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  • Tony

What's Different about living in Portugal? Part 1 - Groceries

Updated: Aug 1, 2023

People who are unfamiliar with Portugal often ask us what's it like to live in here vs the US. As recent transplants now residing in Portugal, we'll share our experiences so far.

You've probably heard about or have experienced in your travels that Europeans are accustomed to shopping frequently, locally, and buying fresh seasonal products for the days needs instead of filling your pantry and fridge for the week on a single shopping venture like we do in the US.

Most Portuguese do the same, shopping where they can get the best, freshest, seasonal, and most inexpensive, or just where they are most comfortable to shop. It's not uncommon for locals to shop daily and at multiple locations. Meat, Produce, Fish, Breads, etc... are purchased at sacred favorite locations.

Yes there are an abundance of "Supermarkets (Supermercados)" Pingo Doce, Auchan, Continente, InterMarche, Lidl, Aldi, etc... where it is possible to one stop shop. Most will buy pantry and household supplies at the Supermercados, although they are becoming familiar with the convenience of one place for everything. Rarely will you see a shopping cart filled to the top with a family's weekly shopping needs.

Every neighborhood also has small local Mercados (think Convenience stores or Bodegas) that are stocked with many of the same items as a larger grocery store but in much smaller quantities. These are great for locals with limited transportation or to pop in for that item or two that will save you a trip to the larger market.

Well before the existence of SuperMercados, the Public Markets (Mercado Central) was the one stop shop for most needs. They are still a local favorite, most are open mornings until about 2pm. Here you will find several individual stalls selling the freshest produce, local farmed honey, nuts, herbs, flowers, and other specialties. In a separate area you'll generally find find Butcher, Charcuterie, Cheese and Dairy stands. Another area is reserved for Fish where several display their whole items (Sardines at just about every stand) for sale ranginging from the local catch to harvested Oysters/Clams/Mussels/Shrimp and more. Some Mercado's will have a vendor for live small animals like Chickens, Duck, Turkey, Goats, Birds, etc...

Meat from one of the great neighborhood butcher shops or a stall at the Mercado Central. We have two favorite butchers, each of them have really great selections of quality meats but each has a few items they specialize in. One has a great selection of imported Brazilian beef along with their local Pork, Poultry, Lamb, etc... The second has a broader variety of poultry. Both have great sausages made on the premise!

Fish is found generally at the expansive number of stalls in the Mercado Central or a local shop in the community. We have found that the Mercado Central generally has the best selection and freshness. You'll find many local caught/harvested selections of fish and shellfish, along with imports like large beautiful prawns from Madagascar. Fishing is a big part of the lifestyle here so we tend to buy whats caught locally. Oysters/Clams/Mussels are raised in the local estuaries and available at the Mercados.

Produce is mostly bought in the Mercado Central, direct from the grower on their farm, at the neighborhood market, or at one of the many farmers markets in town. We happen to have a great local Sunday farmers market that we frequent and a Saturday organic market in the nearby town.

If you are lucky you live in an area where your neighbors grow produce, they usually grow much more than they can consume and are generous enough to share with you or sell for a very reasonable price. You may also make a connection with a local fisherman who will sell his daily catch. If this is the case you should show your appreciation by offering to assist in anyway you can. Helping in the garden, etc...goes a long way in establishing good neighbors.

We are also blessed with a great neighbor who has an extensive garden. She frequently knocks on our door to deliver a basket of freshly harvested produce! So far we have been the recipients of Tomato's, Cucumber, Oranges, Mandarin, lemons, Green beans, lettuce, Herbs, Onions, potatoes, melons, and Figs! Pomegranates, more citrus fruits, Avocados, and persimmons are just about to ripen.

Organics are gaining in Portugal but behind in availability as in the US. We have found a few smaller stores that specialize in "Bio" products and most of the larger grocery stores now have sections dedicated to BIO products. Many of the local farmers do not use pesticides to grow their produce so be sure to ask, you'll usually find that "organics" are far more available from these local sources just not labeled as so. We have also recently discovered that there are a few weekly BIO markets in the area

Bread and Pastries The Portuguese LOVE their bread and Pastries! Just about everywhere you shop will have a wide selection of fresh breads and Pastries, from the Supermarkets aisle long fresh bread and pastry cabinets, to the Mercados, and the small neighborhood shops, but you will find most buy from a small local neighborhood Pastry shop or a local baker.

We have a bread baker in our village, a small nondescript door on one of the small streets, you'll find a room just large enough for a counter and bread shelves behind it. There's usually a line of people queued up to by their bread for the day, one, two or three loaves depending on the number you need to feed, will set you back about €0.40 each. Next door there is a much larger room with a very old stone and steel baking oven that looks as if has been in there for centuries. Stacks of cut wood line the street just outside the door of this room ready to be stoked in the old oven to bake the next round of bread. She doesn't offer pastries so I often find myself walking around the corner to the local neighborhood Mercado to pick up fresh pastries in the morning. They don't make them on site but have them delivered by a nearby baker fresh every morning along with huge bags of more bread!

The bread is very good here but I miss a good sourdough and it's not common here. We've found a shop in neighboring Lagos where the baker specializes in naturally long fermented sourdough and whole grain breads.

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