The Team at Farah Trading Co has a particular love for tinned sardines from Portugal; the delicacy found in homes, bars and restaurants across Portugal.
Here is a quick overview of the history of the canned sardine in Portugal and the place it holds in contemporary Portuguese society.
In the beginning - Sardines, Greeks and salt
Canned sardines or conservas are a quintessential Portuguese treat enjoyed in restaurants, at kitchen tables and seaside picnics across Portugal and the globe. This delicious and nutritious Portuguese delicacy finds its origins in the Iron Age when the Phoenicians and Greeks caught wild sardines off the coast of Portugal and preserved them in containers filled with salt.
The sheer abundance and quality of sardines across Portugal’s expansive coastline propelled this fish to become a national treasure both preserved and eaten fresh as history progressed.
Hitting the Big Time
In 1853 Portugal's first commercial cannery opened outside of Lisbon and in Portugal’s Algarve - canning sardines in Portuguese olive oil. The demand skyrocketed in Portugal and abroad as these delicious easily transportable treats began to hit the international market.
One of the pioneering factories was founded by Clemente Méneres of Quinta do Romeu in the mid 1800s, canning sardines in the pure olive oil of the Douro Valley, which is still available today.
The Tinned Gold Rush
Entrepreneurs, particularly the French who were experiencing a sardine shortage on their shores, poured into Portugal for its sardine gold rush in the early 1900s. More and more tinned fish factories popped up, cementing Portugal as one of the globe’s epicenters of the tinned fish business.
While Portugal, and particularly the seaside town of Matosinhos had a booming cannery industry in the early 1900s WW2, Portugal’s petrol and oil crises, dictatorship, 2010 financial crisis and, now, also COVID19 have largely damaged the industry. Furthermore, many small independent canneries either closed or became mechanizes.
Today, Farah Trading Co works with Conservas Pinhais, the last fully manual sardine factory in Portugal. Its worn floors, tiled walls, work benches and winding, wooden staircase are all original, as are its secret tomato sauce and other marinades made with fresh ingredients from small, local purveyors.
Where else in the world could you visit an artisanal fish canning factory in action? At Conservas Pinhais, every step from purchasing fish fresh from the local market to cleaning, cooking, marinating, canning and wrapping them in beautiful prints is done by the hands of 120+ proud neighborhood workers.
Canned sardines are some of the healthiest fish on the market, lauded for their high levels of protein, calcium and low levels of mercury. Learn more about the nutritional benefits of tinned sardine in our blog post.
How to Enjoy
Super high quality Portuguese tinned sardines, like Conservas Pinhais, can be enjoyed simply with crackers and a piece of toast. They can also be added to a salad, pizza, pasta. And for wine, I would suggest pairing like food and wines for this one - so a fresh zippy Portuguese Vinho Verde would match the brightness and acidity of the sardines.
Cheers - Rachel Farah