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Sardines……the other favourite dish in Portugal.

To a Portuguese person, the sardine is as important as the codfish (bacalhau) and the cock from Barcelos. My love for sardines has known its ups and downs…as often happens with love itself 😊.

Many years ago, I became very ill from eating (probably one rotten) sardine and that ruined our relationship for years! I couldn’t even stand the smell of grilled sardines – but this delicious little fish has conquered my heart again.

The Portuguese do not eat sardines from a plate with a knife and fork, but simply with their hands and on a piece of bread, a practice immortalized by the Portuguese proverb, “Sardinha e Galinha só com a mãozinha” – sardine and chicken only eaten with your hands.

And that piece of bread is a really important part of the meal! The bread soaks up the fat of the sardines, and after a few sardines, that slice of bread is a delicacy! In the video below, my good friend and buddy Pedro shows you how to eat this delicious fish.

The Santo António and São João Folk Festivals

The sardine also plays an important role in various folk festivals, such as the festival of Santo António on 13 June in Lisbon and the festival of São João on 24 June in Porto.

If you ever have the chance, come to Porto on 23 and 24 June because the São João Festival takes place on those days, and you don’t want to miss it! Yes, I know…I always manage to make a small diversion to Porto or Italy (what fills the heart…)!

There are several distinctive traditions at the São João Festival, such as plastic hammers, which are grilled sardines served with grilled peppers and vinho verde. You will find activities in every street, music on every corner, small hot air balloons (powered by candles flying high in the sky) and, at midnight, there is a beautiful, enchanting fireworks show.

During São João, everyone celebrates in the streets. For this reason, it is known as the biggest street party in Europe. As many of you probably know, the Portuguese love good food, so during the festivities, the whole city smells of delicious sardines with paprika, better known as Sardinhadas. It is customary to grill the fish and peppers in front of your home and then eat them – accompanied by a glass of delicious vinho verde – with friends and family

São João is perhaps best known for its small, plastic hammer, with which it is common to tap children and adults on the head. Of course, this is done in a friendly way and it will not hurt you, but success is guaranteed! So, buy a hammer at one of the many stalls in town and your evening can’t go wrong!

I could talk about it for hours, but this video says it all in a few minutes.

After watching this video I am sure you also wanna go!

A long time ago, the poor people of Lisbon used the glowing charcoal in the workshops to grill their sardines and that is how the tradition originated. To be quite honest, I am not a star at grilling sardines, so I always invite the experts -:). But the most important thing is that the sardines are sprinkled with sea salt, half an hour before grilling. When the flames in the charcoal are extinguished, and the coals are only glowing, you can start grilling!

Sardines grow up to 25cm long and can reach the age of 15 years. The sardines we consume are about 10 to 15 cm. Sardines got their name from the Italian island of Sardinia😉 where they used to be found in large numbers. Today, the largest sardine fleet in Portugal still sails from Portimão.


Sardines contain one of the most concentrated omega 3 fatty acids. A 90g can of sardines contains more than 50% of the daily recommended amount of this nutrient. In addition, they contain vitamin B12, vitamin D and phosphorous.  Have I convinced you yet?

And if you really don’t like them, you can always collect those beautiful vintage cans.

Vintage cans

The first canned sardine factory was established in Sétubal in 1880, and in 1930, Portugal became the largest producer of canned fish.

I am always delighted by all the beautiful and colourful vintage cans that are now on sale everywhere in Portugal. The “Conserveira Lisboa” is my absolute favourite canning shop. In this beautiful old building, you will find thousands of cans with sardines but, of course, also tuna, mackerel, squid, etc.

And for those who like it a bit more “bling bling,” we also have the ” Mundo Fantástico da Sardinha” 😉

And because a good glass of vinho verde (e.g. the famous Casal Garcia) and a real Caldo Verde belong to an original sardinhada, we conclude with the recipe for the Caldo Verde that I shared with you in one of my first blogs. Caldo Verde is such a delicious soup that it deserves to be repeated!

Caldo Verde

Caldo Verde is made with the Portuguese cabbage “Couve Gallega” – Portuguese Kale – but can also be made with savoy cabbage or green cabbage. The secret of a good Caldo Verde is to cut the leaves as finely as possible. The original recipe does not contain zucchini and leek but I think this is a tasty combination.

Ingredients : for 4 servings

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 100gr onion in small cubes
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 100 gr leeks
  • 300gr of potatoes
  • 1 zucchini
  • teaspoon of salt
  • 1.2 ltr. water
  • 200 gr. corn bread (croutons is also possible)
  • 50 gr. chouriço
  • 200 gr of cabbage or Kale
  • Coriander (optional)

Chop the onion into small cubes, peel, crush and thinly slice the garlic,cut the leek in thin slices. Fry the onion and garlic in 1 tablespoon of olive oil and after a few minutes add the leek. Meanwhile, peel the potatoes and wash the zucchini, cut both in small cubes, sprinkle with the salt and cook for about 15 minutes in water until the vegetables are soft. In a food processor, grind the corn bread and chouriço adding 1 tablespoon of olive oil halfway through until you have big crumbs. Combine the vegetables and the cooking water with the onion/leek mixture in the food processor. Pour the soup back into a saucepan, adding the very finely chopped cabbage and let it boil for another 10 minutes. Serve the soup in a bowl with the mixture of corn bread and chouriço and a little coriander (optional).

Enjoy !!

Bom apetito !




This post is also available in: Nederlands (Dutch) Português (Portuguese (Portugal))


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