Scattered like shards across a million square kilometres of the North Atlantic, west of Portugal the nine islands of the Azores are unmistakably volcanic.
For now, this green and breezy archipelago is snoozing in the temperate embrace of the Gulf Stream; the last significant onshore eruptions were in 1811. However, over thirty of its volcanoes remain active, and regular tremors and underwater seismic events serve to remind that every crag, crater and cave was sculpted by geothermal forces.
This might seem like a perilous place to live, but Azorean foodies embrace their role as volcano-dwellers, growing hothouse pineapples, bananas, guavas and passionfruit in the fertile soil and harvesting plump, meaty clams from volcanic lagoons.
In the picturesque caldera village of Furnas on São Miguel, famous for its hot springs, they take things further by using natural volcanic energy to slow-cook a stew that’s a signature local dish, cozido das Furnas. To make it, the chef lines a heavy pot with layers of meat, vegetables, chorizo and blood sausage, covers it and lowers it into a steamy hollow in the ground to simmer for five or six hours.
Order this hearty dish at a local restaurant, and you may be invited to the springs to watch the pot being unearthed. At Canto da Doca, a casual, contemporary place, you can enjoy a little DIY volcanic cooking.
Waiters bring a platter of fresh meat, squid, tuna, vegetables and sauces to your table, along with a piping-hot slab of lava stone. You drop morsels onto the slab one by one to cook, inhaling the delicious aromas as they sizzle. When the temperature dips, a fresh slab will miraculously appear.
While traditional Azorean cooking tends to be solid peasant grub – regional cheese to start, stewed or grilled meat or seafood as a main course, custardy puddings, fragrant Azorean tea as a pick-meup – there’s a move afoot to bring out the islands’ gourmet side. Check out 10 Fest Azores, an annual ten-day gastronomic festival featuring Michelin-starred chefs from all over the world.
) is hosted every June by Restaurante Anfiteatro in Ponta Delgada, São Miguel (efth.com.pt
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Top image: Traditional Portuguese dishes from Azores © kina8/Shutterstock