You may know Portugal for its sardines, and especially the canned ones. Despite the common belief, this small country has a large diversity of canned fish, from sardines to horse mackerel, from tuna to anchovy, octopus to eel. Moreover, there’s also a variety of sauce it is preserved in, from plain olive oil to an explosion of unbelievable flavors.
As a Portuguese, I was born with canned fish all around me. My perception of it is timeless. Ever since our childhood we are used to eat not only fresh fish, but also canned fish. This tradition is immemorial for us, though historically, it started in the last half of the 19th century.
As the foreigner in the house, I was surprised to see the love people have for canned fish in Portugal. The memory I have from my childhood is that we used to buy canned tuna to use it for salads…and that’s about it. The first time I entered A Vida Portuguesa store four years ago, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I didn’t know what each one carried inside, but I wanted to have a collection of those finely wrapped little boxes. And when I discovered the toothsomeness they hold inside, I instantly became a fan.
Every now and then we buy a few cans and store them in the pantry for times of hunger…Hah! We tricked you! They are not so inexpensive as you may think, as in you – the one who would run to the supermarket and buy some canned fish to stay your stomach. It’s true you’ll find those too, yet once you discover the fish bathing in basil tomato sauce or flavoured olive oil…we tell you, you will get addicted! But don’t worry it’s a healthy and yummy addiction. In fact, it is claimed that “canned fish is one of the oldest and healthiest fast foods in the world”, with tremendous nutritional benefits.
Since four years ago, we’ve come across several stores that offer a wide range of canned fish from different brands:
The industry had a fresh start in 1853 with Ramirez, the oldest active cannery in Europe. Until the mid-20th century many other factories opened and operated, somewhere around 150, the majority exporting most of their products. In the late 1970’s, the industry had a backset, with most of the canneries going out of business. Today’s reality is somehow different, it has reinvented itself and with only 20 factories on active, they export almost the same quantity of canned fish as on its past glory days. This is due to three major factors: new technology, economic situation and tourism.
The industry is now regarded as a (new) opportunity, with many gourmet stores or restaurants using canned fish as their core business.
Read more about our foodie experience with canned fish in More than wine restaurant!