What to eat in São Miguel Azores? Typical dishes of São Miguel

In this article, we will discuss the typical dishes of São Miguel, their ingredients, and their various associated traditions.

São Miguel in the Azores is known as the green island and the land of happy cows. This volcanic island with fertile soil and a temperate climate is surrounded by high seas, creating the perfect setting for having exceptional local ingredients and a unique cuisine with distinct ways of cooking.

Therefore, when you come to São Miguel and enjoy the natural spas, beaches, lagoons, and lush green scenery, you will also have the opportunity to explore its gastronomy and the various typical dishes.

Here, we will explain what to eat in São Miguel and give tips on where to eat each dish! If you want to know more about where to eat in São Miguel and the list of our favorite restaurants on the island, click here.

Lovely countryside photo with cows and green fields
Green streets and hills filled with grazing cows in São Miguel in the Azores

Ingredients from São Miguel Azores

São Miguel is well known for its exceptional, high-quality ingredients. They result from many different factors, including the island’s climatic and geographical conditions and its fertile, volcanic soils. It has ideal conditions for producing tea and fruits – such as bananas, pineapple, and passion fruit. The fine pastures for cattle breeding bring excellent milk and beef.

The island also has a few unusual and peculiar ingredients, at least in Europe and mainland Portugal, which makes São Miguel’s gastronomy even more interesting and distinctive.

Some of São Miguel’s characteristic ingredients that make its cuisine special and tasty are:

  • Pimenta da terra – It is a spicy red pepper of the Capsicum cp species, produced on the island of São Miguel and used in nearly everything. Pepper is generally preserved in salt and sometimes in vinegar. It is often ground into a paste and preserved with salt. This ingredient is used to salt and season dishes in the Azores. Almost all dishes in this list use “pimenta da terra” somehow. It is one of the most specific and popular ingredients in São Miguel.
  • Ananás dos Açores – is a fruit with a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), produced exclusively on the Island of São Miguel. Pineapples are grown in greenhouses and take two years to mature. The result is a sweet, juicy pineapple. It is used in many typical São Miguel recipes.
Pinenapples are used in many São Miguel dishes
Pineapple from São Miguel grown in greenhouses
  • Yam – It is a little-known and even less used ingredient in mainland Portugal and Europe, but it is cultivated and used frequently in São Miguel. In the Azores, yam is used to make soup, as a side dish to fish, and in Furnas stew. There are even cheesecakes made from yams. Interestingly, the smallest yams are known as “minhotos” in São Miguel.
  • Sweet potato – Although not specific to the island, it is very popular in São Miguel and used in several recipes. Not to mention that the island’s sweet potatoes are delicious, sweet, and filling.
  • Dairy products – São Miguel is recognized for its high-quality dairy products, cheese, and milk. You can also find these products on the continent, where they are highly appreciated and a symbol of quality.
  • Tea – The clayey soil of São Miguel is ideal for producing tea. The best-known tea factory in the Azores is the Gorreana factory, the oldest in Europe. In addition to Gorreana, there is also the Porto Formoso tea factory. Tea is obtained from the dried leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, creating two types of tea: green and black.
What to eat in São Miguel?
Gorreana Tea Fields in São Miguel in the Azores

In addition to these ingredients, São Miguel has several local food brands with very good food, which are not sold (or very little) in the rest of the world.

One example is the “mulata” biscuits from the Moaçor brand. They are mary cookie-style chocolate cookies, but they are exceptional, with an intense chocolate flavor and crunchy. There is also the Pérola da Ilha brand that sells dried fruits. Plus, the famous brand Quintal dos Açores sells jams and ground pepper. If you have the opportunity to try these brands, take it, you won’t regret it, and they make a great souvenir.

Best food to eat in São Miguel Açores
Traditional products from São Miguel in the Azores at the Rei dos Queijos store in Graça Market

What to eat in S. Miguel – Soups

Holy Spirit Soups

Espírito Santo soups (or Holy Spirit soups) are a very special tradition on the Azores islands. These soups are made on all the archipelago islands, but the ones from Terceira and Faial Islands are the most famous. However, each island has its soup version, including São Miguel.

