Discover fascinating facts about Portugal’s best known fish

See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine January 2017

Picture by Liselot Sijm


Where have all the fish gone?

  • In the 1980s and ‘90s, it wasn’t uncommon for Portuguese fishing boats to haul in 200,000 tons of sardines a year. In 2005, the catch had dropped to 100,000 tons; it decreased even further in the years after that. Worried about emptying the seas, the international council for the exploration of the sea (ICES) suggested quotas.
  • For 2016, the sardine quota was only 11,500 tons. The estimated 5,000 people who live off sardine fishing in Portugal aren’t too happy with the limits on the catches. Experts say the sardine levels are historically low because of the climate change: the fish don’t like the rising sea temperatures.


Canned, paste or assadas

  • In summer time, nearly every Portuguese city has its own sardine festival. In the Algarve, places to be are Portimão, where the Festival da Sardinha is usually held in the beginning of August, and Olhos de Água. At these events, the fish are grilled: sardinhas assadas.
  • Other ways of eating them are as paste (you’ll find paté de sardinha as entrada in many Portuguese restaurants) and canned. Contrary to many other countries, here canned sardines are considered just as much of a delicacy as their fresh counterparts. Want to know more about what happens to fish in the Algarve after they’re caught? Read about Olhão’s fish auction.


No need for cutlery

  • There are countless ways of eating sardines, but the Portuguese usually grill them. Buy the sardines as fresh as possible, apply olive oil (generously), lay them next to each other on the grill, grill on both sides (about 2 minutes each), sprinkle with salt (Portuguese sea salt of course) and perhaps some lemon juice. Enjoy.
  • Use a piece of rustic bread as a plate and eat the sardines like you’d eat a tiny corn on the cob. There’s no need for cutlery, just use your fingers. But take care: not only because those little bones will get stuck in your throat, but also because in Portugal the intestines are usually left in when sardines are put on the grill.


13 per second

  • About 35 million sardines are consumed in Portugal during the Santos Popularos festivities in June, especially in the capital. This translates to 13 sardines a second. Indeed, on June 13th, St Anthony’s day, it’s hard to find a street in Lisbon without a sardine on it.
  • The symbol of these festivities, they’re everywhere – whether they’re grilled and the real thing or a colourful inedible variant made out of ceramics, paper or printed on tea towels. There’s even a Sardine Contest, which had 8897 participants in 2016. The sardine, it seems, is well on its way to become the unofficial symbol of Portugal.


See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine January 2017

Posted in Food, Typical Portugal.