when the Portuguese Royal Family visited The Azores in 1901. Queen Dona Amélia loved the commemorative cake, and it wasn’t long before Bolo Dona Amélia became the cake of The Azores.
One of the best cafés for trying regional cakes is O Forno on Rua de Sāo Joāo in Angra do Heroísmo (map). As well as the Bolo dona Amélia, which you can get almost anywhere on the island, try a Bolo “Careta” and bolo “P. Conde da Praia.”
Where: Queijadas da Graciosa can be found on most of the islands, although they best ones are obviously on Graciosa. Queijadas da Vila Franca do Campo are mainly found on São Miguel.
Queijadas are a type of cake that you’ll find all over Portugal. Some of them, like Queijadas de Sintra and Queijadas de Évora, are regional, while others, like Queijadas de Laranja (orange) or Queijadas de Feijão (bean) are more tied to an ingredient.
The Azores are particularly famous for Queijadas da Graciosa (sometimes called Queijadas da Praia), which come from the island of the same name, but they’re not the only type that you’ll find here.
You’ll also find Queijadas da Vila Franca do Campo, which come from the town of the same name on São Miguel Island.
Both are worth trying, and can be found through The Azores, although I have to say my favourites were the Vila Franca do Campo Queijadas.
Where: São Jorge
Espécies are a typical sweet found on the island of São Jorge. Like Bolos Dona Amélia, Espécies make use of different spices and other exotic ingredients that passed through the island when the sailors were coming back from the New World like cinnamon, fennel, and allspice.
Despite all of the new world flavours, I didn’t find espécies as exotic and flavoursome as I’d hoped. Still, if you’re on the island of São Jorge, it’s worth trying one. When in Rome and all that.
São Jorge Cheese
Where: São Jorge
Although you’ll find São Jorge cheese on mainland Portugal as well, it is worth trying while you’re in The Azores. You won’t have to look too hard for it: order a sandwich on The Azores and there’s a good chance you’ll get São Jorge cheese.
São Jorge cheese is very similar to British cheddar and it’s a good substitute for anyone looking for that strong, tangy flavour that isn’t so common in other Portuguese cheeses.
If you decide to visit the island of São Jorge itself, you can actually visit one of the factories where and how it’s made.
Chicharros com cebolada
Chicharros are a type of small fish commonly found in the sea around The Azores. They’re considered to be a “poor man’s fish,” but also very typical Azorean.
Chicharros Com Cebolada, a recipe that uses fried onions and tomatoes, is one of the most typical ways of serving them.
Quinta dos Açores Ice cream
You’ll find Quinta dos Açores ice cream all over The Azores and, during the warmer summer months, it’s a great way to cool down and experience the creamy taste of the Azores milk.
Quinta dos Açores comes in several flavours including chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla, as well as several Azorean flavours like Dona Amélia cake flavour, and Graciosa Queijada flavour. To really taste the creaminess of the Azores, however, the best flavour is the simplest one: vanila.
Where: Everywhere (but especially São Miguel)
Bolo levedo is a type of Portuguese bread that’s similar to a muffin (although usually much larger). It originates from Furnas on São Miguel but you’ll find it all over the Azores islands, as well as in parts of the world with large expat Azorean communities like New England.
Although similar to Madeira’s bolo do caco, it’s not quite the same. To someone who’s not from the islands, the differences are subtle and maybe even indistinguishable. To someone from Madeira or The Azores, however, suggesting such a thing is sacrilege.
Alcatra is probably the most famous dish on the island of Terceira, and it’s particularly popular around Easter. The dish is named after the physical dish that it’s cooked in, a terracota dish that’s filled with either fish or meat and cooked until the sauce is rich.
Many believe that the dish is related to chanfana, a Portuguese goat dish that’s baked in a black clay pot. It’s likely that settlers from mainland Portugal, specifically the Beira Litoral region in Central Portugal, brought the dish with them when they settled in The Azores in the 15th Century.
Many restaurants require a minimum of two people for Alcatra, which can make things difficult if you’re travelling alone.
Check the restaurant serves one person if you’re travelling alone. The meat version was served with very sweet almost cakelike bread. It was rich and the meat was tender. Meat on bone. Gravy that the bread soaks up. Need something to wash it down with.
Where: Many islands, but especially Terceira and Pico.
There are lots of different octopus recipes in Portuguese cookery and one of these dishes, polvo guisado, comes from The Azores (polvo guisado à moda dos Açores).
You’ll find this dish on many of the Azorean islands, and each island seems to have a slightly different take on the recipe – there’s polvo guisado à moda da Terceira, da Faial, de São Miguel, and so on.
Cozido das Furnas
Where: São Miguel
Cozido à portuguesa is a very typical dish that’s eaten throughout Portugal. In a similar fashion to an Irish stew, cozido is often a bit of everything and anything. There’s often chicken, all different parts of the pig (sometimes that means trotters and ears), sausages, and vegetables like cabbage, turnips, and beans.
