Espada Fish - A Unique Madeira Meal
However, the espada fish is not an over-priced menu item aimed solely at the tourist. It is also one of the favourite dishes with the local population.Sometimes included in the English section of the menu as swordfish, we have yet to find a restaurant or café that doesn't offer at least one espada dish of one sort or another.
Our choice is to order lightly battered espada with fried banana and a selection of fresh vegetables and salad. Not only will find this a healthy option, with a taste rather akin to that of mild cod, the soft flesh simply melting in the mouth, but you will also find it the perfect complement to a glass of your favourite wine.
Espada Fish - Fresh Daily
This is because there are no large, industrial, factory-style, fishing ships supplying the markets. On the contrary, a fleet of small fishing boats set sail every evening to land the catch by hand.
Indeed, the black scabbard fish resides in the deep water off the coast at depths of between 600 and 1,600 metres. The only economical way to catch them is by using single, drop lines.
The haul is then packed in ice and sold at various fish markets early each morning.
The fish market in Funchal is situated adjacent to the fresh fruit and vegetable market located on the Rue Brigadeiro Oudinot, just up from the Praça da Autonomia which is at the eastern end of the seafront promenade.
The market itself is house in a 1940s building called the Mercado dos Lavradores (Worker's Market) and it often has traditionally dressed flower sellers immediately outside.
Buying espada fish fresh at the market
If you do visit the market, time your trip early as the black scabbard fish have usually completely sold out by midday. Also, have a meal of black scabbard before you go to see it laid out on the metal, iced, slabs - it is definitely not the most appetising sight to see in the market.
Espada, Very Tasty but Very Ugly
When seen laid out for sale in the market, the black scabbard fish is certainly not what you might call an attractive produce.
However, the espada's repulsive looks are not all that they may seem.
In its natural habitat, some 600 metres or more beneath the ocean surface, the espada has a rounded body and normal eyes that do not protrude at all.
At that depth, the pressure is considerable, more than 50 times that of normal air pressure at sea level.
Having been caught by the special hooks and long lines of the fisherman the espada is hauled to the surface.
Its body, perfectly formed to withstand the high pressures of its normal environment, undergoes a transformation as it is pulled to the surface. Its body expands and then, when it reaches the point of no return, collapses. Further, its entrails are sucked out through its own mouth under the forces of decompression. The stronger tissue of the eyes bulge under the strain, but do not collapse.
Suffice to say, no fish reaches the surface still alive.
Espada Fishing History
Traditionally, fishing for the espada preta - as it is more correctly known so as to distinguish it from the espada branca, or white scabbard - originated from the fishing village of Câmara de Lobos.
Indeed, in December 2003, the United Nations Conference on the Governance and Management of Deep-Sea Fisheries, reported that the catching of the black scabbard fish in Madeira was the longest established deep-water fishery in the world.
Certainly, the espada fish was known to science in 1839 as in May of that year, the Zoological Society of London recorded in their proceedings:
"Aphanopus carbo - Espada preta. Rariss.
Of this most curious new genus a single individual only has yet occurred. The whole fish is of a dark coffee colour, approaching to black, and has in form so close a general resemblance to Lepidopus argyreus, that it might well be taken hastily for a mere variety of that fish."
It is very likely that regularly fishing had commenced a good many years before this first scientific classification.
The earliest boats used for fishing were of wood, open breadth and typically 7 to 8 metres in length and 3 metres wide with one sail and four oars.
By 1851 Robert White details that 2 to 8 lbs was selling in the local market for between 3d to 6d - which equates today to about 1 to 3.6 kg of the scabbard fish selling for between 1.15 euros and 2.30 euros.
In 1979, the Regional Government of Madeira had asked the National Institute of Fisheries Research in Lisbon to evaluate the possibilities of developing technological innovations to modernise the fishing methods.
However, the myriad of small, brightly painted wooden boats in the harbour reflect the fact that the traditional methods still prevail here.
Once thought only to inhabit the deep water off the Madeiran Islands, the espada can also be found in the waters surrounding Japan. Reports also suggest that it has been found near to the Canary Islands and Ireland.
The Espada Fish
The espada fish, also known as the black scabbard or swordfish, provide Madeira with a delicious meal that you are unlikely to find anywhere else in the world.
Caught in the deep waters off the coast of the archipelago, this fish has been a favourite dish with the local population since the early 1800s.
Today, almost every restaurant offers a variety of meals based on the tender, white, mild flesh of the espada.Prices range from a humble few euros upward, so there is no excuse not to try this traditional fare.
Just one word of warning: Do not go to the supermarket and view the fish in its raw state before you sample its delights - you may not like what you see.
Funil Restaurant, Funchal
The Funil Restaurant in Funchal offers a friendly and fast service, providing an excellent option if you want to eat out in Funchal.
We have been going to the Funil now for seven years and the fact that we keep on going back must say something about the quality of their meals. Another good sign is that the restaurant is patronised by many locals as well - and if they can't identify good traditional Madeiran cooking, then nobody can.
There are plenty of regional speciality dishes on the menu. Our particular favourite is the Espada fish with fried banana.
In Madeira, the local fruit and vegetables are grown without the aid of chemicals and the fish are caught daily. So, you can be assured of a meal comprising of fresh, tasty and healthy ingredients from almost any local restaurant.
What makes the Funil Restaurant stand out for us is it's value-for-money menu.