Espada com banana

Listen to my podcast here: Espada com banana

Yay, Ryanair got inspired by my posts and introdused a new route between Dublin and Madeira’s capital Funchal, starting in April 🙂 Now Mickey Mouse, you may kindly consider paying me for this nice ad – free tickets will do. I may also need a new Teddy for the journey….

Did you know that the name “Funcho” comes from the predominance of the fennel plant on the slopes of the Bay of Funchal? In Madeira you can buy these little, cappucino in color, see through candies that are absolutely mindblowing.

I once read somewhere that it was licorice that they were made out of and was living a lie since then, ready to insult Scandinavians anytime for not yet having discovered the recipes and do something about their black licorice disgusts!

There are three plants that apparently are quite similar in taste and they are anise, fennel and licorice. I would opt for fennel if I had to choose, even though it makes you fart pretty hard, which I in fact do often and also enjoy doing as it has this magical power of making life so much better all of a sudden, hence perhaps this is why I fell in love with Funchal so strongly. It’s my Farty City where I feel I can 🙂

Speaking of farts, when I was perhaps 16, we went on a school excursion to Germany. Every time we had our breakfast at about 9 am, the entire team would sit down at the table, make some tea, unwrap their food and munch on it together while chatting away.

One day, we were doing just that when all of a sudden a young handsome tall German dude stood up to grab some more tea and he shot out of his cannon with the strength that could blow out the window together with its frame.

This was when and how we found out that Germans believe in farting as strongly as they believed in Anton aus Tirol when we were there – it was a total hit btw!

I have to say I agree, perhaps doing that at the dinner table and around your guests would not be an optimal solution, so maybe be kind and sneak out to the loo, but fire away. Anytime. And fennel my dears, does miracles! If you did not know it yet, it is great for your hormones, farts and breast milk production.

Speaking of recipes though, today, we will need the following:

Ingredients for 2:

  • 2 filets of black scabbard, about 200g each
  • 2 Madeira bananas
  • A pinch of salt, freshly chopped oregano, and freshly ground pepper
  • Garlic
  • Flour
  • Breadcrumbs
  • 2 eggs (one for the fish and one for the bananas)

Before we get started though, we must run some errands first.

It all starts in the very early hours of the morning at the port of Funchal. Fishermen bring their catch onto the shore and pack them into the crates filled with ice. From here fish either go straight to the restaurants or, like the below tuna, to the Funchal Fish Market, where a skilled person will de-bone and fillet it so that it could end up hassle-free on the dinner tables of the locals. Or their guests.

We decided to stalk these fishermen and follow them all the way to the Fish Market.

We parked our rented jeep in a nearby street. Walked into a very spacious building filled with crowds of locals and straightaway we got cought up in an atmosphere of the place. Everywhere there was water, on the floor, dripping from the tables and counters. We came quite late, as majority of the tables were already empty.

The craftsmen were putting away what remained unsold or perhaps what needed to be collected or delivered still to the restaurants and hotels, but we were very lucky to get a glimpse of what every other tourist comes for to this place – espada!

In English – Scabbard Fish, here the black version of it. Eel like looking, long black scary monster, living in very deep waters, between 200 and 1800 m, around Japan and Madeira especially.

Apparently it is also being caught around Iceland, Ireland and France. In such case however these would have to be the young because even though we still do not even know the life cycle of espada fish, we already learnt that the fertilized eggs flow with plancton and they end up in the area of the Faroe Islands. Here they grow and when reach adulthood, they migrate down to the region of the Canary Islands and Madeira.

This fish spends only its days in the very deep waters. At night it goes hunting for crabs, shrimps and smaller fish in the more shallow depts of the ocean. It is believed that the young do not go lower than 300 metres. This fish is considered an adult when reaches aroud 80 cm in length. It can grow up to around 110 cm.

Let’s get some bananas now. These are delicious. They grow here in places that to us, regular humans from the green lowlands of Ireland, would often be totally unimaginable to even try to conquer. Steep slopes of the volcanic mountains which are often cliffy-like are where the Madeira bananas are at home. As well as on the endless terraces of Camara de Lobos for example, where the replica of Santa Maria de Colombo’s karaka was built and once more where Churchill used to love relaxing and painting.

Bananas grow absolutely everywhere in Madeira and their leaves stick out onto the road so in fact you can touch them as you drive along.

Not just bananas of course. Madeira is famous for its natural treasures – fruits and flowers. There’s plenty of both here at the market.

We left this lush colorful place in search of all things still undiscovered, as Funchal, despite of being our base, was left to be explored as last.

Groups of local men entertained themselves playing cards in some dirty corners. Some had no money and energy left and indulged in a beauty sleep on the bench istead.

Already tired ourselves from the heat of the day, we wandered around faboulously paved streetlets and market squares window shopping and marveling at the fascinating work of art that these pavements are. Made out of small stones, they depict scenes from Madeira’s rich history.

The window displays were inviting us everywhere but the most interesting of them were displaying the intricate art of handcraft – crocheted and embroidered table cloths, doilies, net curtains, that the Madeiran ladies are so famous for.

Everywhere someone sells something, but we concetrate on a little table with coins where I purchase fabulous old coins from the times when Portugal was not yet a part of the EU and Madeira had Santa Maria on their reverses.

Finally, we reached a big square – Praça do Município, which is the main square in Funchal. One day I must go there to see how the pods of its extraordinary kapok tree explode into giant cotton wool balls in spring.

The square is surrounded by historical edifices such as the City Hall for example. You can stroll inside of the courtyard and try to absorb the beauty of the wall decorations especially.