Although it is one of the most typical things that you can eat in Portugal, it’s not something that’s ever really recommended to people visiting Portugal for the first time. Pastéis de nata, bacalhau com natas, and even Francesinhas are much more appetizing.
On São Miguel Island, however, it’s one of the must-eat dishes because here, rather than being cooked in a pot, it’s lowered into the ground and baked in the natural heat that emanates from the volcano.
Corn on the cob
Where: São Miguel
As well as meat stews, the people of São Miguel also cook corn on the cob in the hot, volcanic water. I don’t know how long they’ve been doing this, and it’s quite likely it’s just a bit of a gimmick, but it’s fun to try it and see if you can taste any difference between this corn and normal corn on the cob. I couldn’t.
Where: São Miguel
Pineapple? You’re probably thinking that you can get that anywhere.
This is a Portuguese pineapple, and it’s different. It’s actually the best pineapple in the world but, due to the high cost of production (because The Azores isn’t a natural place to grow pineapples), these pineapples aren’t really exported outside of Portugal. Which is a shame because it’s the best pineapple in the world.
At least that’s what my tour guide who showed me around the pineapple plantation at Ananases Santo António told me.
The Portuguese are incredibly proud of their pineapples – so proud that most households will eat one at Christmas time. This – I’m told – isn’t the best time to eat them. The best time to eat them is actually in the summer when they’re riper and sweeter.
You might have tried a bifana before. It’s a popular Portuguese snack, and one of the best sandwiches that you’ll find in Portugal.
Bifanas are normally made from pork but, on the island of Pico in the Azores, they’re made from tuna instead. These bifana de albacora actually taste like a pork bifana, which is interesting and maybe slightly disappointing at the same time. I don’t know why, but I was expecting something different.
I thought these tuna bifanas would be everywhere on Pico, but it was actually very hard to find one.
Where: São Jorge
Amêijoas (clams) are common throughout Portugal, and you’ll see dishes like Amêijoas à Bulhão Pato on menus across the country. The Portuguese love their clams, and this is a dish that you’ll find in restaurants, marisqueiras, petiscos restaurants – everywhere.
The best clams in Portugal – some would say the world – come from the island of São Jorge. It isn’t as simple as walking into a restaurant on São Jorge and ordering them, though.
These clams come from the Fajã de Santo Cristo lagoon on the Northern side of the island. They can only be fished between May 15th until August 15th usual traditional methods and only one restaurant, the village’s only restaurant is allowed to sell them.
If that wasn’t enough, you can’t drive to Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo. As there are no real roads, you have to walk the 5 km or so there from the nearby village of Fajã dos Cubres. And there’s no electricity or wifi once you get there, although the restaurant and other businesses do have generators for cooking with.
At €25 per 500g (2019 prices), this isn’t a cheap dish but clam lovers would say it’s a small price to pay for the best clams in the world.
Although found all over Portugal, Queijo Fresco is extremely typical in Azorean cuisine.
You can buy it pre-made in the shops in The Azores, and while it seems to be very fresh, the recipe is so simple that a lot of people make it at home. It’s commonly served with pimento da terra, a salty and spicy red pepper paste, and the two work perfectly together.
Bolo de Milho
Bolo de Milho (sometimes called Bolo de Milho de Pico) is a very large and very dense sweet flatbread that’s found in The Azores, especially on Pico.
It’s firm but crumbly. Not great for sandwiches, but a good bread to put with queijo fresco or queijo São Jorge.
Lapas (limpets) look a lot like clams, but can be a little chewier. They are often served with garlic and butter or a squeeze of lemon.
Lapas are also a typical food in Madeira so, if you don’t get to try them on The Azores, you can try them in Madeira as well.
Cracas are a unique barnacle found in The Azores, particularly Terceira, and it doesn’t seem possible to find them anywhere else.
Like a lot of other Portuguese barnacles (e.g. Percebes), Cracas are very unusual-looking and their strange appearance might not be for everyone.
In Portugal, tinned products aren’t quite the same as they are in English-speaking countries. For many of us, tinned products usually means tinned tuna (often tuna in brine) and it’s something that’s kept in the back of the cupboard for when we’re feeling so lazy that we can’t be bothered to go shopping.
In Portugal and a lot of Southern Europe tinned foods aren’t don’t have the same cheap perception, and they’re also not cheaply made. Tinned products (called conservas) are actually very premium, and if you go into a conserveira in Portugal you’ll be able to buy luxury products like smoked salmon in olive oil, roast bacalhau in olive oil, octopus, tuna with preserved lemon, etc.
One of the companies that makes these products, Santa Catarina, is located in The Azores on the island of São Jorge. Their gourmet line includes products like tuna in olive oil and oregano, tuna in olive oil with sweet potato, and tuna with olive oil and ginger.
You’ll find their products all over The Azores (you can also find them on mainland Portugal) and, if you really like their products, you can take a guided tour of their factory in Calheta. Note: advanced booking is required.
