Exotic vegetables and fruits: the market is the place to go

farmer's market: exotic fruits and vegetables

Like most Sundays, we went to the market in the village of Prazeres, which is about seven minutes away from our house, pretty early yesterday morning (yuck!). Fruit and vegetables are definitely best bought on the market. Not only because of the price, but also because of the degree of freshness. There is always a large variety of exotic vegetables in Madeira and a wide choice of exotic fruits. We often write about it, but so far we haven’t discussed specific fruits and vegetables. Today we should do that. If you’re planning to come to Madeira yourself, you’ll get an idea of what is available.

daily vegetables.

Our main reason to go to the market is, of course, supply of our daily fruits and veggies. We prefer to buy our fruit and vegetables on the market. This time we actually found green beans. Noud loves them and bought the lot. (he prefers not to eat any vegetables at all, so if there is something he likes, it’s best to buy it immediately!) In the winter they don’t have them here,and the supermarket only has frozen ones. We tried them, but they are tasteless. If we blanch them briefly – or sometimes not at all – and then freeze them, they will keep their flavour. We also bought potatoes, normal and small ones to roast in the oven. 8 kilos for 4 euros. Not exactly an exotic vegetable, not special either, but very tasty and – we hadn’t talked about that – unsprayed. And we love a nice potato (alas). And broad beans, they usually have them all year around, and they are so fresh that they are tastier than those from the supermarket. We found some frisé lettuce, which was probably still on land this morning and finally fresh watercress. If you have running water here you can grow it, but sometimes you see large plants in the wild, like on the picture below on the right where it grows on the spot where a small stream seeps into the levada. Clear proof of the excellent quality of Madeira’s surface water.

Not an exotic vegetable but still very nice: fresh green beans!

Broad beans are always available.

Potatoes. Dryng after de-mudding

Fresh frisé salad. Probably still on the land this morning.

Not exactly an exotic vegetable in Madeira, but delicious when so fresh

Watercress in the wild: the best proof of excellent water quality in Madeira

money spent with those who earn it

By now you will get that we like to go to the market (shame it has to be at such an ungodly hour on sunday). There are several reasons for this. If you go to a local farmers’ market in Madeira, called a ‘mercado dos produtores’, or ‘mercado dos cultivadores’, you know that your money goes directly to the people who grow your fruit and vegetables. This kind of market is made possible by a kind of farmers’ union-like organisation. They are not allowed to trade stuff they have bought, everything that the people there offer to be their own produce. The collection is of course ‘limited’ to what the season has to offer, but on an island like Madeira with its mild climate, the super fertile volcanic soil and plenty of water, there is always a lot growing here, so there is no shortage of ordinary and exotic vegetables on Madeira, and a lot of special fruit! We keep discovering new strange fruits, even after the ten winters that we have spent here. We always ask for the names of these unknown species, and usually also how they are prepared. The other way around that happens too. When we bought a red cabbage and told the market woman that we were preparing it with thirteen ingredients, she said: I believe that. They need a lot to be eadable!

superfres vegetables, exotic and ordinary alike!

The fact that they grow everything they sell themselves, or pick it in the wild or even cook it in their own kitchen means that everything you buy here is super fresh: your fruit and vegetables, exotic or ordinary, has not been dragged all over the globe in refrigerated ships or lorries, like the stuff you would buy at home oin a supermarket. What you buy in the sunday market was probably harvested on saturday. And that is visible and you can taste it. If you cut a carrot from here, your knife will bo orange, and peeling an onion without tears is not possible.

unknown vegetables and strange fruit.

In addition to the daily vegetables and ordinary fruit that we also have in our normal diet in Northern europe, here we find species unknown to us. One of the first vegetables that our expert friend Joana pointed out to us during a levada walk was the ‘espinafre selvagem’, the wild spinach. It is a plant that you find here in the wild, but it is also grown by the farmerrs. It is basically wild, but has little to do with the normal spinach. In the North, it is an unknown vegetable species as it does not like the cold. The spinach that we know tends to turn into goo easaily when boiled. Personally, I hate that. And if it is prepared ‘à la crème’, in my eyes it becomes real snot and I find that horrible. The wild variety here, on the other hand, remains firm, especially if you fry it quickly in some oil with chopped garlic. Not so strange that I do like it: it’s not related to spinach at all. It is the tetragonia tetragonoides, also called the New Zealand spinach. The picture I took on the market turned out blurry, but last winter we took some cuttings out of the bought vegetables and planted them. On our return they were growing well, but they still have to grow a bit more before they can be eaten. Another vegetable species unknown to us is the Pimpinela. Pimpinelas are not considered exotic vegetables in Madeira, though they are not indigenous here. Like many plants here, they originate from Central and South America and was imported into Europe at about the same time as the potato. It is related to the cucumber and its Latin name is Sechium Edule. It is well known in Brazil, where it is called Chayote or ChuChu. On the Portuguese mainland it is less well known, but on Madeira it grows – and is very invasive – everywhere, especially near watercourses. The Madeirans boil them in salt water. We don’t like that very much, it becomes a too soft and a bit sluggish vegetable with little taste. But raw and grated it’s a very nice basis for a sort of Coleslaw, for people who don’t like cabbage (that would be Noud). Moreover, all kinds of beneficial properties are attributed to the pimpinela.

