Build Your Own Beast – Algarve Style

"strange food portugal algarve"Portugal is not a good country to move to if you don’t know how to cook, that is unless you have lots of money and can afford to eat out every night which is what many people tend to do until the money from the sale of their house in the UK finally runs out.

So things are perhaps not as bad as they used to be say 10 years ago, but this is still a country where many people still use their microwaves as a decorative feature in the kitchen and the term “ready meal” means your meal will be ready when someone has found the time to put together what they can find in the fridge.

I dream of those days spent browsing the Marks & Spencer food aisles, where everything delicious has already been neatly popped into a box and covered with cellophane for you because unless you venture out to a supermarket that specialises in British foods then you are going to struggle to find anything more exciting than a lasagne in the ready meal stakes in Portugal.

So without the handy meal for one I have been forced to relearn how to do things like making a quiche, creating my own pasta bake and cooking up my own meat feasts from scratch since living in the Algarve.

Thanks to the internet it is pretty easy to learn how to cook anything and while I may be a few steps away from the Great British Off and at least a few more from Masterchef, I have managed to put together increasingly edible meals.

The main problem I encounter comes when I go to the meat section of the supermarket because to be honest I don’t remember Asda having bits of meat that looked like this out on display.

Perhaps that is because in the Algarve and Portugal, as in many other countries around the world, you can basically buy an entire animal and have it popped into a bag to take home and do something with.

Parents can feel very happy knowing that their child is under no illusion what so ever about where their meat comes from because the clearly identifiable trotters, noses, feet and faces of various animals are their to see in full technicolour alongside the more traditional chicken drumsticks and racks of ribs.

I am not squeemish but Damien Hirst would have a field day in a Portuguese supermarket and if you fancy it you could buy up all the bits of a cow (inside and out) and play build the beast back at home to fill a wet Sunday afternoon – educational and revolting thus ideal for children of all ages.

What really has me scratching my head though is exactly what do people do with a bag of blood and some chicken feet?  Unfortunately for a friend of mine she discovered the hard way after a meal involving such ingredients was presented to her at her mother in laws house.

Some rules apply all over the world and the rule where it states “you have to be unflinchingly nice to you mother in law unless you want a life of misery” also does apply in Portugal.  This means that meals containing unidentifiable chewy bits of meat mixed with congealed fat and topped with a chickens foot need to be consumed with grace and poise…and you thought life in the Algarve was all sunshine and beach days.

Nothing makes you feel more like a silly foreigner than having to squish a chicken foot between two slices of dry bread in the vain hope that it may disguise the taste  and help you to force it down your throat as you try to control your gag reflex.

Did the chickens foot get eaten by the Brit?  Well on this occasion a tin of tuna was found in the cupboard to help out the picky foreigner – thank god for ready meals.

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