This is what happens when you book a holiday during the exam season - chances are (well, for us, anyway), you wouldn't have had time to put in the approriate amount of research into the places you would be visitng. We knew close to nothing about Funchal except that it was named after fennel and that fish and bananas, no matter how unconventional it sounded at that point, was a popular local dish.
The weather wasn't promising upon arrival - slightly overcast and significantly gloomier than any of the other ports that we docked at throughout the cruise. What it lacked weather-wise, however, was more than made up for by the food and the people. A quick chat about food with our friendly cab-driver-tourguide confirmed what we had read about fish and bananas so we knew what we would be on the hunt for come lunchtime.
Espada and bananas - essentially battered black scabbard, a fish that (after some post-holiday googling) is definitive of Madeira cooking, with fried bananas. The dish is simple, relying very much on the freshness of the ingredients. Fresh fish and sweet, deliciously ripe bananas, I'm really not sure how we've only been introduced to this pairing now.
Also ordered upon recommendation by the cab-driver-tourguide, espetada - grilled skewered salted beef cubes. Yes, we did notice that the two dishes had incredibly similar names. Served with a healthy portion of fresh salad, the beef-enthusiasts at the table gave the dish a thumbs up.
After discovering that Funchal was a wine-producing region and being shown the wineries, our pick of wine for the meal seemed very appropriate - a lovely complement to the food.
No amount of research can beat actually being there in person and I have come away knowing not just about the incredible volume of banana crops that Funchal has, or that it is home to Cristiano Ronaldo or that it has the second highest cliff in the world - I have come away having seen the lush greenery that is Funchal as well as met the people who can put a smile on your face despite the pouring rain.