My Sardine Factory Tour in Porto

Polina
Polina

A sommelier and a wine tour guide. I travel all around Portugal collecting the best wineries to visit, best places to stay and eat.

I organize wine tours in the Douro Valley.

Sardines are a symbol of Portuguese culture and identity.   You will find sardine inspired souvenirs all around Portugal along with roosters and swallows.  I got my little ceramic sardine on my first visit to Porto, long before moving to this wonderful city.

Sardine fishing is a major industry in the country, providing jobs and economic opportunities for many coastal communities. In fact, sardines are one of Portugal’s most important exports, with many canned sardines being sold around the world. 

fish, swarm, underwater-1656504.jpg

The sardine fishing season in Portugal typically runs from May to October, with peak season being in June and July. During this time, large shoals of sardines swim close to the shore, making them easier to catch.

Traditionally, sardines were caught using small boats and nets, but today, larger vessels and modern fishing techniques are also used. 

In recent years, concerns have been raised about the sustainability of sardine fishing in Portugal, as sardine populations have been declining due to overfishing and changing ocean temperatures. 

Discovering something truly Portuguese

Shopping for sardines at Matosinhos market near Porto

Sardines are an important part of Portuguese  cuisine. Portugal has a long history of fishing and sardines have been a staple in the country’s diet for centuries.  

Sardines are typically grilled, often with a sprinkle of sea salt, and served with boiled potatoes, peppers, and a slice of bread. This dish, known as “sardinhas assadas,” is a popular summer dish and is often served at festivals and celebrations throughout the country.  You may find grilled sardine stalls all around Lisbon during the San Antonio celebrations in June.  When in Porto, head to one of the Matosinhos fish restaurants to taste grilled sardines.

 

Grilled sardines in Alfama, Lisbon

Canned sardines are also a significant part of Portugal’s cuisine.  I find sandwiches with canned sardines to be simply delicious.  Taste a spicy sardine from a can with a glass of slightly bubbly vinho verde and indulge in the true taste of Portugal.  

Canned product quality can vary depending on the source of fish, processing techniques like cleaning, smoking methods, type of oil, quality of seasonings and sauces and storage conditions.

I was quite surprised to learn that in Portugal canned sardines are not only considered a treat, but are also very good for you. Made without preservatives, canned sardines are one of the best dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids, protein and are rich in vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D, calcium, and phosphorus, and vitamin B12. Being small fish sardines are low in contaminants like mercury, which can be found in larger fish like tuna.  Sardines are also a sustainable seafood option, as they are abundant in many parts of the world and can be harvested without damaging the marine ecosystem.

How to get on a sardine factory tour in Porto?

At the shop of Conservas Pinhais sardine factory in Porto

If you’re interested in visiting a canned fish factory in Porto, there are several options available, including the following:

  1. Ramirez is one of the oldest and most respected sardine canning companies in Portugal, and offers guided tours of its factory in Matosinhos.

  2. Conservas Pinhais is an artisanal canned sardine producer in Matosinhos.  They were my choice as the tours are excellent and tickets are easy to buy in advance.   Nuri is their main brand of sardines.

  3. Comur is a sardine canning company located in the town of Murtosa, south of Porto, that offers guided tours of its museum.

Be sure to buy tickets online or contact the factory beforehand to arrange a tour and to confirm the opening hours.

As I live in Porto, I headed over to Conservas Pinhais, an artisanal sardine canning factory in Matosinhos was my choice. 

Conservas Pinhais tours are open daily.  However, be aware that on the weekends the workers are not present.  

My guide told me that the best days to get on a tour are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday when there is more fish brought to the factory.  It is better to get on a morning tour as they start cleaning up around 4 pm.  

As there are only 15 people are allowed on a tour, it is advisable to buy tickets about two days in advance.

How to get to Pinhais Cannery?

The founders of Pinhais sardine factory

The Pinhais cannery is located in Matosinhos, a coastal city northeast of Porto.  It is well known for its beautiful beaches and delicious open-air seafood restaurants. Matosinhos is an important commercial and industrial center, with a bustling port and a thriving fishing industry.  Today, Matosinhos has also become a trendy neighbourhood favoured by surfers and digital nomads. 

The factory is located in the residential area but it is very easy to find, its a distinctive 19th century building.

Address: Av. Menéres 700, 4450-189 Matosinhos 

To reach the Pinhais cannery from Porto, you have several transportation options:

  1. Metro: You can take the metro from Porto to Camara do Matosinhos station, which is the nearest station to the Conservas Pinhais factory. The journey takes around 30 minutes, and from the station, it’s about a 5-minute walk to the factory.

  2. Bus: You can take from Porto to Matosinhos, which is served by several bus lines including bus 500 that runs from Sao Bento Train Station. 

  3. Taxi/Uber: You can also take a taxi or Uber from Porto to the Conservas Pinhais factory in Matosinhos, which takes around 20-30 minutes depending on traffic and typically takes around 10 euros one way.

What to wear?

When visiting a sardine factory in Portugal, it’s important to wear comfortable clothing, as you will be spending some time on your feet and moving around the factory floor. I would probably advise on closed-toe shoes.  

You will be given a gown, a hair net and a pair of shoe slippers, however, there is a strong fish smell on the factory floor. Visitors who are sensitive to strong odors may want to take extra precautions, such as bringing a mask.

The staff asks you to leave all jewellery, especially larger earrings, necklaces and rings in their convenient storage boxes as they can get caught in machinery or cause contamination.  It is best to leave your jewellery at home.

If you have long hair like me it’s a good idea to tie it back. 

What to expect?

The tour begins with an introduction to the history of the factory.  You will next get to the old offices of the cannery which were used until 2020. 

Then change into factory clothing and off you go to the production floor where you can observe the process of cleaning and washing sardines, smoking, and canning. 

110 women some of who work here in generations, chat, chant and argue. 8 men are charged with loading the smoking tank and other heavier tasks.

At Pinhais, most of the processes are still very manual.  Another unique feature here is that smoking takes place on a rack allowing all liquids and fat to escape, while other more industrial brands would smoke fish in cans.

During our tour we were made to add condiments to sardine cans, move racks into a traditional smoker and pack some tins.

The visit ends with a tasting of sardines.  You can choose between traditional and spicy or upgrade to include a wine pairing. Delicious!

Can I buy canned sardines at the factory?

Yes, the factory has a store where you can buy products and souvenirs.  Canned sardines prices start from 4.80 euros.

Nuri sardines are available in a variety of flavors, including natural, with lemon, with olive oil and with tomato. The company also produces other seafood products, such as tuna, octopus and mackerel.

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