Snacks for the end of the world

What will you do if the apocalypse comes? When the seas boil, hordes of zombies sweep across the planet and all order collapses, what will you do to survive?

If the fall begins while I am here in Lisbon, it is pretty clear what my first step would be.

I would loot Sol e Pesca.

This tiny bar/tackle shop/canned fish emporium is a dream for the gourmet survivalist, showcasing the best of the Portuguese ocean preserved for the long haul. After the fresh food has run out, the high quality tinned morsels found in this Lisbon hotspot would be more valuable than gold.

Until then, however, you can ignore the looting and just enjoy the place for what it is. The tables are tiny and the room is small and dark, as any good bar should be. Along one wall, opposite a few remaining rods and reels, is a long cabinet full of brightly coloured tins, a feature wall more exciting than most. In these cans, adorned with pictures ranging from Roman goddesses to fish in skirts, are expertly preserved morsels of Portuguese seafood. Sardines, tuna and mackerel are the most common, but many other options are available.

Fish canning has happened in this country for over 150 years, and while it has often been considered “poor people’s food”, it is a popular way to have a healthy, cheap snack. Sol e Pesca is far from the only place to buy these tins of glory, but it is a perfect place to taste them. The fish is released from their metal confines and served with bread and wine or beer, providing a quick, tasty meal. The tins of sardines in olive oil and mackerel in tomato that I tried were highly satisfying, if possibly wanting a grain of salt. Even better were the thin slices of muxama, or dried and cured tuna (which, while not technically canned, are still preserved). It was a meal of ultimate simplicity.

I am not aware of anywhere doing this style of eating in Australia or the UK. Thoughts on canned fish seem to be stuck with ideas of tuna bakes and snack packs in school lunches, and with a few exceptions (particularly in the realm of anchovies) they have yet to reach the restaurant table in any significant way. This is a shame.

When you think about it, this basically the seafood equivalent of charcuterie. Just as there is no comparing supermarket sandwich ham to a great prosciutto, it is wrong to think of these quality products in the same way as you do the cut-price tin of “dolphin free” tuna stashed at the back of the pantry.

Imagine starting your next dinner party by opening up a few tins of beautiful, plump Portuguese sardines, or some rich tuna lightly spiced in oil. Or think of having a gourmet snack ready to go if someone comes over unexpectedly. If the quality of canned fish created by companies such as Minerva and Ramirez can be bought in Australia, I will certainly be stocking up.

I think my friends will appreciate it. Even without an apocalypse.