Portuguese Supermarkets

The young chefs here at Crowded Earth Kitchen know that if they research how to prepare a new food, we will bring that new food home from the market to try. Wish us luck!

For food travelers, grocery shopping in new countries is an EVENT. Today we made our first trip of the year to a Continente in Southern Portugal. Continente is a supermarket much like many in the US – think big carts, discount cards, long aisles, fluorescent lights, fair prices, and occasional bargains. However, there are a few interesting differences to note.

Our first mysterious encounter was with an entire side of an aisle stocked with what appeared to be canned and jarred hot dogs. Upon closer inspection, there were several types of sausages in all of those cans and jars. One of the most historically interesting is Farinheira, which translates loosely “flour made” or “from flour.” During the Inquisition, this humble sausage made from wheat flour, chilies, and fat from beef, chicken, or duck, helped Jews in Portugal to survive. Farinheira looked and tasted enough like pork sausage that Jews could hang these sausages in their homes and smokehouses to blend in with their Christian neighbors. Today, Farinheira is make with pork as well.

Our second and much more predictable encounter made us smile – a solid aisle – both sides – filled with every imaginable tinned fish, sardines proudly holding center stage. In fact, there were so many tins of fish that they didn’t actually fit on the shelves, and huge crates were left open right in the walkway. The Portuguese take their tinned fish very, very seriously. Tinned fish is both economically and culturally significant, and even ties into the Catholic heritage of the country (more on that in a future post). The tinned fish in Portugal is high quality, affordable, very nutritious, and delicious on crackers or right out of the can.

Finally, we arrived at the fishmonger’s counter. Here at Crowded Earth Kitchen, the fishmonger’s counter is the most fascinating part of the market. For Americans accustomed to boneless, skinless fish filets either wrapped in several layers of plastic or stored behind a glass wall, the selection of fish in Portugal is a total sensory experience. Eyes! Scales! Fins! TEETH!

Fishmongers are well accustomed to the American fascination with their wares, and are generally happy to answer questions. “Por favor, limpe o peixe? Obrigada!” is an important phrase to know if you are not particularly interested in bringing the insides of the fish home for your cooking adventures. While fish are often weighed and priced whole, fishmongers are often willing to gut, scale, and trim the fins of your fish if you ask nicely.

Life is short. Play with your food!

2 replies to “Portuguese Supermarkets

  1. When we moved to France just a year ago we discovered the same thing, shopping is an event. Though the Supermarché we go to most often has similarities to some of the stores in the Seattle area there are huge differences for sure. Thanks so much for bring me a few smiles.

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