26 October 2016
A tin of canned fish, priced at HK$60, is among hundreds of similar products sold at Loja das Conservas. Photo: HKEJ
A tin of canned fish, priced at HK$60, is among hundreds of similar products sold at Loja das Conservas. Photo: HKEJ

An eye-opening experience inside canned-fish museum

While I was wandering around in Macau, a new store captured my attention.

Its signboard said “1853″, which probably refers to the year the company was established.

Apart from that, I had no clue what the store was about, as everything else was in Portuguese.

In an era where visuals speak louder than words, a quick glance at the shelves provided me with the answer.

I was looking at the first outlet in Macau of Loja das Conservas, a renowned Portuguese purveyor of canned fish.

It was quite a mind-blowing scene — numerous identical yet colorful tins.

One would probably never expect to be surrounded by nothing but cans of fish.

The staff told me customers can choose from several hundreds of products from the top 20 Portuguese brands.

My very first taste of canned fish was fried dace with salted black beans (豆豉鯪魚) from the Pearl River Bridge brand, which has dominated the Hong Kong market for a few decades.

Of course, Portugal, a country of canned fish, has more than 20 brands.

I was told that any edible fish in the Atlantic Ocean would be caught, canned and sold in Portugal.

Among foreign brands of canned fish, I’d heard of Del Monte from the United States and some from Thailand and Japan.

Porthos was the only Portuguese representative I knew before this visit.

Since the wording on Porthos cans is in Portuguese only, all I can do is guess from the packaging whether they contain plain or chili sardines in olive oil.

Luckily the probability of a successful guess is high, as Hong Kong supermarkets carry only three varieties of the sardines.

Inside the Loja das Conservas “museum”, however, there is a written introduction in Chinese for each brand.

The Chinese name for the product is also printed next to the price on a small tag. This, at least, gives you some reassurance about you will soon put into your mouth.

Choosing a purchase here was difficult, as there were so many options available.

But one was so tempting, Atlantic croaker in olive oil and garlic, I couldn’t wait to open the can as soon as I arrived home.

Frankly speaking, it is worth trying as a novelty, but I am not going to do it twice.

Somehow, when it comes to canned fish, nothing can beat chili sardines or sardines in tomato sauce.

Besides, for the HK$60 I paid for a can of the Atlantic croaker, I can get a whole wild yellow croaker in Cheung Chau that is certainly fresher and more promising.

Speaking of prices, a can of Porthos’ sardines in tomato sauce costs HK$29 at this Macau outlet, while in Hong Kong, the Aeon supermarket in Kornhill Plaza is offering it at HK$18.50.

Reasonable or expensive, it’s all in the eye of the beholder.

Adding the Chinese language does play a role in pricing!

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 13.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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