Espírito Santo soups are associated with the Feast of the Divine Holy Spirit, which takes place on the seventh Sunday after Easter, at Pentecost. On the day of Divino Espírito Santo, each community and parish meets in a chapel called Império. A soup made with meat and vegetables is distributed throughout the community.

Each parish has its interpretation of the soup. But the base of the soup is bread that is spread with butter and covered with broth in which different meats are cooked – usually beef and chicken. It also includes kale or cabbage, onion, and garlic.

You can only eat Espírito Santo soup during the festivities – outside of that time of year, you won’t be able to find it. So you know, if you want to try the Sopas do Espírito Santo, you have to come to the Azores after Easter and take the opportunity to experience the festivals, which must be very beautiful.

Fish Soup

The fish soups in São Miguel are delicious. They are typically made with various fish and an aromatic broth, making it a very comforting dish. Although it is not exclusive or unique to São Miguel, it is easily found on other islands and the mainland, it is a dish that we recommend eating in the Azores, both for the quality of the fish and the combination of flavors.

There are several versions of fish soup, and each restaurant has its way of doing it so that you will find several types of soups with different ingredients. Some have potatoes, others have rice, and generally have ground pepper or tomato pulp. If you are a fish person, we even encourage you to try several to get to know them all.

Are there any typical soups in Sao Miguel?
Fish soup inside bread at the Taberna de Açor restaurant in Ponta Delgada

Traditional dishes from São Miguel – Starters

White cheese with pimenta da terra paste

Nothing is more typical in São Miguel than white cheese with local pepper. It’s a starter you find in every restaurant, and everyone loves it. If we had to choose the most prevalent traditional dish in the Azores, it would be this one, as you can find it everywhere.

Azores white cheese is a high-quality fresh cheese with a silky, smooth flavor. São Miguel has excellent cow’s cheeses, from buttery cheeses to cured cheeses, you can find it all. The outstanding quality of the cheese is due to the fact that São Miguel is blessed with good pastures and cows that are very well treated and have the freedom to be outdoors and graze wherever they want (almost).

As for pimenta da terra, as we explained previously, it is the most important ingredient on the island and is used in everything, from preparing typical dishes and to seasoning. This pepper paste is salted to preserve it and lasts a long time.

The combinations of these two ingredients work very well. The fresh cheese has a mild milky flavor, and pimenta da terra has a strong salty and spicy flavor. On top of some nice Portuguese bread we have a perfect starter.

Traditional foods Sao Miguel - white cheese
White cheese and ground pepper starter that we ate at the Mané Cigano restaurant in Ponta Delgada

Sao Miguel Black pudding with Azores pineapple

Black pudding with pineapple is a very common and delicious starter in S. Miguel. It is made with black pudding from the island, which is slightly different from black pudding from other areas of Portugal.

The main ingredients of S. Miguel black pudding include are blood, onion, rice or wheat rolls, ground cinnamon, pimenta da terra, and pieces of bacon. But it is normal for there to be slight variations between producers.

The combination of black pudding and pineapple is delectable because the acid and sweetness of the pineapple cut through the strong flavor of the black pudding. Some say that pineapple helps with digestion, but we leave that to those in the know.

Best starter dishes in Sao Miguel Azores - Azores Pineapple
Black pudding and pineapple from São Miguel – Entrance to the Taberna de Açor restaurant in Ponta Delgada, S. Miguel

Typical dishes from S. Miguel – Fish and Seafood

Limpets

Limpets are shell mollusks that cling to rocks. They are some of the most typical seafood in São Miguel, and you can find them in almost all restaurants on the island that specialize in seafood.

They are delicious, served, cooked with the shell, and grilled in an iron frying pan. They are made with a sauce of butter, garlic, ground pepper, and lemon. And they usually come with a slice of lemon for seasoning. Limpets have an elastic and rubbery texture, as well as a taste of the sea and sauce.

