Don’t even think about leaving Lisbon without filling up your suitcase with colorful tins of fish. They are the city’s spirit, sealed and canned. Shelves in every corner of the city sit stacked with cans of sardines, horse mackerel, tuna, anchovies, octopus, eel, and more. Some shops sell nothing but tinned fish. It’s the perfect souvenir, as these cans will stay preserved long after you’ve left the city, and the bright labels and intricate paper wrappings make for a stylish but affordable food gift.
Tinned fish has been part of Portugal’s culinary heritage since 1853, when the national canning industry was born. Over the years, tinned fish became Portugal’s original fast food: a cheap and convenient source of protein during times of economic turbulence and food scarcity. Locals eat it with everything from sourdough bread to salad to pasta.
For many years, tinned fish suffered from a bad reputation in Lisbon, a city abundant in fresh seafood. “The canning industry was one of the great engines of the Portuguese economy,” says Bárbara Cabral, co-founder and managing partner of tinned fish brand Miss Can. “But tinned food was seen by locals as not a very noble product.”
That’s changing. Tinned fish is part of a culinary renaissance sweeping Portugal. Restaurants across the city — led by a new generation of chefs — now include dishes made with tinned fish on their menus. “It has once again become a national icon,” says Victor Vicente, partner of Can the Can, a restaurant located in Terreiro do Paço and one of the pioneers of this “tinned revival.”
So where can you acquire some of these tinned delicacies? Here are some of the best places in Lisbon to try — and buy — canned fish.
Where to taste tinned fish
Can the Can
Located in the famous Praça do Comércio, this restaurant was created as a homage to tinned food — even in its decor. A huge chandelier made of recycled tins hangs in the center of the room. Sample dishes include mackerel in olive oil with sweet potato puree, hazelnuts, and tomato confit and an octopus croquette made with honey, mustard, and homemade mayonnaise. Chef Kleanthis Konstantinidis also serves salads, toasts, and fresh cuts of meat. Praça do Comércio 82 | +35 (1)9 14 00 71 00
In 1911, Luis Soares Ribeiro founded two traditional tinning factories in Portugal; now, his descendants have launched this brand of artisanal tinned fish, selling sardines, mackerel, tuna, and more in different seasonings like olive oil and spicy tomato sauce. In 2016, Miss Can opened a little restaurant near the Castelo de São Jorge to serve dishes made from its many varieties of tinned food, accompanied by bread and salads. Petiscaria Miss Can also serves appetizers like olives and a soup of the day, plus beer and wine. Largo do Contador Mor 17 | +35 (1)9 10 00 70 04
Sol e Pesca
Taking advantage of Cais do Sodré’s fame as a neighborhood full of stores selling fishing equipment, this hip bar and restaurant — once a tackle shop — is decked out with the rods, hooks, and other fisherman-themed decor of its former life. From its kitchen come dishes made exclusively with tinned fish and seafood like sardines, roe, anchovies, and mussels. The variety of seafood here would impress any aficionado and includes catch from far away seas — like monkfish liver and sea urchin — as well as Portuguese specialities like the smoked eel from the coastal village of Murtosa. Rua Nova do Carvalho 44 | +35 (1)2 13 46 72 03
Where to buy tinned fish
Conserveira de Lisboa
Founded in 1930, this third-generation family-run grocery store specializing in tinned fish is a sought-after tourist destination in the Baixa neighborhood. Visitors from all over the world leave carrying multiple bags heavy with tins. It looks like an old apothecary shop, but the shelves are bursting with house-brand tins, Tricana, Prata do Mar, and Minor, which are some of the best in Lisbon. Once you’ve made your selection, the shopkeeper will wrap your tins in paper and tie the package with green twine. It’s more than a shop, it’s an experience. If you can't get out to Baixa, Conserveira de Lisboa also operates a stand at the Mercado da Ribeira. Rua dos Bacalhoeiros 34 | +35 (1)2 18 86 40 09
Loja das Conservas
None other than the National Association of the Fish Canning Industry is behind this store, which opened in 2013 and now has three locations in Lisbon. Its mission is to sell more than 300 products — sardines, tuna, octopus, mussels, and more — from more than a dozen canning factories spread throughout the country. Many of these tins were previously only available as exports. The shop also stocks La Gondola’s sardines millésimées, which are the cream of the crop when it comes to sardines; like wine, their flavors develop as you age them. Rua do Arsenal 130 | +35 (1)9 11 18 12 10
A Vida Portuguesa
This isn't just a souvenir shop, but a place that pays tribute to the genuine everyday items that convey what Portugal is all about — including, of course, tinned fish. A Vida Portuguesa stocks all different brands like Tenório, José Gourmet, Catita, Tricana, and others. And there are dozens of options, too, such as tuna with sundried tomatoes and basil, mussels in vinegar, and stickleback in a pickled sauce. Rua Anchieta 11 | +35 (1)2 13 46 50 73
Rafael Tonon is a Brazilian journalist and food writer who recently published a book about 50 restaurants in São Paulo that are more than 50 years old.
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