Sardines, the Fish That Sparked Many a Tail…
The Mediterranean's famous little blue fish
Marseille without sardines simply wouldn't be Marseille! Far from being a myth, the story of the sardine that blocked the city port dates back to the 18th century. The 'sardine' in question was in fact a 'Sartine' – the name of one of Louis XVI's frigates in charge of repatriating a French officer freed by the English at Pondicherry. This impressive ship was assailed by British gunfire at the entrance to the port and the sunken vessel prevented all traffic from entering or leaving until it was removed.
Today, the sardine has moved right onto the quaysides... Because as you may know, sardines aren't born in sardine boats or tins, but in the Mediterranean and Atlantic Sea. Come the right season (from June to November because "on Saint Catherine's Day, sardines turn away"), the local fishermen are proud to display these shiny little fish fresh from the Med, even if, compared to France's largest sardine port – Douarnenez –, the local catches seem pint-sized. Sardines are the Mediterranean's second most-fished pelagic variety (fish that live in mid-water, at depths of between 15 and 35 metres) after the anchovy.
Here, we call it a sardine, elsewhere it's referred to 'célerin', 'pilchard' or 'sardinyola'. This fatty fish from the herring family comes in several sizes, but never exceeds 20 cm. Its nutritional qualities are inversely proportional to its price: sardines are packed with vitamins B3 and B6, and rich in Omega-3 and phosphorous – and it's not because they come in a tin that they're full of iron. This booster fish is also one the friendliest-priced marine resources around. Its popular reputation often limits it to the 'easy food' category, but sardines lend themselves to both the simplest culinary preparations and the most sophisticated gastronomic delights.
"A fine sardine means an easy meal. Savour them raw, stuffed or grilled"
Some like it in a tin. In Brittany, it is made into a conserve. In the South, we like it like Ordralfabetix the village fishmonger in Asterix – fresh! In Provence, sardines generally end up on a barbecue – probably because they are abundant in summer. The 'Sardinade' sardine banquets held in Martigues, Port de Bouc and on Marseille's Vieux-Port (Old Port) reel in gourmets with their delicious scent when the weather hots up. To gut or not to gut, that is the question? There's no real answer. The refinement of the preparation reflects the gusto of the Chef. Some like them in fritters, while the Sicilians add them to pasta. Then again, some like them just as they are, uncooked and wrapped around a cheese or pepper mix. The fillets are easy to detach, but scaling remains a chore. Once cleaned, the sardines can be marinaded for a few hours in olive oil and Herbes de Provence before being quick-fried. Strong-tasting and naturally salty, sardines are character-filled and surprisingly endearing fish. It's rather hard to imagine them blocking up a whole port…
Things to do
Workshop of the Sardine
Peaceful two-room flat with terrace in the centre of Cassis, 2 minutes from the harbour and beach./37 sq.m flat in residence with lift. Hall, living room with BZ 140 sofa-bed, TV with DVD player, open-plan kitchen, microwave, fridge with deep-freeze, bedroom with 2 beds (80cm) that can be moved…
The Sardine Festival in Port-de-Bouc
Port de Bouc
On the quayside at the Marina, by the sea, Port-de-Bouc’s sardine festival marks the start of the summer. Originating here, it is said that this type of festival is frequently imitated by never equalled. Founded almost 20 years ago, this culinary festival has echoes throughout Provence and…