A church on the Praça do Município, popularly known as the College Church, is a magnificent example of the 17th century Mannerist style. It’s actual name is São João Evangelista Church. Considered one of the most beautiful Portuguese temples of its era and one of the richest churches on the island, this church has uncountable amounts of 17th and 18th century chapels decorated with gilded wood, shimmering with gold. The Chapel of the Eleven Thousand Virgins (see the photo below with multiple figures under arcades) is considered as most worthy of marveling over as well as the new organ installed there in 2008 and ceramic tiles that were produced in Lisbon back in the 17th century. Well, I saw absolutely nothing in this church that would not be worth drooling over.

I never took the photo of the wind-guard door in the atrium, flanked by two holy water fonts in the shape of sea shells. The door is made of the repurposed sugar packing boxes – caixa de açúcar. Remember that Madeira was big into sugar trade, which was the main reason why Columbus traded here and eventually settled in Porto Santo island.

Would you not spend hours praying if this was your local church? I surely would.

Finally, around the corner we find a true gem we so wanted to come accross – Senor Oliveira’s Madeira Wine shop.

Madeira vineyards are crammed amongst the mountains, sometimes by the sea, sometimes on steep mountains sides, they have been thriving there for at least 300 years now. If you know Porto wine, from O’Porto in Portuguese mainland, you will love Madeira wines. There is a vast variety of the grapes and wine types that can be chosen from. This wine is considered the most durable in the entire world of wines due to the fact that the grapes are harvested early and then they ripen in 40-50 C which accelerates the fermentation. Then a stronger alcohol is added making it a fabulous liquor of the 17-22%. Can be sweet, can be dry but you simply must go there and try for yourself because if you are a regular wine drinker, Madeira wine cannot be described to you.

The above process of production, which by the way is called madeirasation and which provides the wine’s long lasting was introduced due to the distance between the island and the main land of Europe which in the olden days caused regularly produced wines to go bad during shipping. In the world there are still bottles of reserva dating back to the Napoleon times!

Pereira D’Oliveira is one of the 8 official producers and distributors of Madeira wine. This one is still owned by the founding family. The Oliveiras started their wine adventure in the mid-nineteenth century. The beautiful seventeenth century building in which the shop is located is one of the oldest original buildings in Funchal. About 150,000 litres of wine are produced here annually, the vast majority of which come from Tinta Negra Mole, which is the main grape variety from which Madeira wines are produced. I love Boal and would definitely want to try the old, rarely used now Bastardo.

Pareira D’Oliveira has an impressive composition of wines from the nineteenth century, most of them are available for sale. Prices are high, as even €580 per bottle of a 1850 wine. I however, noticed a bottle of 1830 and benevolently put Mr Oliveira in a situation with no way out. He smiled and asked the waitress to open a bottle for us to sample. You have no idea! I cannot describe the taste and the joy this wine contains and gives away. Even now, when writing about it, I get shivers.

In general Madeira wine is so unique that after getting properly tipsy, we purchased a few bottles to live the memory of this fascinating place for a little while longer. And don’t you forget the Madeira cake! 🙂 But we will bake this one some other time….

We strolled back towards the port. Grabbed our car and popped over to the Castle, as it was kinda on our way to the Lido area where we stayed.

Not sure now whether it was due to the heat or me being properly tipsy after sampling Mr Oliveira’s wine or perhaps because I was simply benevolently staring at the beautifully rounded bottoms of the soldiers who were chatting outside, that I did not make it too far.

The freaking entrance door is made out of a sparkly clean glass. I saw through it. And left an imprint of my face to be admired by the boyz with nice bums.

Thankfully it was too late for a visit ‘cos I surely would cause some more serious damage to either me or the exhibits…. Oh maybe they only said it was closed after seeing me trying to pass through the walls…. That I will never find out.

But let’s go back to our cooking venture. Looks like we got it all to make Espada com banana!

Preparation

Fish

  • Skin the fish and cut it in approximately 8cm long pieces.
  • Season them with salt, herbs, pepper and garlic.
  • Prepare two bowls for the fish filets – one with flower and one with beaten egg
  • Pour oil in a frying pan and heat it up.
  • Roll the seasoned fish filets in the flour and then in the egg.
  • Fry them in the frying pan until golden brown.
  • When done, drain excess oil off on paper kitchen towel.

Bananas

  • Prepare two bowls for the bananas – one with flower and one with beaten egg.
  • Peel the bananas, cut in halves lengthwise.
  • Roll them in the flour and then in the egg.
  • Fry them quickly until golden brown.
  • Drain excess oil with paper kitchen towel.

Serve on a plate with either small potatoes or with rice.

Scabbardfish with bananas became popular in Madeira as it is a great opportunity for the island to use their natural resources in the tourism business. Nothing else. Locals would never have it with bananas in fact.

There is one thing that must be taken into consideration when cooking or eating a scabbardfish in a restaurant – remember it can be poisonous if undercooked. Just like with pork or many other animals we, humans love eating. Espada, consumes fish and crustaceans that may be hosts of a parasite, similar to a human worm, which can get attached to your stomach or intestine wall. And then it’s a surgery for you. Speaking of, I remember that tapeworm used to be used by celebrities only a few years ago for rapid weight loss. I guess some of them lost more then that….

Also, remember to avoid scabbard’s liver due to its high contents of mercury.

We enjoyed our first scabbard fish with bananas in a wonderful coastal village of Gardim do Mar – The Garden of the Sea, with a mindblowing view from the 2nd floor balcony seats.

And truly, the locals play in the Ocean here as our kids would in the garden. When we were roaming the tiny streetlets, mothers were calling their kids for lunch, and guess what the kids were up to? Snorkling 🙂

Bom proveito!

Anna

*recipe credit: ocean-retreat.com

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