It feels really good to be back home in my cozy, familiar house in Rhode Island after a week in the Azores. I mean that even with this huge snowstorm going on as I type!
The Azores Islands are an absolutely gorgeous vacation destination. Clean and quiet, you will discover natural wonders like thermal pools and volcanoes. There are endless hiking trails, breathtaking bicycling routes and plenty of ocean. You can visit pineapple and tea plantations, walk through botanical gardens and go whale watching.
Brief Weather Recap and then on to the Food: If you like the sun like I do, don’t go to the Azores in January. It is their winter and their rainy season. However, if you would be happy to get away from freezing temps and snow, enjoy a steady 60 degrees day and night and don’t mind the fog, wind and rain, then go. It is beautiful when the sun is out….which we enjoyed on our first day but saw no sign of again for the entire week. We knew what we were getting into visiting this time of year and to be fair, it does need to rain quite a bit for it to have such lush, colorful beauty in their other seasons.
Let me begin by saying that we didn’t go to the Azores specifically for the food. We just wanted to get away and check out a new place! I figured there would be lots of fresh fish and produce but wasn’t sure what exactly to expect….
Breakfast: Our hotel stay came with a complimentary breakfast buffet each morning. Except, of course, not including the morning we arrived (an overnight flight from Boston brought us in at 7am their time, 3am our time). After sleeping for a couple of hours we ventured out into the streets of Ponta Delgada in search of breakfast.
To our disappointment, all we saw were places selling breads and pastries as well as signs everywhere like these for fast-food type meals:
And lots of ice cream/frozen treat signs:
It was a disappointing first impression of the food scene!
We ate breakfast at the hotel buffet each morning. I was grateful for the variety and options. Lucky for me they had eggs, my favorite. There was local yogurt, which I got a few times. There are so many cows on the island of Sao Miguel! More cows than people, I was told. You see them grazing everywhere you go…. no CAFOs! There was also plenty of fresh fruit which made me happy and I loaded up on these daily. Cut up pineapple, kiwi, oranges, melon— as well as whole fruits like apples, pears, oranges and super cute and delicious mini bananas (grown on the island). What surprised me the most was the huge bread and pastry table and how popular of a breakfast this is for most people here. Where are your nutrient-packed whole foods people? No nutrition in those refined foods!! (The dietitian in me always has an opinion.) Ok, I didn’t go up to people and say this but I wanted to.
A typical breakfast for me: Espresso, eggs, and lots of fruit. Note that that is only round one of the fruit. Sometimes I got a yogurt as well. Kept me happy and full for a good 5 hours.
Chris got similar but sometimes a piece of bacon or sausage. He also got a small bowl of muesli (oats, nuts, dried fruits).
They don’t drink American style coffee here. All you Duncan Donut coffee drinkers used to your extra-large extra extras might be shocked to see that they drink espresso here in tiny cups. And nobody walks around or drives around with their coffees, or any drinks, for that matter.
Cell phones– this observation fascinates me as well– you don’t see people staring at their screens on the streets, in cars or bus stops. People here talk to each other more and are focused on what they are doing or where they are going. Even in the gym– I was the only one with my earphones hooked up to my music on my phone. Everyone else was doing their thing, no music, no tvs, no reading. Very different from the gyms I have seen around here where most people cannot seem to exercise unless they have an electronic distraction to entertain them.
Lunches and Dinners: We weren’t excited by what we saw on nearby restaurant menus. The hotel buffet turned out to be where we ate for a lot of our meals because there was such an assortment of things to choose from. (And they had vegetables!) They had hot options of different types of fish and meats, cooked vegetables and potatoes, a large table with many interesting dishes, a cheese table and a dessert table that had lots of fresh fruits. And wine every night! They would just come by and refill your glass.
Here is what a typical meal from the buffet looked like:
They always had lots of vegetables which was great. This particular meal had cooked broccoli and carrots, squash (at the bottom), chicken, pepper and bacon kebabs, and beef with grapes. It was easy to make a satisfying and delicious meal every time. I’d often go up for seconds of some things.
A pic of one of the buffet tables:
Most of the stuff on here I didn’t touch, or I tried very small amounts of. You’d find deep-fried items and many mystery dishes that I wasn’t quite sure what they consisted of exactly.
They don’t mess around with cutting off fish heads here!
We went out a couple of nights in Ponta Delgada for dinners. It was actually really hard to find a menu option that had a vegetable served with it. Most things came with rice and potatoes… And lots of bread.
We found some fish dinners that came with potatoes and vegetables:
All the fish we got during our visit had lots of tiny bones. You had to be very careful! In a way I think it was a positive thing because it forces you to slow down your eating and be mindful.
And at another restaurant:
Walking around the city, you may see signs like this:
Ugg. We’ve infected them. Way to go KFC.
And yes, we did see the major chains in the mall like Pizza Hut, Burger King and McDonald’s.
We met a local who showed us around various parts of the island and who recommended a restaurant in his hometown of Lagoa that he said we had to try for authentic Azorian foods.
They started us out with local pineapple and blood sausage.
…I will say that I did like the pineapple. 🙂
Three kinds of fish to try.
Chris tells me they would be thrown back by most fishermen in America. He had to email his fishing friend back home… “I can’t believe I’m paying for scup!”
Taste? Not bad, not great. Again, many, many tiny bones.
And some vegetables– carrots, brussels sprouts, potatoes and white sweet potatoes.
Some places spoke English, some not so much.
Thank God for Smartphones!
LOL: I just noticed that Chris typed ‘desert’ instead of ‘dessert’. A teacher once told me how to remember that: Would you rather have 2 desserts or 2 deserts?
At this restaurant, there was a table of about 8 little girls. I couldn’t help but notice what they were all eating. Sodas, hamburgers and french fries. 🙁
I snuck a pic when they all got up to go to the bathroom.
And now for a close up from the food police paparazzi:
It breaks my heart. I grew up eating this stuff too…but most of our parents didn’t know any better back then. Don’t we know more now? Why are we still feeding our children (and ourselves) these nutrient-lacking foods instead of wholesome foods?
The Fresh Marketplace: So, while the restaurants were unimpressive, there really is good food to be found in the Azores. There is a beautiful marketplace where you can buy fruits, vegetables, meats, seafood and cheeses. If I had access to a kitchen I would surely shop here and prepare amazing meals.
Summarizing Thoughts: There is an abundance of fresh, whole, real foods in the Azores which made me happy. BUT– as a visitor, if you want to eat this way you do need a kitchen to cook them yourself. You will struggle to find them in restaurants.
They do like their breads, meats, cheese and wine here.
And their espresso!
The restaurants seem to be mainly for tourists. Most of the people here cook at home and enjoy their meals together. Which is really how it should be. It just made it difficult for us travelers looking for good food. And no Whole Foods to turn to which is what we often do for eating when traveling. 🙂 I am thankful for the good food we enjoyed there and overall I think we made smart choices of what to eat, opting for traditional foods rather than the more highly processed foods. We ate many, many locally sourced foods. It really is tough for me to eat out constantly and it feels great to get home to my kitchen and back to doing my own cooking.
Final Tip: Do not bring an apple from the hotel back in your backpack and forget to eat it on the plane. The dogs at Logan Airport WILL sniff it out, causing you to endure extra security checks at Customs.