We can find everything we need….except dill.
There is a supermarket chain here called Continente, which is the Portuguese word for continent. An apt name, which I will explain momentarily. The Continente store we go to is located in the Cascais shopping mall, an 11 minute drive from our home. As mentioned in my blog post Home Sweet Home, it is not uncommon to find supermarkets, vets, laundry services, dry cleaners, tailors, even clinics and hospitals either attached to or inside shopping malls. It’s very convenient.
Coming from the US, I thought I had seen big stores, but nothing prepared me for the size, scale, and breadth of this place. The first time I went, I stood there with my mouth agape. It’s like having a pharmacy, garden center, home goods store, book store, office supply store, wine store, pet store, automotive store, and supermarket all rolled into one! I tried to find the square footage of the place, but was unsuccessful. One thing is for sure, you need to come prepared; fully rested, comfortable shoes, and a focused plan of action. Otherwise, you could find yourself wandering aimlessly for days on end. On the plus side, at least you wouldn’t starve.
You think I’m overstating the size and breadth of this place? Let me take you on a trek through Continente. Let’s begin by imagining a giant rectangle bisected lengthwise down the middle. We’ll start at one end and walk through the center together.
In the picture below I attempted to show how long the store is, but you can’t really see to the other end. To my immediate left is the massive wine section. To the right are regular grocery aisles.
Continuing down the middle of the store about a 1/3 of the way through (and you still can’t see the end), you’ll find a cornucopia of goodies…to the right are fresh vegetables and fruits, nuts in bulk, seeds and grains in bulk, olive bar, bakery, sushi bar, deli, every manner of organic product, a huge cheese section that is unbelievably stinky, a spice bar, fresh and cured meat market, and much more.
To the left is the massive seafood section. It must contain every kind of fish known to mankind. Of course they sell dried bacalhau (salted cod). Bacalhau is the most treasured dish of Portugal, which is very interesting since it is not native to Portugal. It is caught in the north sea and imported. Centuries ago it was salted and dried in order to preserve the fish during long journeys and the Portuguese have maintained that process to this day. It is on nearly every restaurant menu and apparently there are 365 ways to prepare it (one for every day of the year). Of the ways we’ve had it so far, my favorite are crispy bolinhos de bacalhau fritters. Only 362 more to go!
The last part of our walk through the store is where you will find home goods, cooking products, pet care items, gardening resources, plants, automotive products, clothing, shoes, a book store with a section devoted to children’s literature, a stationary store, pharmacy, and aisles and aisles of personal care products.
To finish our shopping trip, I thought you might find the following information interesting. There is plenty of toilet paper and disinfectant…
You are required to weigh all loose produce and print the price tag prior to heading to the check out lanes. If you don’t, the cashier has no way of doing it for you. The process, once you understand it, is pretty easy. There is a TECLA code on each sign (its the small green box above the price in the picture below). You take the produce to a nearby weigh station, punch in the code, the machine prints the sticky ticket, you apply it, and off you go. I bought 2 lemons to show you.
I found some hamburgers (refer to my blog Food, Glorious Food on why I thought this was amusing)…
Interestingly, their frozen food section is very small. This is the entire thing.
It’s great people watching too. I couldn’t help myself. She was just so, so, so, so, I don’t know….confident!
The eggs are not refrigerated. For those interested in learning why, click here.
There is also shelf-stable and fresh milk available. Shelf stable milk is very common in Europe. I think the EU’s approach to both eggs and milk are great since they are excellent energy savers.
As is becoming the norm everywhere, you have the option to self-check out or use a cashier. There are two separate areas with cashiers totaling about 45 check out lanes and 10 self-check out stations.
If you choose to use a cashier, you queue up and when you are at the front of the line, a number is announced for the next available cashier and off you go. You bag your own groceries and must bring your own bags. If you don’t they will provide them for a fee. Continente has a loyalty program like all other supermarket chains these days. In addition to the typical ways to pay (cash, credit and debit cards), you can also pay with your phone using Apple Pay or Google Pay. The whole process is super fast and very well organized.
Now where was I? Oh! Right, that elusive dill. You would think with all the goods and products Continente offers, I’d be able to find dill. Nope. Turns out dill isn’t an herb that the Portuguese typically use in their cooking. I learned this while searching diligently in the dried spice and herb section after failing to find it in the fresh produce section. A very nice woman saw me scanning the racks and asked me what I was looking for. When I told her, she informed me that I won’t find it and why. I think I’m going to have to have someone mail me some seeds so I can grow it here. Other than that, we clearly have everything else we need.
Shopping still takes longer than normal especially if we have to purchase something we haven’t bought before because we can’t quickly scan ingredient lists or grab a product that might be generally familiar to us due to the language barrier and lack of knowledge of local brands. This means we are still relying heavily on Google Translate and a lot of trial and error (you won’t believe how many packages of deodorant I’ve purchased recently…). By the way, the Portuguese word for dill is aneto; not that it’s going to help me now.
I hope you found this shopping trip interesting and fun. We go to Continente about once every 2 to 3 weeks to stock up on certain items and to get specific products we can’t find in the little mini market or fruit and veggie stand within walking distance of our house.
Until next time, from Portugal with love!