Fickle about Food

We’re fortunate to have a slew of supermarkets – Aldi, Auchan, Continente, Lidl, MiniPreço, Pingo Doce – conveniently located, within driving distance.

Except (possibly) for Auchan, we unfortunately lack the hipermercados … like El Corte Inglés, Carrefour, and E. LeClerc.

Why should that matter?

Because I’m fickle to the point of fetish about my foods. And not one of our area supermarkets – not even Auchan – carries the variety, brands, and even foods that I crave. Which means that going to the grocery is a day of shopping and playing supermarket sweepstakes.

Granted, I can get most of what I’m looking for at Auchan. Especially my wine. Heck, I’ve even purchased some clothes there! You must be careful about their prices, though. (The same J&J baby powder Auchan sells for €2.49 costs only €1.75 at my neighborhood grocery.) And the super-sized box doesn’t sell the zumo de toronja rosa (grapefruit juice) that I mix with my morning zumo de laranja (orange juice) and daily dose of pills.

I don’t particularly care for Auchan’s orange juice. Even the squeeze-it-yourself machine that, depending on the oranges, puts out too sweet or sour juice.

The OJ honor goes to Lidl, whose cold bottled orange juice (with just a little pulp) is by far my favorite. At Lidl – or Aldi – I can get orange juice I’ll drink, although we prefer the cuts of meat butchered by Lidl. Aldi’s delicious mini quiches in the bakery department aren’t sold anywhere else. But, like Lidl, their stock always changes, and you never can be certain that what you bought there last week will be there next. Aldi’s prices are higher on that good stuff on special that week … of which there’s much more of it at Lidl. Lidl also carries a rather decent cole slaw (ensaladilla americana) and – sometimes – even the better potato salad (ensaladilla de patatas) brands, of which they sell two. We’ve tried them both. One is slathered with gobs of mayonnaise or crème fraiche (we don’t care for that one), while the other isn’t covered with so much sloppy fat and contains small pickles, carrots, and other appropriate veggies.

A creature of habit, I know what I like … so, our weekly shopping trek usually takes us from Auchan > Lidl > Continente.  

Why Continente? Because, to us, the bakery items sold there are better. (At least they taste better to us.) Plus, Continente is the only store in Castelo Branco that sells real, honest-to-goodness grapefruit juice … produced or packaged by Andros. Elsewhere, you can find juices of other flavors – orange, apple, multi-fruit – with the Andros label, but not grapefruit. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we’ll also be able to find Continente’s own brand of Bailey’s Irish Cream, a lip-smacking bargain at just €5.99 per bottle.

Alas, the only place where we can buy anything that comes close to Nathan’s, Hebrew National, Oscar-Meyer, Ball Park, or even Costco hot dogs is in Spain—at Mercadona. That’s why we purchased a “vacation” home (casa de ferias) on the Portuguese border with Spain at Badajoz. A side dish benefit is the number of restaurants in Spain that serve real, mouth-watering, hamburgers. There’s a chain of The Good Burger(s), along with Foster’s Hollywood … kind of a cross between Fuddruckers and Planet Hollywood.

After the car’s boot has stuffed itself on our groceries, it’s time to treat ourselves to lunch out. There are more than enough places around here with different cuisines that we like, although it usually boils down to either pizza or a family-style restaurant serving only a dozen or so Portuguese dishes … and we like at least half of them!

We bemoan the lack of good hamburger joints, frankfurter stands, even breakfast bistros like International House of Pancakes, Denny’s, Bob Evans, Waffle House, and Cracker Barrel. But we’re more than satisfied with the out-of-this-world pastries and breads here in Portugal that make for mighty fine breakfast fixings.

The problem with the restaurants around where we live – a district that occupies one-third of Portugal’s land space! – is that there just are too many or not enough. Feast or famine. If I had the money, I’d open a Tex-Mex, Thai, Japanese (more than sushi), or beefy steak house restaurant that serves London broil, prime ribs, and filet mignon. The thought of a real delicatessen makes my mouth water. Or even a takeout (“take away”) bagel emporium.

With all the Chinese shops on every corner, you’d think there’d be room for several Chinese restaurants here. One, at best, is mediocre. The other advertises “All you can eat” … which is not the same thing as a Chinese buffet! You order one dish at a time and, by the time your server comes to take away your third plate, you’re looked at disdainfully should you dare to order more. In Estremoz, near our second home (in Elvas), are some excellent restaurants where I enjoy eating even Portuguese food. Yummo: porco preto! Yet, tucked out of the way, on the outskirts of town, is a building that looks like it’s a lamp showroom. Instead, it houses the best Chinese buffet I have enjoyed in Portugal—down to General Tso’s chicken and hot-and-spicy whatevers.

Here, there´s rotating Indian food here that takes turns as the favorite. First, it was 7 Especiarias. It closed. Swagat, a combination of Indian and Nepalese—still is our favorite. Along came a family-owned and operated take away place which listed its menu for the following day on Facebook. People marvelled at the taste and heapings of the food carried away, as well as the gentility of the owners. Now, it appears that Taste of India is the flavor de jour, outshining Namaste (Vegeterian).

 

In terms of pizza parlors, we have more than enough … thank you. But what about Italian restaurants that serve more than pizza, spaghetti, and lasagna loaded with bechemel? Bring me some meatballs, at least!

Yeah, I know; I’ve heard it before: Some of you have no problem finding foods or places to eat. That’s what makes Lisbon, Porto, and Coimbra different in cuisine and culinary delights than Castelo Branco.

Here, we have our pastelerías. OMG! Portuguese sweets are second to none.

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine, the “thoughtful magazine for people with Portugal on their minds.” You can read the current issue online and subscribe — FREE! — at https://portugallivingmagazine.com/our-current-issue. Prefer the feel of fingers flicking paper pages? High-quality, low-cost copies of Portugal Living Magazine are available through all Amazon sites.

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