My Search for Ground Beef in Portugal
Why do things have to be so hard?
I don’t know about you, but it’s always been easy for me to find ground beef in an American grocery store. And you have a lot to choose from – organic ground beef, chuck ground beef, sirloin ground beef, lean ground beef, and on and on it goes. Now, I’m not a big buyer of ground beef but occasionally, I do need it in a recipe. This past week, I needed at least two pounds (preferably 3) of ground beef to make a pot of chili. We had invited new friends over for a Friday night casual dinner and I thought chili would be perfect to serve. For those of you who might be thinking this, yes, I could have also used ground turkey, chicken, or pork – or go with a meatless chili but I have had this chili recipe for over 40 years, and used it in the café of our country store back in the late 1980’s and early 90’s, and I like it. So, I wanted ground beef.
As some of my readers may already know, Paul and I currently live in a very nice condo an 8-minute train ride from Cascais in an area called Jardins da Parede (The Gardens of Parede). Our condo is a stone’s throw from Estoril and most of the services we use are actually in Estoril or Cascais and not in Parede. Although it’s a nice area, with beaches and easy access to the train for exploring, the selection of stores in our immediate area is sparse. There are a couple of small mercados (neighborhood markets) here with a limited selection of items, but there’s no big grocery store nearby – the nearest one is about a 10-minute walk from our condo – not bad if you’re just walking – but if you want to haul bags of heavy groceries, not so much. As we don’t have a car, I generally order groceries online (yes, including the wine) and have it delivered to us every week on Thursday. Very convenient unless they don’t have what you need.
My lesson in frustration
This past Thursday, I placed my order online with Continente for several grocery and wine items including three pounds of ground beef. I figured I’d get the order early enough in the day to make the chili on Thursday afternoon for our dinner on Friday (ideally, I prefer to make this chili the day before serving to give the flavors a chance to blend). I selected a brand from the Alentejo region of Portugal, but I indicated on my order that a substitution would be fine if that brand wasn’t available. On Thursday morning, I received an email that said they were out of the ground beef (the English translation for this is minced beef). I couldn’t believe they didn’t have any ground beef, so I assumed they would send some other brand. Apparently, they were entirely out of ground beef because I didn’t get anything – they had nothing to substitute with. I was puzzled and frustrated. I thought the Portuguese were big hamburger fans so how could a grocery store be out of ground beef?
We considered walking to the grocery store to see if they really were out of ground (minced) beef. But it was now early afternoon, and we didn’t want to walk all the way there for nothing. So, I decided to place an online order with another grocery store, Pingo Doce. I had never ordered from this store before, but they indicated that they could deliver within the hour. I was excited because I still would have time to make the chili that afternoon! All I had to do was order a minimum of $50 EU to have my order delivered. So, I ordered three pounds of ground beef, one pound of baked chicken for dinner, and a half-pound of duck rice to go with the chicken (I wasn’t sure what it was but what the heck). I still wasn’t at the $50 EU minimum mark, so I threw in a few bottles of wine. Done!
The order was delivered on time by a very pleasant woman who didn’t speak much English but was excited when I said Obrigada (thank you) to her. She left, and I went into the kitchen to open the bags and get my chili started.
What I Got
It could have been ‘user error’ when I placed the online order, but maybe not. In any case, I received one pound of ground beef and three pounds of baked chicken and not three pounds of ground beef and one pound of baked chicken. I was crushed! It’s not like I could get in the car, go to a few stores, and find what I needed. It’s also not easy to call a grocery store in Portugal and get someone who speaks English to ask them if they messed up my order or if they have ground beef (which by the way is carne moída in Portuguese). I probably should have surrendered right then and there and saved the three pounds of baked chicken for our Friday night dinner but that’s not what I had my heart set on. I wanted to make chili. With ground beef.
My hopes for making chili on Thursday afternoon were now dashed. BUT…if I could place an order on Thursday (now late afternoon) from yet a third grocery store, Auchan, for delivery on Friday morning, I’d still have plenty of time to make the chili. And since Auchan doesn’t have a minimum order, I didn’t need to add more wine to reach a minimum. The downside is that Auchan won’t make substitutions unless they call you first (always in Portuguese), which does me no good. For all I know, I might be agreeing to substitute ground beef for roast beef! But in my obsession for making chili, it was worth the chance.
I placed the order for a scheduled delivery on Friday morning between the hours of 10:30 am and 12:30 pm. The time on Friday came and went, and still I hadn’t received the delivery. I did however receive a text message (in Portuguese) that when translated (Google Translate) said that my order was delayed, and it would arrive by 1:30 pm. I waited patiently. I looked out the window every 5 minutes to check if a delivery truck was parked near my door. Nada. Paul gently suggested that maybe we should consider ordering pizza for dinner. I was resigned to doing that and then…at 2:00 pm, the door buzzer rang, and my order was delivered! Success! I had ground beef! It felt like a miracle!
Ground Beef in Portugal is Different
I’m not sure why, but the ground beef in Portugal is different than in the U.S. It’s lighter in color (maybe no coloring added?) and it’s stringier, almost like spaghetti. It’s less fatty as well, so it doesn’t clump together when you cook it in a pan. It’s not imported like so many meat products in the U.S. The beef comes from Portugal. In any event, it’s just an observation and something you just get used to, but the consistency can be different when using Portuguese ground beef.
Why is it always so hard?
Well, it’s not always so hard, but a lot of times, it is. We’re the immigrants in this country. We think we know everything, but we really don’t know a lot. We try, but sometimes it’s hard. Ask any expat and they’ll admit it’s not always easy to navigate the nuances of a different country.
But we also learn. We learn that it’s okay not to always get what you want when you want it. We learn to appreciate that not everything is ‘on-demand’ in this country and it’s okay to adapt and adjust since no one really cares if you’re having a ground beef emergency here. We learn patience. We learn to let things fall where they may and not sweat the things that are out of our control. Really, would pizza have been that bad of a substitute dinner if there was no chili? I don’t think so, and it would have worked out just fine. But it’s also about the little successes like finally finding ground beef!
For me and Paul, it’s all part of the exciting, frustrating, and wonderful experience of our Portugal journey and we wouldn’t trade this experience for anything!
Until next time…