In the village of Furnas, on the Portuguese island of São Miguel, lunch is a serious business. Cooking starts at 6am, when pots of that day’s cozido – a meat and vegetable stew – are lowered into the ground.
Wait, what? The ground? Oh yes. No slow cookers or chipped Le Creuset here.
Furnas is a village in a volcano. Though the last eruption happened in 1630, the volcano is still considered the most dangerous in the Azores. The village is dominated by a crater lake. And the volcano lets off steam every day via the many fumaroles and hot springs around its shore.
The locals have embraced the positives of living inside an angry caldera. And have, for centuries, been making full use of nature’s oven to cook their food in the heat of the ground.
Deep holes have been dug to accommodate large, muslin-wrapped pots in the soil around the bubbling craters near the lake. Cozido takes about six hours to cook, so the early start is essential to ensure the village’s restaurants have a fresh batch at lunchtime for the waves of visitors keen to sample one of the Azores’ most famous foods.
The pots are gently lowered using long hooks, sealed with a wooden lid and piled with soil to harness the heat.
They’re then left alone until noon, when crowds gather to watch their lunch being lifted from the ground. The pots are loaded into vans and delivered to the village’s restaurants – one pot serves about 20 people.
Cozido isn’t just for tourists, though – locals also cook their food underground. Those who want to DIY need to bring their ready-prepared pot in the morning. And find a man with a shovel, and then clear off until it’s ready. Beats slaving over a hot stove, doesn’t it? Let Mother Nature do Sunday lunch for once.
But what does cozido actually taste like? Well, it’s a stew. Tasty volcano stew. Rustic, a bit smoky, and chockablock with meat – chicken, beef, pork, chorizo, and morcela (Portuguese black pudding), potatoes, and vegetables like carrots, cabbage and yam. No liquid goes into the pot – the slow cooking time and juices from the meat keep everything moist.
While every restaurant’s recipe is a bit different – it’s all down to the spices in the sausages, apparently – but the basics are the same.And keep reminding yourself as you eat that this is food cooked by a volcano.
On the shores of Lagoa das Furnas, in Furnas village, São Miguel – one of the Portuguese Azores. Once there, follow signs to the Caldeiras.
Be at the lake for 6am if you’d like to watch the pots being buried, or at noon to see them being removed.
What you need to know:
Make your own cozido with the da Camara family who own Furnas Lake Villas (an excellent place to stay if you’d like to explore the region). At £13 per person, their cookery lesson takes you from preparation right through to stuffing your face with stew. Alternatively, Restaurante Tony’s and Caldeiras & Vulcões will take you to the lake at lunchtime to watch the removal of the pots, and then drive you back to their restaurants to eat the cozido. Book 24 hours in advance to guarantee your space.