If you have never tried this delicacy, São Miguel is the place to do it. They are so fresh, and it isn’t easy to find this mollusk elsewhere. They also exist in Madeira, but they are unavailable at any time of the year.

typical sea dishes from Sao Miguel, Limpets
Grilled limpets with butter sauce and drizzled with lemon – Restaurante Bar da Caloura in São Miguel, Azores

Cracas (local barnacles)

Cracas (or thoracica) are a very common crustacean in the Azores, particularly on the island of São Miguel. It is sometimes confused with a mollusk but it is a crustacean. It attaches itself to rocks and lives in colonies 10-15 meters deep.

Cracas are lightly cooked with onion and garlic; to eat them, you must remove the meat inside the cavity. They have an intense sea taste and are naturally salty. In terms of flavor, they are similar to barnacles but with an even more intense sea flavor. You can find barnacles in seafood and fish restaurants.

Seafood to try in the Azores
Typical seafood from São Miguel – Cracas from the Cais 20 restaurant near Ponta Delgada, São Miguel

Lapas rice

Limpet rice is a typical dish from São Miguel that uses the famous limpets from the Azores. This rice is loosely wrapped in a tomato and pimenta da terra sauce and it has limpets cooked and removed from the shell.

It is a very tasty rice, with a taste of the sea and molasses combined with the texture and flavor of limpets. You can find this rice in several restaurants, especially fish restaurants. We ate fantastic limpet rice at Casa de Pasto O Amaral in Porto Formoso, as seen in the image.

Best seafood in Sao Miguel
Delicious limpet rice for two people – Restaurant in Porto Formoso, Casa de Pasto O Amaral

Stewed octopus in the S. Miguel style

The octopus in São Miguel is delicious and a little cheaper than in mainland Portugal and other European countries. We love octopus, and São Miguel is an outstanding destination for those who like this ingredient. Almost all restaurants serve stewed octopus, and it is well served, basically one octopus per serving.

In octopus stew à la S. Miguel, the octopus is stewed with wine, tomato pulp, and pimenta da terra, and cooked until tender. The octopus is served with boiled potatoes.

In São Miguel, it is traditional to eat Christmas dinner, but you can easily find it all year round in almost all restaurants on the island.

Food in Sao Miguel Azores
Stewed octopus à Moda de S. Miguel accompanied by boiled potatoes served at the Casa do Pasto – O Cardoso restaurant in Lomba da Fazenda, São Miguel.

Fried chicharros with vilão sauce

Chicharro is a local name for mackerel, a small and cheap fish that is very common in the Azores. It is very popular in São Miguel, especially fried with villain sauce.

Chicharro breaded with corn flour and fried in hot oil. Served with vilão (literally villain) sauce, made from garlic, ground pepper, parsley, and wine. The crispy chicharro dipped in the spicy sauce is a perfect combination.

Chicharro is generally eaten by hand; some people consume the whole fish, except the head, but if you prefer, you can remove the fish bones halfway through. In any case, you don’t need to worry too much about the bones, as they are small and soft.

It is thought that the origin of the name villain comes from the fact that in the past “villain” meant peasant, and this sauce was made by the poor. There is another theory that says the name of the sauce has to do with the red color of the sauce, metaphorically the work of a (evil) villain.

Sao Miguel traditional dishes - fish and seafood
Fried chicharros with Vilão sauce can also be served as a starter – Restaurante Taberna de Açor in Ponta Delgada.

Tuna Steak

Tuna Steak is one of the specialties you must try in São Miguel, Azores. It is a very popular fish in the Azores, as well as in Madeira and the Algarve. And we recommend trying it in São Miguel, which is very good.

In the Azores, tuna steak is generally served fried or grilled, and you can choose whether you prefer it well or rare. It is accompanied by vegetables and boiled potatoes, but it depends on the cook’s creativity.

