Canned food doesn’t exactly enjoy a spectacular reputation these days. Once heralded as a wonder of modern technology, canned foods are now mostly relegated to the back of the pantry in favor of fresh ingredients and homemade food. But what if I told you that there were restaurants all over the world that specialize in serving really high-quality canned food, and not as a gimmick? Welcome to the world of conservas.
While there are a couple outliers (we’ll get to them), the vast majority of restaurants that serve canned food serve what’s called conservas — high-end seafood including anchovies, cockles, fish, clams, mussels, baby squid, octopus, and oysters that are preserved in either oil, vinegar, brine, or a tomato sauce and canned at the peak of freshness. They’re very popular at tapas bars in Portugal and Spain (especially the northern Basque, Galicia, and Cantabria regions), where they’re served (sometimes right out of the can) with potato chips, olives, and vermouth, sherry, or wine. Preservation changes the flavor and texture of the seafood, and even though it can take a little getting used to, it’s something that millions of people have fallen in love with. In fact, plenty of American chefs are now offering conservas at their restaurants, if you know where to look.
Canned seafood is nothing strange; heck, most of us are first introduced to tuna, one of the sea’s most prized catches, as a canned sandwich component. The next time you head out for some tapas or visit a Spanish specialty market, venture outside your comfort zone and sample some conservas. Odds are, like countless adventurous eaters before you, you’ll be hooked.