Dirty Water and Other Cravings

Undoubtedly, I’m going to be crucified for my confessions here, so be my guest … skip to the end of this piece … and give it your best shot.

“What do you miss most from the USA?” I’m frequently asked.

That’s changed quite a bit since living in Portugal and Spain almost three years; but, originally, leading my list was American-style coffee.

You know: what the locals, especially, refer to as “dirty water.”

Coffee is almost a religion in Portugal; but unlike religion, it’s worshiped daily here. Both the Portuguese and Spanish are addicted to their bold beverage, which they drink from early in the morning until late at night. From black Espresso Intenso to Ristretto Ardenza, the consistency of Iberian coffee seemed more like motor oil to me than the “pish” water we Americans drink and consider caffeine.

No, I wasn’t looking for that over-priced, sugary, syrupy Starbucks stuff that’s more like make-believe ice cream dressed up as coffee, but something more akin to my mellow-morning-medium-roast-breakfast-blend: Folgers, Maxwell House, Chock Full O’Nuts, even Costco’s Kirkland brand.

Anything but “instant.”

Along with the coffee, I yearned for my Keurig coffee maker. Nescafé (clutching my pearls!) makes something like it, known as “Dolce Gusto,” but it’s just not the same. Besides, the polluting plastic pods (Nescafé produces them for the Dolce Gusto) are more java-jolting than Green Mountain’s, whose name, at least, implies environmentally-friendly.

So, we ditched the Dolce and, little by little, I adjusted to Portuguese (and Spanish) coffee. Actually, there are some “flavors” and brands that I really appreciate … even more than the American stuff I’ve abandoned. Especially the Sical blend. By the numbers, I guess I prefer those deemed 5, 6, or 7. Beyond that, the brews are too bitter and brash for my taste.

Having satisfied my need for a morning pick-me-up, what I miss most from the USA — apart from some people — is food.

Topping the chart is a real New York City Carnegie Deli-style sandwich piled high with spicy pastrami on rye bread with a shmear of mustard, some creamy cole slaw, a sour pickle, and cheese cake that adds pounds to your waistline just by admiring it. (Carnegie’s has closed, but similar fare has been available at Katz’s Delicatessen—since 1888!)

And Nathan’s “Coney Island” all-beef hot dogs heaped high with sauerkraut and plenty of mustard on a bun. Heck, given those turd-like specimens swimming about in slimy water that are sold here, I’d be happy with Hebrew National or even Ball Park franks.

Bagels – even “plain” ones – though onion, garlic, cinnamon raison, asiago cheese, and “everything” bagels would be seventh heaven … if they could be found (not frozen) across the Iberian peninsula.

And steaks! Hunger-hunkering slabs of beef, perfectly cut with just the right amount of fat. Filet Mignon. Porterhouse. Rib Eye. Strip steak, flank steak, even top sirloin! But not those strange cuts of meat butchered in too many Portuguese churrasqueira restaurants.

I wonder whether those Kansas City mail order steak houses deliver to Portugal?

Other favorite foods that are hopefully hiding on shelves somewhere around these parts are a wide(r) variety and selection of salad dressings – not just mayonnaise, olive oil, and vinegar, along with a token “ranch” – and Tabasco-style hot sauces (anything but Piri-Piri!) for Bloody Marys and Sunday brunches. And a dash of red (hot) pepper flakes.

Yes, yes, yes, I know: Much of this stuff is available in Lisbon and Porto, Madrid and Barcelona, and other expat ghettos. Or online. But we live in more rural areas, where it’s just not available or to be found.

Restaurants, too, I miss.

Hey, we have a food court with pepperoni pizza and foot-long, all beef hot dogs at the Costco in Sevilla … and Swedish meatballs are plentiful at all our Ikeas.

But, what I wouldn’t give for a Tex-Mex restaurant’s multi-page menu featuring variations on the taco and tortilla themes! They’re probably there in the larger, more tourist-oriented cities. But what about Thai restaurants? Where are they hiding, apart from on the back pages of our Chinese restaurant menus? Speaking of Asian food, a Japanese restaurant couldn’t hurt. Heck, sometimes I even grow nostalgic for IHOPs (although rumor has it their menu has changed from stacks of flapjacks and waffles to burgers and pizza), Baskin-Robbins, and Dunkin’ Donuts.

It’s not that some of this stuff isn’t available here … just daring to be found. Expensive, too, at times. But we don’t live along the coast where Lisbon, Porto, and Algarve cater to the appetites of English-speaking expats. Yes, I know that many if not most of these delicacies can be found in these big cities, along with wonderful supermarkets like Aldi and the Corte Inglés.

They’re just not here, where we live, or within driving distance.

Lest anyone worry, rest assured that we’re doing fine – really well – with what we do have here. And what we don’t have? We probably don’t need it, anyway. We’re still newbies, who are adjusting. Especially to all those flies attracted by food eaten al fresco!

After all, we have with the coffee.

Despite being serious business in Portugal and Spain – an amphetamine and aphrodisiac of the gods to some – to me, coffee is just a morning beverage that’s sometimes enjoyed at the end of a good meal.

Blasphemy! Sacrilege! Heresy!

Now, let the carnage continue.

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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