What should be highlighted is that the fish is fresh and has a delicious flavor, which sometimes doesn’t happen with tuna due to the intense flavor of tuna, which can be unpleasant – at least for us. But in São Miguel this didn’t happen, the tuna has a fishy flavor, but mild and with generous flakes.

fish dishes Sao Miguel
Delicious tuna loin with sesame seeds served at the Tasca restaurant in Ponta Delgada in São Miguel

Boca Negra and other grilled fish

Do you love fresh fish and are still wandering what to eat in Sao Miguel? Boca Negra is the fish you are looking for! It is one of the tastiest fish we ate in São Miguel. The fish, also known as redfish, it is reddish on the outside but has very white flesh. It is widely fished in the Azores and Madeira Archipelagos.

In São Miguel, Boca Negra is served grilled has a light flavor, and is very moist and tasty. In fact, the island is the perfect place to eat local fish; it has many different species, and it is always fresh. The most common fish in São Miguel include Alfosim, Conger, Abrotea, Lirio, Espadarte, and many others.

When you eat at a local fish restaurant, they should have the catch of the day on display. Thus, you can choose the fish you find most appealing.

Generally, the fish is grilled and accompanied with vegetables and boiled potatoes. Don’t miss the experience of eating fresh grilled fish, even if you’re not a fish lover.

Everything about the best dishes to eat in São Miguel
Grilled Boca Negra fish accompanied by boiled potatoes and sweet potatoes from the Cais 20 restaurant in São Miguel.

Traditional dishes from S. Miguel – Meat

Regional Steak

Going to São Miguel and not eating a regional steak is like going to Rome and not seeing the Pope. São Miguel is the island of happy cows; you will find cows grazing everywhere. It’s a beautiful setting, walking or driving around the island and seeing the green fields with the cows grazing. We say this to highlight the importance and quality of beef in the Azores.

Regional steak is a typical São Miguel dish. It may well be the best-known dish after the Furnas Stew. It is made with a high-quality steak called lizard or filet mignon, which is lightly grilled. It is accompanied by a sauce of white wine or beer, butter, and pimenta da terra. On top, there is a fried egg and lots of garlic. It comes accompanied by french fries.

This dish is even classified as a heritage of Azorean gastronomy.

traditional foods in Sao Miguel
Famous steak at the Associação Agrícola S Miguel Açores restaurant, the most popular restaurant on the island

Cozido das Furnas (Furnas Stew)

Cozido das Furnas is the most iconic dish of São Miguel in the Azores, as it is cooked in the Furnas volcanic calderas. It is made with different types of meat, such as pork, beef, and chicken, and vegetables, such as carrots, cabbage, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and yams. It also includes black pudding and chorizo.

It looks like the classic Portuguese stew, but this S. Miguel version is cooked in underground holes with the heat and steam from the earth’s interior. The stew takes 6 to 7 hours to complete and is placed in dedicated volcanic boilers by employees of the municipality of Povoação.

Most of the boilers are used by Furnas restaurants that specialize in making stew, but even today, anyone can make stew as long as they have the ingredients and the pan. You have to ask the staff to help put the stew into the boilers.

The furnas stew is delicious, the meat falls apart, and is accompanied by a very aromatic broth. It was one of the dishes we liked most in São Miguel. Because of its volcanic origin, sometimes the furnas stew has the reputation of smelling or tasting a little like sulfur, but this was not our experience, we did not smell or taste sulfur at all.

There are several restaurants in Furnas specializing in this dish. We ate at the Banhos Férreos restaurant that we recommend, but there is also the famous Tony’s and the restaurant at the Hotel Terra Nostra. Please note that you must reserve a seat in the restaurant, especially in high season.

What to eat in Sao Miguel
Cozido das Furnas cooked in the volcanic calderas of Furnas – Restaurant Banhos Férreos das Furnas, São Miguel.

