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Living in Portugal – Adapting to Portuguese Food

Herbs - often a surprise

While preparing dinner last night, I casually picked a few grass stems out of my bunch of coriander before using it. I dropped them into the bin, then paused, reflecting on how incensed I would have been in England to find my herbs thus contaminated. Here, I’ve got used to just picking out the bits that aren’t supposed to be there.

Herbs - often a surprise

Herbs – often a surprise

I began pondering other food matters that now seem completely normal – along with a few that I think I will never adapt to.

Four things that now seem completely normal

1. Seeing whole rabbits, pigs’ ears and tongues and rows of tiny quails as standard items on the butcher’s counter – I used to find the pigs’ tongues in particular pretty grim, but now I scan the entire contents of the butcher’s counter without giving them a second thought.

2. Getting change from a €5 note when buying a round of beers for myself and three friends – this is a pleasure that I quickly adapted to!

3. Sucking the heads of prawns in order to enjoy the sauce they come in at its best – something I never would have contemplated doing when living in England.

4. Cakes that include custard – instead of fresh cream cakes and cakes with jam, Portuguese cakes tend to contain a gooey, delicious yellow custard. I’ve grown so used to them that when my dad asked recently if there were any jam cakes in the selection at a local café, all I could do was look blank. Clearly the joys of jam tarts and jam doughnuts, despite these being my cakes of choice back in England, had been long forgotten.

Prawns - suck the heads for full flavour

Prawns – suck the heads for full flavour

Four things that will never seem normal

1. Buying supermarket chicken in hugely inflated packaging – having been raised in a country with food safety guidance that says to avoid any meat in inflated packaging as it’s starting to go bad, being faced with a choice of 15 kinds of pre-packed chicken in the supermarket, all of it in packets that look about to explode, will never seem right.

2. Being served a main course in a restaurant without a single vegetable in sight – I’ve been particularly conscious of this over recent months, thanks to my quest to eat extra fruit and veg while pregnant. It doesn’t happen in all restaurants, but there are still many traditional Portuguese eateries where vegetables are restricted to the soup starter.

3. Eating sardine bones – despite my best efforts, eating sardines is still something of a trial for me, despite their incredible flavour. I sit meticulously picking out even the tiniest, hair-like bones while my husband, who has adapted far better than me, races through a plateful in the time it takes me to eat one.

4. Paying a small fortune for asparagus from Peru, in the supermarket here in the Algarve, while central Portugal is awash with roadside sellers of beautifully fresh, locally grown asparagus, which for some reason never seems to make it to the Algarve.

What else do you find strange (or not) about adapting to living in Portugal, so far as the cuisine is concerned? Leave a comment and let us know 🙂

Bargain wine - always welcome!

Bargain wine – always welcome!