Right now—this very instant—I am delighting (yes, DEE-lighting!) in a bagel and cream cheese. Unlike the US where you can’t turn around without bumping into a coffee and bagel place, bagels are a little scarce in The Algarve. I know in the bigger towns, the towns that cater to tourists, you can find bagels. But in smaller towns and particularly in my little village, they are not on the menu. Anywhere. (For the record, Philadelphia Brand cream cheese is available everywhere.)
I’m not a huge bagel eater—it wasn’t like I started off every day with a bagel. But they were “road trip” food and a quick, filling thing to grab when you were out running errands. Or just to enjoy on a lazy Saturday.
So when I found a bag of bagels at Costco in Seville, I was like, “YES, PLEASE!” Unfortunately, they were basically bread in the shape of a bagel. Even I, someone who should never be allowed in a kitchen, could tell that these things were never boiled, as a proper bagel should be. I ended up tossing the last few out. They were not worthy.
I did have a damn good donut with my galão at the mall the other day. #no shame #noregrets
On Saturday I went to one of the little markets in my village. The little village stores are small, with aisles that require you to turn sideways and back up against a shelf or case to allow another person through. It has two “main” aisles that meet at the butcher counter in the back of the store. But if you go through one of the two doorways that look like they are for employees only, there’s an entire back section that’s a jumble of assorted stuff. The aisles back there are barely wide enough for one person and if you encounter another person, you simply back up and go the other way.
It looks like a large storage room at first: It’s organized to a certain extent—there’s a cleaning supplies section and household goods area. Well, the household goods can be found anywhere back there, really. A few plumbing supplies are right next to the hair brushes and alcohol wipes. There’s very little rhyme or reason to the back room and I never know what I will find there. One week it was the right size coffee filters that I couldn’t find anywhere else (and still can’t). Another time it was rubbing alcohol. There’s what may be a very large mug or perhaps a small canister with a cheerful poop motif. Another one with smiley faces. I can get kitchen towels, panti-liners, and a new shower hose without moving more than a few steps. Even if I’m only stopping in for eggs and potato chips, I always check the back room. It’s the equivalent of a treasure hunt with a better than 50/50 chance of finding something fun.
The butcher counter is small but has a surprisingly good supply of fresh meat and a real butcher. I ordered some chicken breasts and happened to turn around and glance at the bread rack. To my amazement, there were packaged bagels. Granted, they are production bakery, processed-however bagels (think Lenders Frozen) but these were fresh and called out to me.
The young man at the front counter explained that they didn’t always get the same things in. As with the larger supermarkets here, what you find today you may not find again for weeks, if ever. That’s okay. I don’t need to be eating bagels every day. (Mostly because the bakery next door has fresh croissants every day…)
They turned out to be not bad—they had the right texture and even a bit of an eggy flavor. If they hadn’t been boiled at some point, they have been chemically treated to make it seem so. I will not investigate that any further; some things are better left unknown.
They were a nice treat; a taste of my old life in the States.
There are certain things I miss but I will not die without them. I’ll probably be healthier without them, truth be told. In the expat groups, you often see people trying to find all the stuff they used to get in their home countries. There are British stores that stock items that British expats crave. (Tougher to stock after Brexit—between COVID lockdowns and Brexit, the Brits were not happy campers.) I miss my Peets coffee; I have found something that is drinkable and, with heavy cream, even good. You get used to new things.
Right now I’m on the hunt for confectioners’ sugar. I am sure it is stocked—I just haven’t figured out what it’s called or how it’s packaged. (Hot dogs come in glass jars here. Not refrigerated.) I will eventually trip over it, just as I eventually found the real vanilla extract. Once I have found something, I can usually find it again because now I know what I’m looking for—the colors, the words, the packaging, not just the location in the store because that can change.
But there are some things that I will just not find. And that’s okay. I am becoming familiar with Portuguese brands and I no longer stare at EVERY food item confused as to what it is or if it’s going to taste weird. (Still not used to the shelf-stable milk, but I keep some as a back up.)
I am finding new favorites. I am finding the Portuguese equivalents to what I used to buy back in the States. Little by little, I’m adjusting and growing more comfortable with the day-to-day.
You adapt or you go home. Or maybe you spend the rest of your life bitching that you can’t find decent maple-flavored bacon or some convenience food that is jam packed with chemicals. (I know—it’s the chemicals that make it taste so good! I grew up with a Hostess Bakery in my town: I am the poster child for processed foods.)
I didn’t move to Portugal to recreate my old life in a new country. Many people do. That’s their thing and that’s okay. With enough money, I suppose you can create your old life anywhere. But many people come here, are disappointed to find that the living is not incredibly cheap (it is less expensive, but not cheap), refuse to adapt, and spend the next several years bitching in expat groups until they leave, sometimes to a new place where they will eventually be equally unhappy.
I’m delighted I found bagels. I’m always happy when I find something that used to be a comfort food for me. (I ate a LOT of Oreos when I first got here.) But I’m more delighted when I try something new and find a new favorite.
Your favorite doesn’t have to be your favorite forever. In fact, you can have LOTS of favorites. And you don’t have to be an expat to explore and find new cool stuff. You just have to make room in your life for possibilities.