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€1.80 per portion. That’s what our meal cost us last night. It was a creamy and zesty salmon carbonara which I’d happily have paid €10 for in a restaurant. It took less than half an hour to make from scratch and tasted delicious – bags of flavour for not a lot of dosh.

Salmon Carbonara

Salmon Carbonara.

I have a bee in my bonnet about the argument regarding whether it’s cheaper to cook at home or to buy from a fast food joint. It’s a no-brainer. Whenever we faced times of financial hardship we always cooked more, concentrating on dishes we could batch prepare and freeze. It was a massive money-saver. That’s the way it has always been, and still is in many countries. Tasty traditional dishes around the world are often the creations of low-income households where imagination was needed to be able to feed large families using limited resources.

One of the things I learnt rapidly after leaving home was that cooking from scratch used up less money than surviving on fast food. I learnt to cook because I had no other option. Now I do it because I enjoy it, and because I love the food we create. So much so that eating out can often disappoint. We can eat very well for not a lot of outlay.
With lockdown limiting where we buy our food, we mostly shop in one location, Pingo Doce supermarket in Palmela. This week’s haul cost us €102.

What that got us was this:

Grocery section: Jar of flageolet beans, tin of pinto beans, tin of chickpeas, tin of mackerel fillets, tin of sardine fillets, pack of eight tortillas, pack of coffee, large Milka chocolate bar, small pack of Maltesers, pack of mini Twix, and a bottle of extra virgin olive oil.

Bakery: Two loaves from the Museum of Bread.

Fruit and Vegetables: Onions, red potatoes, pumpkin, ginger, turnip, carrots, sweet potato, red pepper, green pepper, bananas, vine tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, mango, kiwi, thyme, parsley, strawberries, and portobello mushrooms.

Butcher: Three chicken breasts, pack of bacon.

Frozen foods: Arroz de pato (duck rice), pesto and buffalo mozarrella pizza.

Dairy: Six large eggs, pork lard, goat cheese, feta, Philadelphia cheese, milk.

Drinks: Two large bottles of water, eight bottles of red wine, one bottle of white wine, six bottles of Bohemia beer.

Household: Plastic rubbish bags, kitchen roll, wipes, firelighters.

Pingo Doce Xmas box

December’s mystery shopping box from Pingo Doce.

This lot should have come to €116 but there are always discounts at Pingo, and this week those amounted to €14. We were also given a complimentary ‘mystery’ bag. During COVID, Pingo Doce have been giving these away once a month when shoppers spend a certain amount. This month’s included pasta, tuna, kitchen roll, rubbish sacks, Viennese whirls, peach soap, clothes conditioner, a bottle of red wine, and a jar of peanut butter.

€52 was for non-food items, meaning our weekly food bill came to €50.

It will keep the two of us in breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a week, with many items being carried over to next week and beyond. It also covers leisure goods (i.e. wine & beer) and snacks. Each night we cook from fresh (the frozen pizza and duck rice are for quick lunches), with our line up for this week involving chicken curry; garlic chicken with mash potatoes; salmon carbonara; vegetarian haggis, neeps and mash (it’s Burns Night); hot tuna wraps; spicy bean burgers; and a dish we’ll make up on the night. The salmon carbonara involved using a fillet from a pack of frozen salmon fillets we bought a few weeks ago.

Haggis, garlic potatoes, and baked egg

Haggis, garlic potatoes, and baked egg – the leftover dish from our homemade veggie haggis.

Food products in Portugal aren’t expensive but, out of interest, I’ve just checked the cost of our salmon carbonara against those of Tesco in the UK. There’s not much of a difference. In fact the UK salmon carbonara came out at around €1.35 a portion.

€1.35 for a meal which could easily grace the tables of an upmarket restaurant. A Big Mac costs £4.29.

Quality doesn’t always mean having to pay more.

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Jack Montgomery

Jack is an author, travel writer, photographer, and a Slow Travel consultant who has been writing professionally for twenty years. Follow Jack on Facebook for information about his writing, travel tips, photographs, and tales of life in a tiny rural village in Somerset.

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Some of the items on this site won’t be to everyone’s liking, I get that. Basically this is my place, my wee studio to mess around in – experimenting with words and thoughts. I’ll be chuffed if you enjoy it, but if you don’t, c’est la vie. As a friend used to tell me “it would be a boring life if we all thought the same.”

Jack Montgomery
A wine press,
On a farm at the end of the dirt track,
The Setúbal Peninsula,