As I enter my very late 30’s and prepare for yet another move to another country, I can feel myself changing. It’s not that my moral compass is tuned to a different true north, or that the things I think are funny are more or less sophisticated than they used to be, it’s more that today I turned into the kind of person who orders canned fish at a restaurant. ‘Hmm, yes, I’ll be having the grilled watermelon on mixed greens to start, a large bottle of sparkling water, lightly chilled, and, yes, let’s see, the can of sardines. Spanish, are they? Wonderful, wonderful.’ ‘Excellent choice, madam.’ I could barely keep from snorting.
A work colleague used to make fun of his alma mater by saying that their medical school’s approach was See One, Do One, Teach One. It’s the same for ordering sardines. A few years ago in a French restaurant in Geneva, I saw a very dapper man peruse the menu over a glass of rosé, and, after making his choice, be presented with a can on a silver tray. He read the label, nodded, and then watched the waiter open the can and set it in front of him. I was flabbergasted, and, like stamp collectors everywhere, seduced by the combination of unique and expensive. For who would dare to present canned fish in the same manner as an excellent wine? Surely those were no ordinary sardines!
I wanted to find out right at that moment in Geneva, but you just don’t order more sardines after you’ve already eaten dessert. I waited, patiently, for years until the next sardine sighting:
I saw one, I did one. Here’s the teaching part: those sardines were delicious, and they were also sardines. They were beautiful, they were loaded with healthy fats, they were a perfectly satisfying lunch. They may have been the finest sardines in all of the land, but they were still only one step up from the sardines in tomato sauce I mash up with a fork to feed my dependents on my lazier days. (Poor little darlings, no pea shoots decorating THEIR lemons!)
If I see canned sardines on a menu again, I’ll probably order them because I’m a sucker for a heart-healthy lunch that involves soaking up oil with good bread. If I see a can of smoked oysters on a menu, I will order them because I love smoked oysters like kids love birthdays. If your menu suggests canned tuna, though, no matter how line-caught and small-batch, I will ask for a glove and then slap you in the face with it. Get that shit out of here. Don’t be ridiculous. Canned tuna! Sheesh.