Assaduras

Assadura is a very common and typical São Miguel dish. It is easily found in many restaurants on the island, and although it’s not the best dish you’ll ever eat, it’s very satisfying.

The dish consists of small pieces of pork marinated in garlic, pimenta da terra, salt, and white wine. The meat is then fried with the garlic and marinade sauce until thoroughly cooked. It is served with fried or boiled potatoes. It’s similar to rojões (a typical Portuguese dish), but in the Azores style. We liked it very much.

Best foods to eat in Sao Miguel
Roast with fried potatoes and fried egg, a typical Azorean dish that we ate at the restaurant Casa de Pasto: O Cardoso in Lomba da Fazenda, S. Miguel

Bread and sweet bread from São Miguel, Azores

Bolos lêvedos

Bolos lêvedos is not really a cake(bolos means cakes in Portuguese) but a sweet bread, and it is delicious. You can eat it at any time, whether for breakfast, a snack, or even as part of the main meal. It is a fluffy, flat, sweet, and lightly toasted bread. When in São Miguel, take the opportunity to eat whenever possible.

Bolos lêvedos is a specialty originating in Furnas valley, but you can find it everywhere in bakeries and supermarkets. It is a disc-shaped yeasted bread baked on a frying pan, toasting on each side. It is a very soft bread and just a little sweet, so it can also be used as an complement to meals.

We found it very surprising because we weren’t expecting it to be as good as it is, particularly the slight sweetness of it. In terms of appearance, it is pretty similar to Madeira’s Caco cake, but the flavor is very different.

Sao Miguel foods to eat
Typical bread from the Azores das Furnas, which is the place of origin.

Bola da sertã (sertã cake)

Again, bolo da sertã (or sertã cake) is not a cake but a bread made with corn flour. Its name comes from the fact that it has a flat, round shape. It is made with corn flour water, and salt and cooked in a frying pan.

It is thought to have Moorish origins, and in the past it was made when there was no wheat flour, and corn worked as a substitute. It’s a very easy bread to produce and as it doesn’t need to be yeasted, it’s quick too. It’s a dense bread, and they say it’s very good when hot. It is often served with butter or to accompany meat or fish, as it absorbs sauces and fat very well.

When we were in São Miguel, we had troubles finding this bread in supermarkets and restaurants. We think it is something homemade that people do at home and that perhaps it is falling into disuse.

If you want to try it, Rei dos Queijos at Graça Market in Ponta Delgada sells it (it’s where we got ours). The Rei dos Queijos store sells many traditional Azorean products. In addition to cheeses, it has queijadas, jams, local pepper, and other specialties.

Dishes to try in Sao Miguel
Bolo da Sertã – Typical bread from São Miguel Azores bought at Rei dos Queijos in Mercado da Graça

Massa Sovada (Kneaded Dough)

Massa Sovada is a traditional sweet bread from the Azores islands, eaten especially during the Espirito Santo festivals. But unlike the soups in Espírito Santo, massa sovada is available all year round and is easily found in supermarkets and bakeries. It’s a divine sweet bread, fluffy, soft, and so aromatic, and it stays fresh for a long time.

The name of this sweet bread has to do with the fact that it needs to be kneaded for a long time. It is made with sweet potatoes, flour, egg, milk, butter, sugar, cinnamon and lemon zest. You can eat it plain or smeared with butter. And it’s good at any time of year.

Massa Sovada should be at the top of the priority list for anyone going to São Miguel or any island in the Azores. It is one of the best sweetbreads in Portugal. And it’s not for nothing that it influenced the world, with versions in the United States (in Hawaii particularly) and Canada.

dishes you shouldn't miss in Hawaii
Pão Doce – Massa Sovada is very popular in the Azores and the USA

Traditional Sweets from São Miguel

Malassadas

Malassadas are one of the best-known Azorean sweets. They are flat, disc-shaped sweets covered in sugar. They are very traditional in São Miguel during Carnival, but you will find it in other times of the year.

