Preserving the flavors of Portugal: Lisbon’s Can the Can restaurant

A good deal of Portugal’s historic wealth for centuries has come from their fishing, preserving and exporting seafood. Indeed, Portugal considered North America’s Newfoundland theirs, naming it what translates to “New Found Land of the Codfish” in 1473. In 1865, Portugal began its canning industry, the country’s oldest industry. You can tell it’s beloved by the nation by just going through Lisbon’s airport: there are cans upon cans of seafood for sale at the duty free shops, extending to last-minute carts right before the gates.

Now, there’s a restaurant that celebrates the canning industry! Can the Can elevates the often gourmet selections grown, fished and created in Portugal. I was happy to be hosted to experience it!

Though it was a glorious day outside and I did end up eating al fresco, I took a peek inside. They have a gift shop of sorts, selling lots of different canned/tinned food items, such as a myriad of fish, olives, olive oil. I just didn’t feel like hauling tons of canned food through the airport or in my luggage.

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Executive Chef Luis Barradas is also an Ambassador for the Alaskan seafood industry — another source of high-quality canning.

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What really caught my attention was the presentation, texture, color of Portugal’s canned seafood. I’m so used to mushy, gushy tuna in the US on the more affordable end of things, to the lighter, something a bit firmer on the much more expensive end of the spectrum. Portugal packs fish of a whole different level of quality: I highly suggest that you keep an eye out for it in gourmet shops and grocery stores.

In Praco de Comercio (Commerce Square), you can scramble to the top of Arco da Rua Augusta to get a bird’s eye view of Can the Can.

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Olives “doctored up” with a little orange zest (what a great entertaining idea!) and left in the tin brings the restaurant’s message home.

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Canned curried tuna salad with parsley makes for a tasty appetizer, served with ciabatta. Though I’m familiar with curried chicken salad, I never heard of it for tuna. I’m glad to have both tuna and a good curry in the house: it’s tasty!

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Speaking of canned tuna, one time when I was a little girl, we sent my dad out for it. Ever attuned to a bargain, he came home with a can of mackerel. I remember my sister and I pretty much leading an armed rebellion against such. Well, that stuff was nothing like the horse mackerel tartare (not canned) that I got to try! It was served with a cumin-spiced crisp, a sort of Japanese/Indian fusion. The clean fish flavor was garnished with baby chives and a hint of spice.

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Next came a South American inspired dish: sardines tempura and guacamole with gazpacho. I learned that Portuguese gazpacho is normally chunky, but they were serving it “Spanish style” as a palate cleanser.

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Here’s a gourmet treatment of tuna you probably wouldn’t have conceived: cold smoked tuna ham with coriander, honey and orange juice reduction, with a salt and coriander kick and almonds! This really turns tuna into a “meat” dish.

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Smoked mackerel with fennel puree, dill and sea fennel has a powerful umami satisfaction. That’s the featured photo here.

A classic Portuguese dish — bacalhau a braga — is served here deconstructed: soft-cooked egg, crispy potato and olive powder.

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Another Portuguese favorite, escabeche, incorporated sardines, baby eels and homemade pickles, seasoned with cumin, parsley and fennel. It’s meant to recall memories of marinated fried fish in taverns.

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Tuna samosas are another fun fusion dish.

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I noticed chocolate mousse on a few menus in Portugal, but it’s extra interesting here: made with olive oil, sea salt and red pepper.

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