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Melissa’s Porto Travel Journal: A Few Pozole Prompted Thoughts

A blue saucer and bowl. The bowl is full of chickpea pozole, a Mexican stew.

Pozole is memory, comfort, and cure. A Mexican stew with Aztec origins that’s been credited with healing hangovers. It is North Park, San Diego, December 2nd, 2021. My inhaler and pozole helped me put off an ER visit until the next day. Its warmth is more than just heat; its warmth is spice — an almost perfect cure. 

On a San Diego winter day, we started our Portugal dreaming. We were six cities into our “Living in 12 Cities in 12 Months” adventure. With each big city stay, my asthma seemed to worsen. The power of my rescue inhaler and pozole wasn’t quite enough to keep me out of the ER on December 3rd. A couple of days later, we started looking for places to live with good air quality. We didn’t limit ourselves to North America. Ireland and Portugal kept coming up. 

A man and a woman at a beach near San Diego on an overcast winter day.
Here we are on North Pacific Beach, San Diego -- December, 2021.

We Moved to Portugal

We love Ireland, and we love Portugal. We live in Porto, Portugal. When we lived in Ireland and told those we befriended there that we were moving to Portugal, they always smiled and told us we’d love it, “The people are so nice!” The other day in Porto, an Uber driver taking me to my hair appointment declared the Irish accent his favorite. “The Portuguese and Irish are a lot alike. We love poetry, music, and to have a good time. They like beer. We like wine. Otherwise, the same.” 

Sure, generalizations have their exceptions, but I can’t say my experience of the two countries has been far off from his description. Maybe it is because I love poetry, music, and to have a good time, and I love good food and drink.

We live in Portugal because the country’s visa offerings match our living situation. And Chris thinks the weather in Portugal is more to his liking. I love overcast skies, which Porto has now that we’re nearing the end of October.

Back to Pozole

I’d never heard of pozole before that December day in North Park. For lunch, I wanted soup. Chris wanted Mexican food. He could live off of Mexican cuisine alone and has been known to add jalapenos to Polish and German dishes where they do not belong. I saw pozole, and its description on a nearby Mexican restaurant’s menu made it sound like exactly what I needed. We ordered it for me and tacos for Chris. Pozole was everything I wanted in that moment in a soup.

During a flight from Iceland to Switzerland, I started paging through the Forks Over Knives magazine I’d picked up in Orlando. In it was a recipe for Chickpea Pozole. I earmarked it to make when we settled into our new place in Porto. Twice, I made it using the chili powder I had on hand. Then, I ran out. I wanted to find the ancho chile powder that the recipe calls for.

A spice jar of Ancho Chile powder being held in front of a pot of pozole on a stovetop.

Chili powder isn’t always (or often) available in the spice section of the grocery stores we frequent in Porto. Piri Piri is the go-to chile in several Portuguese dishes and is readily available in all the grocery stores we’ve visited. Piri piri is not ancho chile powder, so we did some searching. Chris and I found a Casa Mexicana shop in Porto within walking distance of our apartment. We decided to check it out. While there, we bought fresh jalapenos, the Yucateco brand of hot sauces Chris loves, the chipotles in adobo that some of my favorite recipes call for, salsa verde by Herdez, and ancho chile powder. 

That’s part of the thrill for me with travel, the way things randomly connect. Enjoying a meal in San Diego, coming across a recipe for a healthier version of it in a magazine picked up in Orlando, and then sourcing one of its key ingredients at a Mexican shop in Porto, Portugal.


A man holding up a bottle of Yucateco hot sauce in front of store shelves lined with hot sauces and chiles in adobo.
Chris at Casa Mexicana holding a beloved bottle of Yucateco.

A Couple of Notes on Grocery Shopping in Porto

Shopping for ingredients to cook our favorite meals can be an adventure here. There are not 58 different maple syrup options to choose from or 331 different pasta sauces shelved in a single store*. Not that I’ve seen. When it comes to maple syrup, sometimes I can’t find it at all. Or, there’s one option. Maybe two. Once, I saw three. None have ever been of the grade A variety, yet they’re usually at least 8 euros. 

There are big stores here – called Hipermercados. They are like Target or Walmart – they sell apparel, home goods, and groceries. I’ve been overwhelmed by their abundance, and I’m someone who enjoys shopping so much that I wrote a newspaper column dedicated to retail. So I’m not saying that the stores are all small or lack options. The options are just different.

Less than a 15-minute walk from where we live is a wonderful market called Mercado do Bolhão. It’s where I picked up the onion, garlic, carrots, and zucchini or the cebola, alho, cenoura, e a courgette for my pozole. In addition to beautiful fruits and vegetables, they have a couple of butchers and stalls full of spices, freshly made pasta, oils, and sauces. With each visit, I’m getting to know the place a little better, and I’ll soon be making a stop at the spice vendor’s stall. On our walks there, I’ve noticed a couple of spice shops. Those I need to stop into. Soon.

A woman standing on the stairs, looking back at the camera at Mercado do Bolhão in Porto, Portugal. She wears a denim jacket. A shopping bag is slung over her shoulder.
Melissa about to shop at Mercado do Bolhão.

*In a recent search of Hy-Vee’s Aisles Shopping, which allows you to shop the products in a specific HyVee, there were 58 maple syrups and 331 pasta sauces. From my own personal experience, that sounds about right as far as what I might see shopping my favorite Hy-Vee’s actual aisles. 

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