Pappas Grossas is similar to rice pudding or aletria, two traditional Portuguese desserts that are especially typical at Christmas time. Rather than being made from rice or pasta, however, pappas grossas is made from corn.
Rosquilhas are a large, round sweetbread from The Azores that are especially typical during the Festa do Espírito Santo or Holy Ghost Festival, which takes place around the time of Pentecost Sunday.
As well as the famous Holy Ghost soup, it’s also typical to eat Rosquilhas at this time. In fact, they’re such a big part of the festival that people parade through the town with baskets of them.
Kima is a soft fizzy drink found on The Azores, in much the same way as Brisa is found in Madeira. The two most common flavours are maracuja (passionfruit) and pineapple (ananas).
Kima is much, much better than Brisa and most soft drinks, though. I don’t normally go for soft drinks, but I often find myself ordering a pineapple Kima when I’m in The Azores.
Where: It can be bought on most islands, but it’s mainly grown on Pico (and to a lesser degree Terceira and Graciosa).
Wine is grown in every region of Portugal, but the wine grown in The Azores is so unique that you really must try it.
Unlike the traditional vineyard setup with the familiar rows of neat vines, wine in The Azores is grown on the ground in small square allotments that are surrounded by stone walls.
There’s a reason for this unique setup. The walls provide protection from the salty sea air: The Azores are all small islands, after all, so this is a big concern. The ground is covered with small lava stones known as biscoitos and the vines are grown directly on top of them.
During the day, the stones heat up and at night they stay relatively warm as they slowly release their heat. This prolonged heat helps the grapes to ripen easier.
Pico is the most famous wine region here, although you’ll find similar wine growing regions in Biscoitos in Terceira and on the island of Graciosa as well.
Vinho Licoroso is a type of dessert wine that’s typical to Pico and doesn’t seem to be commonly available in the rest of Portugal. It’s typically around 16-20% in strength, and traditionally doesn’t have any brandy added to it in the same way as Port wine does.
Licoroso wines were especially popular during the 18th and 19th century with the noble and wealthy all over the world, particularly in the UK, USA, and Russia. There is apparently even a reference to Vinho Licoroso in Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
Vinho de Cheiro
Another wine that’s unique to The Azores is Vinho de Cheiro or “wine of scent.” This is a low-alcohol, perfumed wine that’s found around The Azores and typically drunk during the Festa do Espírito Santo after Easter.
Where: São Miguel
The island of São Miguel is home to two tea plantations, Gorreana and Porto Formoso, the only tea plantations that can be found in Europe.
Gorreana is definitely the more popular tea plantation to visit, but that means it can also get very busy. Porto Formoso, in comparison, is usually much quieter.
Both tea plantations allow you to sample their tea for free. At Gorreana, there is a café with a self-serve tea station where you can pour yourself as much tea as you like. At Porto Formoso, the tea is given to you at the end of the tour (Gorreana doesn’t offer a tour). You can also find Gorreana tea in a lot of shops on The Azores, but Porto Formoso tea is harder to find.
A visit to either tea plantation also gives you an opportunity to see the tea plants up close and gain a better appreciation for what you’re drinking.
Where: São Jorge
Forget tea. Did you know that The Azores is also home to the only coffee plantation in Europe?
Plantation probably isn’t quite the right word. In reality, this is more a case of someone growing coffee in their back garden. Still, he’s the only person in Europe doing this apparently – and even able to do this – and that makes the coffee from Café Nunes in Fajã dos Vimes so special.
There are a few ways to get to the café. You can walk from the car park up on the the EN2 Road, but this is actually a much longer walk than the 10 minute stroll Google Maps suggests that it is. You have to walk down a small mountain, which, of course, means that you have to walk up again. Otherwise, you can drive down Fajã dos Vimes.
The coffee itself is good, but maybe not all that different to coffee on Continental Portugal. The café also sells queijadas made from coffee, which are worth a try as well.
Café Nunes doesn’t really make a big deal out of the fact that they grow their own coffee. In fact, you may even wonder if you’re in the right place.
There aren’t any tours or even signposts pointing you to the mini plantation. If you want to see the coffee plants, you’ll need to ask Mr Nunes.
Where: São Miguel
Gin isn’t something that you’d traditionally associate with Portugal, but a number of new distilleries have opened up across Portugal in the past few years. The majority of these are in continental Portugal but, thanks to Goshawk Gin, The Azores is now a fully-fledged member of the Portuguese gin movement.
Goshawk’s distillery is situated in Ribeira Grande on the island of São Miguel, the largest and most popular island in The Azores archipelago. You’ll find this gin for sale in off-licences on The Azores, particularly on São Miguel, and you can also find it on mainland Portugal at places like Garrafeira Nacional in Lisbon.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like you can visit the distillery.
Other Portuguese food guides
If you’re visiting other parts of Portugal, be sure to check out more of Portugalist’s food guides.