Media reports make light of the Roman fermented fish sauce called Garum. It’s funny how easily a taste prejudice can be introduced into a society by lazy writers—especially when nobody in this millenium has really tasted Garum in its pure form.
But think: If this stuff was so bad, how could it possibly have become a staple in Roman lands? Yes, I’m talking far and wide. It was even produced in southern Portugal as garum ibericum. It is widely reported that you can view the Roman production area at the ruins of Quinta do Marim, a favorite bird-watching part of the Algarve coast. Here’s a little travelogue.
In any case, the Calabrian variant, Sardella, which they call the Calabrian Caviar, starts production soon, according to Italian Notebook, which sends lovers of Italian culture a daily email with spicy and exotic Italian facts inside.
Being Calabrian, of course, the Sardella is laced with hot peppers. Lots of them. My mouth waters.
Sardella is a mouth watering delicacy that is made from newly hatched sardines (Feb-Apr), salt, peperoncino, and wild fennel tips.
It’s mixed by hand. Like I said, there’s a whole lot of peppers. They warn you about not rubbing your eyes if you were by chance going to try to make some Sardella on your own. Ha! There are lots of things besides your eyes you shouldn’t touch under such conditions, I can tell you! (Hint: heavy petting should be done with oven mitts or the like on both hands, at least if you actually love the one you’re with.)
In any case, it’s hard to find a culture that doesn’t have a fish sauce. It’s all over the Orient in various forms of course, and even we (meaning Western culture, I suppose) have Worcestershire sauce, which was, at least originally, a fermented fish sauce.
Garum’s bad rep seems to have come from the fetid smell it gave off during fermentation, which led to Roman restrictions on home production of the stuff. Once things settle down, the odors are alluring, or at least not rotten. You ever smell coffee roasting? It’s pretty offensive—but the final product is hard to resist for us coffee fiends.
Now I’m hungry for my favorite Chinese dish: Salted Fish and Chicken Fried Rice.
When we order it at the Gourmet Carousel in San Francisco we can never eat it all. There’s nothing that’ll open up your eyes in the morning faster than the smell of fermented fish being warmed up for breakfast—not even the coffee.