03 November 2012

The Madeira bread soup

Most of the times there is nothing more rewarding, after finishing a levada walk or a hike through the high peaks of Madeira, than a hot meal and a warm bath. However, if you are still away from home and it's already late in the evening, just the hot meal will do. At least it will warm up your stomach and give back some of the energy lost during the day.
This is especially true during the Winter months, when the inclement weather becomes a constant on the mountains and hypothermia is a risk not to be taken lightly.
Most of the times, under these circumstances, dry, solid food is not really something that you are craving for. What we wish, normally, is an easily digested food with lots of nutrients to compensate our day losses. And warm. Hence... liquids. A tea is very good for this, escorted with a few crackers or a toast. However, if you are feeling homy, there is nothing better than a soup to feed and relax you at the same time. So, while you wait, late in the afternoon, for your connecting bus to Funchal, just enter in the nearest restaurant and ask for the Madeira bread soup.
This typical meal of Madeira is, somehow, a sub specie in a vast family of Portuguese bread soups (açordas, in Portuguese). They all have in common the fact that they are, in a certain way, cheap to be made. They surely were invented in a time when people were poor and didn't had the resources to buy all the culinary items that, today, we take for granted. Therefore their base is quite simple: it consists of bread cubes and boiled water over it. Without forgetting the Portuguese olive oil. The subsequent diversity just depends of how rich you store room is. You just add the ingredients and culinary herbs that you have at hand, at your heart's content. Depending of your technical expertise you can go from a simple Madeira garlic bread soup to a high-tech (and delicious, by the way) Açorda de Camarão (a shrimp bread soup, but more consistent... more solid).
Just try the simpler one, while in vacations among us. After a day's walk, I'll promise you it will taste like Heaven.
The Madeira bread soup, as served in Casa de Chá da Ponta do Pargo (Ponta do Pargo tea house), on the West coast of the island, some weeks ago. To the best of my knowledge, this soup consists of bread, in slices or in cubes, olive oil, salt, pepper, a boiled egg, segurelha (satureja montana), garlic, hortelã (mentha spicata), chili pepper and... hot water.