Just as moments in time can be captured by a photograph, to savor at a later date, so too can the freshest meats and produce – almost equally as fleeting – be preserved (albeit in a can) for enjoyment later down the line. Only we can’t guarantee that they’ll last as long, given how good they taste.
Prevalent in various Mediterranean countries, including Spain, Italy, Greece, France and Portugal, canning offers a sustainable way to increase the shelf life of delicate seafood and sophisticated recipes. And while many associate conservas, foods preserved in cans and jars, with student life or basic survival fare, they are in fact experiencing a golden age in Spain.
Nowhere are the great culinary heights of conservas better experienced than at Entrelatas, the first shop in Barcelona completely dedicated to canned foods. First opened in 2015 by Paola Fornasaro, the shop moved from the neighborhood of Sant Antoni to an old bodega in Gràcia in 2018. Now operated by Fornasaro and her new business partner, Joaquim Prat (owner of Pietro, a nearby bar), Entrelatas offers the total aperitif package: conservas with bulk wine and vermut directly from the barrels at the entrance to the new location as well as bottled wine, craft beer and vermouth.
Fornasaro’s passion for conservas dates back to her childhood in the 1970s, when they hadn’t yet peaked in popularity. Originally from Italy, she spent her summers as a kid sailing with her family along the northern Adriatic coast, between Trieste, Slovenia and Croatia (the latter two were at the time part of Yugoslavia). In addition to the excellent fresh produce they bought at local markets, her father also used to order canned foods from the catalogue of a company that specifically catered to boat trips (the cans could be delivered to marinas that they docked at). Fornasaro and her sisters used to flip through the catalogue, fascinated by the diverse options, particularly the more extravagant ones, like turtle soup.
For her, this type of food has been always associated with adventure. So after living in Barcelona for almost 30 years, during which time she worked as a graphic designer and spent her free time familiarizing herself with the city’s food scene, Fornasaro decided to take the plunge and open Entrelatas.
For her, [conservas] has been always associated with adventure.
Given her history, it’s no surprise that Fornasaro has spent years curating the best collection of conservas, in terms of quality, price and product, for her modern-looking shop. “Based on the design of the shop, some people may think the product is expensive, but it’s not,” she tells us. While some gourmet shops in the city sell cans of clams for €60 or €90 a pop, the prices at Entrelatas are nowhere near as high – a purposeful choice on Fornasaro’s part. Prices range from around €3 for the cheapest cans, like good quality Spanish mussels, to around €20, on the high end, for smoked Spanish oysters or angulas, Spanish baby eels.
The majority of the conservas are from Spain, but the shop also offers some international options, like La Belle Chaurienne’s cassoulet au canard (duck cassoulet), filetti di tonno con ‘nduja calabrese (tuna with a spicy spreadable pork salumi) from Italy, and eggplant in tomato sauce from Greece.
But we gravitate to the Spanish conserves, particularly the various treasures from the sea: anchovies, tuna, sardines, mackerel, cockles, razor clams, octopus, squid, mussels and clams, which come from all over the Spanish coast. A good portion, though, come from Galicia, the northwest corner of the Iberian Peninsula. In the 19th century, numerous Catalan entrepreneurs moved to the Galician coast to open seafood-canning factories, which eventually grew into a large industry and contributed to the economic development of the western Atlantic region. It’s also how canned seafood with Galician origins became such an integral part of the aperitif tradition in Catalonia.
To taste the fruits of this historic relationship, we recommend ordering Saint Gervasi conserves at Entrelatas. This young Barcelona-based brand, whose cans are decorated with the panot flower, the shape found on the city’s historic tiles, produces some delicious Galician seafood conservas, which are best washed down with a glass of Saint Gervasi’s own vermut, made with fifty herbal extracts and macerated in oak barrels.
Moving beyond Galician options, Fornasaro recommends the wonderful charcoal grilled sardines made by GüeyuMar, an excellent restaurant in the northern region of Asturias specializing in grilled fish. Wrapped in a cheerful colored paper, these sardines have a soft but tasty flavor and a perfectly consistent texture – we enjoy them together with some high-quality bread, a fresh salad and a glass of wine.
In addition to the more modern brands, Fornasaro stocks some older brands, like ¡¡Guau!! (“Wow!”) and Areoso, which were particularly popular in the 1980s or 90s. While they may look a bit old fashioned or even kitschy, these cans are often at a great price point for the quality you’re getting, i.e. exactly the same product as the more expensive and fancier brands.
Even though Spanish conservas are traditionally made from seafood, there is a whole other universe of non-maritime options at Entrelatas, many of which are not so easy to find in regular grocery stores. For example, in the vegetable section they have such treasures as asparagus from Navarra and pimientos del piquillo, small sweet red peppers that are another important product of the Navarra region.
Another new development in Spanish canned food involves the recreation of popular dishes, like the ox tail or fantastic partridge escabeche (marinated in vinegar and spices) made by La Alacena. Based in Albacete, a town in the region of Castilla–La Mancha, this brand preserves cooked dishes that, despite being in a can, have an incredible texture – serve these cans at home with some potatoes and vegetables, and you’ve got a full-fledged dinner.
While you can certainly eat in at Entrelatas, and we highly recommend doing so, it’s also a great spot to stock up on exciting additions to your pantry without putting a dent in your wallet. You’ll have everything you need for a proper aperitif and more.