One of the hidden gems in Ponta Delgada: Mercado da Graca (Grace’s Market)
This is one of our favourite places to visit most mornings. A place that goes back to the very beginnings of Ponta Delgada, the town at the heart of the Azores, it’s also where most restaurant owners on the island stock up on the local ingredients each morning. Great for people watching with fresh juices served up, it is a must see when here.
Some say it resembles an abandoned indoor car park, but to us, as we believe it is a beautiful place. There are no prepared food stalls or tourist traps, this is as authentic as it gets, with many instagramable opportunities as well as the freshest fruit and vegetables to purchase, many of the stall holders are the farmers themselves.
We go to the market most days, to book and join us for a tour click here or read on below about what you can discover in the market.
Fruits: Oranges, limes, lemons, bananas, but to name a few are all locally grown and sold here at the market. But it is the Pineapples or Abicihe as they are known in Portuguese that are unique here. These Azorean pineapples are a thing of beauty, they taste so much sweeter than the pineapples you will be used to. But how do they grow? The islands aren’t tropical, and there are very few months of full sun, the humidity is harsh and chilly rather than warm and balmy. So how? With a little ingenuity that comes from isolation and economic necessity, Azorians learned to cultivate pineapples (originally brought over for ornamental purposes) in greenhouses. They speed up the ripening process by light smoking, concentrating the sugars and ripening the pineapples at a smaller size. Even then they 2 years to grow! These can be brought from the market to eat as is or in boxes ready to take home on the plane.
Fish: Because of its volcanic history, the irregular sea floor surrounding the Azores provides many cliffs, reefs and plateaus for an abundant variety of fish. Red snapper, bluefish, and a variety of tuna come to feast on the abundant anchovies and sardines that the Portuguese are best known for. At the market, the fishmongers will boisterously make sure everyone knows their fish is fresh, and if you wake in the dark and head to the docks surrounding the entire island, you’ll find proof of that. Because of this, Azorean food relies much more heavily on fish than continental Portuguese. Because of their abundance and robust health, every restaurant on Sao Miguel will have plump sardines on their menu, most often simply grilled with salt and served with lemon and boiled potatoes.
São Jorge Cheese: The island of São Jorge started producing one of the most recognizable Portuguese cheeses centuries ago when the robust cattle that fed alternatively on pastures of grass and legumes produced so much high-quality milk that islanders soon found they could produce far more than they ate, and started exporting. The raw milk is aged for a minimum of three months, producing a semi-hard, yellow cheese with a mild tang and a subtle grassy aroma. Aged longer (usually around nine months), it becomes slightly crumbly, far deeper in peppery and musty flavour, and leaves an almost puckered feeling in the mouth. On São Miguel, São Jorge cheese is most often served at the beginning of a meal, sliced thin, next to Portuguese rolls. It’s also a common quick breakfast or lunch sandwich.
Meats: When most people think of Portuguese sausage, they think of linguiça first, but in the Azores, it’s all about spicy chouriço. Similar to Spanish chorizo, the smoked and dried links are dark with pepper, paprika and garlic; a bit smokier and darkly flavoured than linguiça. It’s also a commonly served as an appetizer, under which aguardente—a liquor similar to moonshine or gin—flames, giving the sausage its final outward char before getting sliced and eaten. Cows outnumber humans in the Azores, and because of the vast amount of green, thriving, fertile land, all of the beef on the island is grass fed, incredibly rich and marbled, and is slaughtered continually for local use.
Fresh Herbs: Most Azoreans have a garden; even those in row houses will grow a few tomatoes or herbs with whatever light they can find. And because of the simplicity of the cuisine. Like the meat and fish bread or caught nearby, the herbs are also kept as simply grown and organic as possible. Mint, sage, rosemary and especially parsley are often added to the end of dishes to bring some brightness to the otherwise hearty cuisine.
The market, much like Azorean cuisine itself, it does not try to be fanciful or photo-ready. Instead, the locally-grown and imported foods you can get here reflect the honest cooking of the island: fresh fish, meat, herbs, fruit, and vegetables are steamed, roasted or broiled together for rich, earthy results. You are welcome to sign up for a tour here.