Sorry Porto, I’m Not Culturally Insensitive, I Just Hate Sardines

What it’s like to detest the most traditional food in your new adopted home

Sam Dixon Brown


A plate of grilled sardines
Photo by Alex Teixeira on Unsplash

I want to be sick.

As we get off the metro on the outskirts of Porto’s beach district, Matosinhos, the smell of sardines cooking is inescapable. As we approach the street right next to the Atlantic Ocean lined with dozens of restaurants each with an outdoor charcoal grill, it becomes unbearable.

Charlie Brown marches ahead of me, excitedly taking photos of the experienced cooks grilling tiny fish over hot coals, the afternoon sun making sweat drip off their brows and soak their shirts.

“Isn’t it incredible?!”

“Yes,” I agree. And it is. Really.

The seafaring past of the Portuguese means that the tradition of going to the beach to eat a big plate of sardines is so intrinsically linked with what it means to be Portuense, that I just can’t help but feel like an outsider in my new hometown.

I want to be part of this tradition.

My head might want to immerse myself in this tradition, but my stomach didn’t get the memo and I’m feeling more nauseated by the second.

Nausea aside, why do I feel bad about…