The carrots – not an exotic vegetable, but different in Madeira than in the Northern countries – you buy here are reminiscent of carrots from cartoons. You can see that the soil here is not very loose, because the roots are rather broad than long. Anyway: super tasty, not comparable to the plastic carrots you buy in your home supermarket.

Another common (but not to us) vegetable is the tamarillo, also known as ‘tomate inglês’. Heaven knows why, because there is little English in it. It’s not a real tomato either, although, as we were told by former grower Lennard, who was our guest last winter, it is also called a tree tomato in the Netherlands. It is a nightshade, just like the ordinary tomato, but it does indeed grow like a tree, and in this month it does not look out of place among the Christmas trees, with all those dangling balls. It clearly belongs in the list of exotic vegetables (or is it fruit?) on Madeira. The first time we tried it was not asuccess. Bitter, really not edible. It turned out that we had spooned a bit too deep (Dutch eh, don’t throw waste anything) and had eaten the bitter outside of the fruit. Don’t do that, spoon it out but stay well away from the skin. Then it is very tasty. Even better is the poncha they make of it in São Vicente. Worth the drive, because all the fruit of the season is served there in poncha disguise. Like this, even Noud will enjoy his daily dose vegetables! Thank heavens for exotic vegetables in Madeira!

The tetragonia tetragonoides, looks normal, but it is one of the exotic vegetables in Madeira.
Pimpinelas. Quite common heere, but it really is one of the exotic vegetables in Madeira.
Carrots: really not one of the exotic vegetables in Madeira. But frersh like this, very taasty indeed!
Strange fruit or xotic vegetable? The Tamarillo.
it really looks like a christmas tree, this exotic vegetable!

special fruits

Fruit is also available in all kinds of strange or unknown varieties – tu us at least. Of course we all know the avocado, but if you’ve eaten it here in Madeira, there’s a good chance you won’t buy them at homeNetherlands anymore. The ones available at home are ripened in a refrigerated ship, in Madeira they have rimpened as they should: in the sun. Then we also have the kiwi here, everyone knows it, but here too, there is a world of difference between thise matured on the plant and those ripened in a refrigerated container.

We’ll discuss exotic fruits and vegetables and plants more often, but today we’re going to discuss some nice ones. The most ridiculous one is the ‘banananas’. It is the fruit of the Swiss Cheese Plant, the monstera deliciosa, which everyone knows as an indoor plant. But what is less well known is that the plant produces very special fruits, which here on Madeira is called ‘banananas’ because the taste has elements of the banana and of the pineapple. The edible flesh is actually small ‘grains’ that can best be compared to the flesh of the pomegranate, which also grows here. Only, this fruit’s flesh is yellow. When we see such a thing, we always immediately hum the muppet song. Banananas tata tadada. And it sticks. So we don’t really like seeing these things, because they may ruin the day..

Another exotic fruit is the ‘pera melão’, litterally the melon pear. It isn’t a pear, nor is it a melon. It’s another nightshade with a fresh and tangy taste. We are talking about the solanum muricatum, that, like many exotic species in Madeira, found its origin in South-America.The

The Guava thrives here as well, we wrote about it in other articles. Noud uses it to make a fantastic ice cream and a delicious jelly. Our friend Reina loves it, and she always cites a rhime when she spots it at breakfast: guava, guava jelly, put it on your belly. Errm. I think not. Whenever we want to serve our B&B guests a fruit salad at breakfast, I love using guave to give the whole salad an exotic smell and flavour.

Finally, let’s tell you about the Annona, the Annona cherimola. The English call it Custard Apple. Heaven knows why, it is clearly not an apple and it does not taste like custard. At all. (Noud’s mother, who was English, would have said her famous “Ha. Strange English” With her stroong British accent that really sounded very funny.) Anyway. The Annona. We have tried it sereral times, but we found the taste rather weak and bland, unless you try it at the exact right moment. Then, the flavour can be lightly tangy and fresh. Those familiar with the south-east Asian cuisine might know its relative the Soursop, often used for ice cream in Indonesia. We tried it to do just that, and, though tasty enough, it was not quite good enough to go through all the hassle. But as the Madeirans get very excited about the Annona and even organise festivals around it, we thought we’d mention this fruit, too

Banananas, very strange fruit indeed.
Pera Melão, Very tasty exotic fruit.
Guava, very tasty in jams, jellies or fruit salads.
The Annona. Exotic fruit it is, but to be honest, we aren't that impressed.

In weeks to come, we will talk some more about strange fruits or exotic vegetables in Madeira whenever we come across them. Especially, of course, if they can be used to make a Poncha!


By Peter Groen

Peter was born in Amsterdam in 1949. He has a history in PR and copywriting. Now, part time resident of the Island of Madeira of over 10 years, he writes about Madeira, its culture, its overwhelming nature, its food and drink, and about everything concerning travel to and on this beautiful island.


  1. I am trying to get hold of some genuine Madeira pimpinella. Do you know anyone who might send me some

    1. I’d have to ask. I am in the Netherlands now, but we plan on returning to Madeira early December. It will depend on a number of things. They keep quite well, so the time in the mail would not harm them. But… It is a vegetable. Where does it need to be shipped? UK? Find out the rules about importing vegetables. They might not allow it. Maybe the best way to get them is fly to Madeira and enjoy the island while you’re at it!

    1. Now that I know how not to eat them, I love them too. And yes, fruit or vegetable… It certainly looks like a fruit, but of it is a kind of tomato? Anyway. The poncha they make in São Vicente is delicious!

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