Sard-In: The New ‘It’ Food in France is a Tiny, Sustainable Fish

antony germani at sard'in

You can tell a food trend is catching on in cities and countries that draw foodies, but what’s hot in France is destined to be a trend leader. The trend of the day: small, sustainable fish like sardines.

After 11 years of experience at some of the best Parisian tables, including L’Arc Paris and Atelier Robuchon, Chef Antony Germani has decided return to his hometown, the port city of Marseille, to highlight a small yet hugely sustainable protein powerhouse: the sardine. Sard’In, which opened in June, is the first sardine bar in the world.

sard'in

After over a decade in the capital, Marseille’s prodigal son knew he missed the south, but he also knew that he could only return with a specific project in mind, a project, he said, that needed to be able to be fleshed out quickly and inexpensively. The idea of a sardine bar, serving a variety of high-end canned sardines in simple recipes, came easily.

At first, canned sardines might seem like anything but the trendy star of a new restaurant, but Germani was determined to change their reputation. “I like canned sardines, because they’re often associated with malbouffe (junk food) or products of mediocre quality, but when you add a really fresh product, the can takes care of the rest,” he says of the star of his menu. “It keeps it for years — all the flavors and finesse of the products, and it even gets better with time, like a good wine.”

Germani’s interest in sardines comes in the wake of many chefs becoming interested in smaller fish, fish that have been ignored by big-name chefs for years. Just recently, 20 all-star chefs united to highlight ways to serve the “perfect protein” in their restaurants, mainly due to the ecological impact of such a decision, an impact that isn’t lost on Germani.

“The ecological impact is enormous,” he says. “Canned sardines allow us to respect different fishing seasons. We have to consume less fish and meat, that’s obvious nowadays. The omega 3, phosphorous and vitamin B3 content in a can of sardines is extraordinary, especially compared to other fish. Eating two cans of sardines a week can allow us to consume less fresh fish and, above all, to leave other more sensitive varieties (in the water).”

The choice of sardine did not come out of nowhere for this Marseille native. Sardines have long been at home in this port city, though, as Germani learned, this is no longer truly the case. Because of overfishing, sardines became smaller and smaller, and in Marseille, it was decided to stop canning them to allow them to regenerate in the Mediterranean waters.

“The actual canned sardines we’re consuming, called ‘Marseillais sardines,’ are actually Atlantic sardines,” he says. “But we appreciated the frankness of the fishermen and the different canning facilities that take responsibility and are aware of the dangers towards Mediterranean sardines,” Germani says, saying that it will be five years before true Mediterranean sardines can be fished and canned again.

“They’re a strong species, and they regenerate fairly quickly as compared to others,” he says.

sard'in

This is one of the many reasons that Germani does not sell only French sardines in his bar, which will offer all sorts of high-end canned sardines, a combination of high-end gourmet boutique and restaurant. Simplicity and flavor are on the menu here, but so is the entirety off the Mediterranean.

“I got informed. I traveled. I went to Spain, to Portugal, to Tunisia and in France and met with conserveries who still respect the fishing methods, and I met passionate people who are, above all, lovers of sardines, like me,” he says.

sard'in

And that’s his key clientele as well: people who love sardines enough to see them — and even, occasionally, their cans — on their plates.

“Canned sardines allow me to have 0% waste in the products that I sell and cook with, and that’s what interested me,” he says. “I hate throwing anything away or wasting anything.”

Chef Germani is currently working with Foodraising, a French food-based crowdfunding platform. If he raises his goal of 5,000 euros, he will be able to expand his current shop and possibly open other locations in Paris, Lyon, and, qui sait, further afield.

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Emily Monaco

Emily Monaco is an American food and culture writer based in Paris. She loves uncovering the stories behind ingredients and exposing the face of our food system, so that consumers can make educated choices. Her work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Vice Munchies, and Serious Eats.