It is often said that one of summer’s pleasures in Spain is eating fresh sardines, roasted on a fire in the salt air at the beach. For readers new to the art of sardines allow me to explain. The sardines are speared on skewers stuck into the sand in front of the flames and grilled until crackly. The aroma is irresistible, tantalizing. You pick them up in your fingers and eat the flesh off the bones. Accompanied by icy cold beer and chunks of fresh bread to absorb the drips, sardines make a memorable meal, to be followed by a plunge in the sea and a siesta on the warm sand.
Spanish humorist and commentator on life, Julio Camba, once wrote “with sardines, you should never eat fewer than a dozen, but watch how you eat them, where you eat them and with whom you eat them.” “Sardines”, he added, “are not to be consumed at home with the virtuous wife, but out with a shameless hussy not afraid to get her fingers greasy. People once united in eating sardines together, will never be able to mutually respect each other again, so, when you, dear reader, wish to organize a sardine feast, choose well your accomplices.”
His sentiment is because the pungent salty-smoky smell of grilled sardines clings to ones fingers, chin, moustache and clothes long after the feast is finished. During the summer sardinada, sardine festival, in La Coruña (northern
Spain), doormen at nightclubs and discos are said to spray revelers with air freshener before letting them in to eliminate the fishy smell.
Sardines, plentiful both in the south (Mediterranean) and the north (Atlantic and Bay of Biscay), are of the blue fish family, related to herring. They are a greenish-blue touched with gold, with a silvery belly. Sardines never get much bigger than 8 inches (20cm), though smaller ones are also appreciated and often preferred.