Malassadas are very similar to Christmas “sonhos” and are often even nicknamed Portuguese donuts. They are made with flour, eggs, sugar, milk, and baker’s yeast. The dough is fried in hot oil. And finally, sprinkled with sugar and sometimes cinnamon.

Some say that malassadas come from Madeira, where it is also traditional and over time spread to the Azores. They are also very famous in Hawaii and some US states due to Portuguese immigrants.

typical Sao Miguel sweets
Malassadas, known as Portuguese donuts, are traditional during Carnival

Pineapple Cake

As we previously mentioned, the Pineapple produced on the island of São Miguel is very good, acidic, juicy, and has a pleasant aroma. And as you would expect, the São Miguel pineapple cake is a tribute to this fruit.

The cake is made with the usual suspects: flour, sugar, eggs, milk, and butter. However, the top has a crust made with São Miguel pineapple and caramel. It is a very common cake in Portugal – in the 80s and 90s this cake was everywhere! However, the São Miguel Pineapple Cake is even more special and delicious.

traditional sweets and dessets of Sao Miguel
Popular pineapple cake made with pineapple produced on the island

Queijada da Vila

The Queijadas de Vila Franca do Campo, or Queijadas da Vila as they are known, are one of the most emblematic sweets in São Miguel and much loved by the Azoreans. This conventual sweet is a relic of the Santo André convent in Vila Franca do Campo. It was produced by the nuns who lived there, and with the closure of the convents, the revenue passed to the residents.

These queijadas are sweet, soft, and moist. They are made with milk, eggs, sugar, butter and flour. And at the end, they are covered with a generous layer of powdered sugar.

Top Tip

While queijadas means literally cheesecakes, queijadas da vila aren’t made with cheese. They take only milk and no cheese.

The most famous queijadas are from the Morgado factory in Vila Franca do Campo. In addition to being addictive, they are easily transportable and make a great souvenir, as they come packaged in a box, are very well protected, and last for a long time.

Sao Miguel Azores best desserts
Traditional cheesecake from the village is produced at the Morgado factory in Vila Franca do Campo.

Queijada de Feijão (Bean Cheesecake)

Several villages in São Miguel has its typical queijada, so there are many types of traditional queijadas. Bean queijadas are very tasty and popular. The most well-known come from Furnas and Ribeira Grande.

The bean queijada is denser and silky with a sweet caramelized flavor – it is very pleasant. They are made with white beans, flour, butter, sugar, and egg yolks. It may sound similar to the village cheesecake, but the flavor differs at lot. Funny enough, they also don’t take any cheese…

Other famous queijadas in São Miguel are made with coconut, yam, fresh cheese, etc. And outside of São Miguel, there are also the well-known Graciosa queijadas. They come from Graciosa, one of the other islands in the Azores Archipelago. They are one of the best queijadas in Portugal, and have a curious star shape.

If you want to try it, you can also find Graciosa queijadas in several São Miguel establishments. So if you don’t have the opportunity to go to Graciosa Island, take advantage of being in São Miguel to experience it.

Best food in Sao Miguel
Traditional Bean Queijada from Furnas, São Miguel

Povoação Fofas

Fofas is a typical sweet from the village of Povoação in São Miguel. It’s a pastry similar to an éclair but adapted to Azorean flavors. This cake was created by Dona Angelina, who has since passed away, but the recipe was passed down to her family and is still sold at the APL café and supermarket. However, several other establishments in the village sell Fofas.

This cake is made with a choux pastry made from flour, egg, milk, and fennel and is filled with vanilla pastry cream. On top, there is a small line of chocolate cream. The combination of ingredients works wonders and it ends up being very different from the french éclair.

Note that although several places sell fofas in Povoação, our experience is that they sell out quickly. In the afternoon, we were no longer able to find them for sale. Plus, this pastry is specific to Povoação, you can practically only see it there.

What to eat in Sao Miguel
Fofas da Povoação, this sweet, can only be found in the village of Povoação.

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What to eat in São Miguel Azores

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