Gluten free in Madeira

Eating and drinking gluten free in Madeira

If you are visiting Madeira and are a diagnosed celiac (coeliac) or prefer to follow a gluten free diet you might be interested in our most recent experience as a celiac was part of our holiday group.

First the good news – Groceries: The reliable Schar range of Gluten free products is available in Madeira, along with some other options. Bread, cereals, biscuits, snacks etc..can be found  in the Pingo Doce chain of supermarkets in Madeira and through smaller independent convenience stores such as Mercadinho at the top of Rue Imperatirz Dona Amelia opposite to the entrance to the Taj Mahal restaurant.

Careful reading of grocery product labels is advised, Gluten free products will have “Sem glúten” or “Sin Gluten”, or indeed both on the label. Some may display the gluten free logo. Sem Gluten is Portuguese for gluten free and Sin Gluten is the Spanish equivalent. Both mean literally without gluten. 

If in doubt ask in Portuguese: Este é sem glúten?  Is this gluten free?

Gluten free beernot so good GF beer seems not to be widely available, though Super Bock (a very popular Portuguese lager) has launched a gluten free product it did not appear on shop shelves or at any bar that we visited across the island. Coral is the dominant draught and bottled beer in Madeira being almost universally available, but as I write in early 2024 no gluten free option appears to be offered by Coral.

Mercadinho was the only outlet selling gluten free beer that we came across: Ambar Especial 5.2% ABV, brewed in Spain, in bottles.

Mealing in bars and restaurants etc?………..a mixed picture

You will usually find a legal notice in restaurants listing all the products used in their kitchen with allergy implications including wheat as means of informing diners.

Sadly, we found no restaurant menu that had information about the ingredients used in specific dishes appertaining to gluten free dining. Logos or letters such as or equivalent to GF did not appear on menu options in our experience.

It is therefore an absolute imperative that you have to ask: Este é sem glúten? Is this Gluten free:  As you order, ideally pointing to the menu item as part of your ordering process.

Some menus had a line at the bottom of the page stating that gluten free options are available.

Ask and ask again and again

Nor did we find any restaurant that asked us about any allergies we may have when presenting us with the menu or when ordering a drink or snack. Again, you need to ask.

So can you dine well gluten free in Madeira? well yes but………….

For Madeira’s finest and most traditional dishes

Espada is a no

The wonderful Madeiran delicacy of espada, which is lightly battered espada fish served with a lightly battered Madeira grown banana did not appear to be offered as a gluten free option which is a real shame.

Estepada is a strong possibility

The other wonderful traditional Madeiran meal of Estapada, beef on a skewer is a good gluten free option, but again do ask and when we did it was confirmed as gluten free. However, again check on arrival of your dish to the table.

Fresh fruit and vegetable heaven

Madeira is a floating garden and the most wonderful range of fresh fruit and veg is available at the Merardo so if some self-catering is possible this is a good option to shop for coeliacs to shop.

Patisseries are not a great option for a snack.

Portugal is famous for its cakes and confections, there are so many more options than just pastel de nata, but sadly we didn’t find evidence of a gluten free ranges being offered in Funchal – not even that delightful everyday treat pastel de nata – Portuguese egg custard tarts seemed not to be available gluten free. Why not?

Madeira has a unique tradition with breads and pastries as well, but gluten free options do not seem to be available.

Why It is Important to ask again

We ordered a filet stake at a fine dining restaurant having asked Este é sem glúten? And was assured yes, the dish appeared and moments later whisked away, an alert waiter recalling a party member was gluten free. We did not come across the sticker systems used by restaurants such as Wagamama in the UK to alert your server that a gluten free dish has been ordered.

Credit must go to the Design Centre restaurant on the Funchal Breakwater who noted a diner in our party declined the complimentary bread and immediately asked if the diner was gluten free. Yes, he replied and gluten free bread was swiftly provided.

All good, but all a bit random.

Book ahead whenever possible and let the restaurant know you are a gluten free diner in advance.

A good technique is to book a table on line or by phone and make it known that there is a gluten free diner coming. We did so for The Savoy Palace Galaxia restaurant. On arrival the restaurant manager explained the tasing menu options, substitutions that were being made for our gluten free diner and that the chef had already prepared fresh gluten free bread. This is a classy (up scale restaurant) but their attention to our gluten free diner was impressive.

Booking ahead is generally quite easy and we found a useful Portuguese restaurant booking site The Fork to be good though not every establishment listed provides information about Gluten free options, there are of course others such as Trip Advisor to use as well.

We stayed at The Royal Savoy and we found its bars and restaurants are generally very good on gluten free, with a line on the bottom of the menu informing patrons that gluten free options are available. Their sandwich range is offered with a gluten free alternative bread – just ask and a good number of main meal options can also be provided for celiacs…..again just ask.

A little learning about how to ask in Portuguese

As a diner, ask

Is this gluten free?  Este é sem glúten?

Or mix it up with

I am celiac Eu sou celíaco


I cannot eat gluten: Não posso comer gluten


Do you have a Gluten free menu?  Você tem um menu sem glúten

You can have allergy information cards made at Equal eats or Gluten free globe trotter in many different languages which are a good idea if you are not confident with Portuguese (or any other language).

A plea to the restauranteurs, hoteliers, café, patisserie and bar owners of Madeira:

It would be excellent and so much appreciated if the restauranteurs, hoteliers, cafes, patisseries and bar owners of Madeira could:

1) Train their staff to pro-actively ask diners if they have any allergies.

2) List allergen ingredients at the individual dish level on the menu (nuts, shellfish, gluten etc….)

3) Develop specific menu options for diners with allergies. How about battered Espada as a GF option?

4) Use a sticker system – small stickers attached on plate to be served and attached on to the diner’s place mat, (at time of ordering) – saying “sem gluten” thereby ensuring the gluten free diner gets the correct gluten free dish.

5) Stock a gluten free beer option please.

No destination is perfect, I write from the UK and that has a long way to go in offering gluten free dining experiences. However, it is my sincere hope that Madeira will progress to being one of the best destinations for gluten free dining there is, just as it is today for its regular fabulous dining scene that this website celebrates.

Disclaimer: While the above events accurately reflect a gluten free diners experience in Madeira in 2023, we cannot guarantee that any of the hotels or restaurants or bars or shops we mention will offer comparable experiences to the ones we experienced. Our advice remains: ask, ask and ask again and do consider carrying an allergy information card.