Customers shopping at Loja das Conservas are buying into Portugal’s illustrious seafaring tradition. This new delicatessen - located on Lisbon's Rua do Arsenal and near Cais do Sodré - stocks Portuguese tinned seafood. Every major manufacturer in the country is represented here, and to browse this engaging store is to trawl through the history of the nation’s fishing industry.
Lining the walls are shelves stacked with neat rows of tuna, mackerel and sardine, packaged in shiny tins that are emblazoned with colorful motifs and company logos. As a purveyor of premium seafood, this walk-in grocery also sells eel, trout, anchovy and octopus, most in olive oil. Others are also seasoned with lemon, tomato, curry, clove and various pickles, among other garnish.
But what really sets this place apart is the shop’s interactive element. Each manufacturer is profiled on a series of information panels affixed between the shelves. Written in English and Portuguese, the text provides a summary of the companies responsible for canning the fish, when they were founded, their location and the brands they are known for. It’s a veritable voyage of discovery, and makes for fascinating reading.
Customers browsing the tinned seafood at Loja das Conservas — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt
One of the most recognized names in Portuguese tinned seafood is actually Spanish, one Sebastian Ramirez who established a cannery in the Algarve at Vila Real de Santo Antonio in the mid-19th century. Ramirez is the oldest producer and exporter of canned goods in Portugal, and the company’s Cocagne brand is just one of several for sale in the store.
Shoppers can also learn about Viana Pesca, one of the largest fishing cooperatives in Portugal. It's acknowledged for its enforcement of environmental rules governing the conservation of fish stocks.
Customers with a penchant for eel should consider purchasing a tin or two of the Comur brand. According to the visitor information, the Murtosa canning factory, founded in 1942 near the port of Aveiro in central Portugal, is known as the “Factory of the Eels,” such is the quality of its slippery ingredient.
Another successful foreign enterprise that has made waves in Portugal is La Gondola, a company founded by Italians that established the first cannery in a place called Matosinhos, a coastal city in northern Portugal. Their gourmet products are exported throughout Europe and beyond, to countries like Mexico, Japan, Canada and the USA.
Even when canned and preserved, tuna and other oily fish such as sardine and mackerel are highly regarded for their nutritional value. Low in calories, the fish are bursting with beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and protein.
Indeed, when American chef and TV presenter Anthony Bourdain visited Lisbon a couple of years ago, he expressed his surprise and delight at the outstanding quality and freshness of Portuguese tinned seafood. He said as much on his hit travel and food show No Reservations.
Besides the lure of this healthy and inexpensive foodstuff, customers with a keen eye for design will be suitably impressed with the premises and its wares. The retro style packaging itself is a real catch.
For example, look out for the rather spivvy-looking gentleman replete with handlebar mustache and wearing a cocked hat, whose grinning portrait frames the Porthos tins.
Less stylized but equally alluring is the minimalist charcoal grey cardboard wrap stenciled with “BIO” (indicating biological olive oil) on La Gondola’s tuna tins.
The shop layout is an open plan and, in fact, resembles an art gallery, a complexion reinforced by a striking wall mural depicting women on a cannery factory line. And in a genuinely friendly gesture, the ladies serving behind the counter will mingle with customers and offer a complimentary bite-sized tuna paste biscuit, as you absorb the contents of this captivating retail outlet.