LA SIRENA “PICA PICA” SARDINES
Several months ago, I was browsing the shelves of my local Latin “mercado” when I was stopped in my tracks by the image of a fair maiden, semi-nude, resting serenely on a rock in the middle of the ocean. The image was not on a calendar, or the cover of Sports Illustrated. No, it was on a sardine can! I bought it simply because I thought the label was cool and it would look good in my pantry on a special shelf I keep stocked with culinary curiosities.
After all, who could resist La Sirena – the mythical “Siren of the Sea” who, for centuries, has lured seafaring men to come closer for a look, only to have their vessels dashed upon the rocks, and they to be thrown into the foamy surf, and drown with that beautiful, haunting image being the last thing to go through their minds before sinking into the briny depths for eternity.
So, visually speaking, La Sirena is irresistible. Hey, look closely at the label – even the sardine is jumping out of the water for a peek!
But how does the product taste? I might never have known had I not stepped on the scale after the holidays and decided I needed to change my diet. I decided to try sardines for lunch one day ““ it seemed like a low-fat, low-cal alternative. Just then, the Siren caught my eye again. So I read the back of the label:
Ingredients: Sardines, Tomato Sauce, Salt and Spices
Reading further, I liked seeing that this lunch-size portion of sardines was 110 calories/ 20 calories from fat. Hmmm, I’ve seen those numbers before and the product tasted like sawdust! Anyway, I also liked the fact that sardines are rich in the beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids. The only caveat is that while Omega-3 is supposed to be “heart-healthy”, this little can of sardines also delivers 90 mg. (30% of your RDA) of Cholesterol. So, on the health meter, that lies somewhere closer to a bowl of Haagen Dazs than it does to sawdust – just a word to the wise.
Anyway, as I opened the can I was hoping that something packaged with chili would provide some flavor. A visit to the producer’s website revealed that the “Pica Pica” was a very popular product. One thing was for sure – it’s as eye-appealing on the plate as La Sirena herself!
These are about as large a sardine as you will find in a can, so you get a lot for your 110 calories – three big, beautiful fish – heads off, tails on. Be warned that if you have never eaten a canned sardine, it’s best to start with the smaller ones. The big ones like these are somewhat of an acquired taste because you are eating the whole fish – bones, innards and all. That’s true of the small ones too, but the big ones are a bit more “crunchy”. So, if you are still with me, know that this is the best tasting can of sardines on the planet!
Taste: The first thing of concern with some canned fish products is the salt level. They got it just right in the Pica Pica. The next thing is how nicely the acid in the tomato sauce balances the oily fish flavor of the sardine. Lastly, the flavor of the chilis complements the fish, salt and tomato flavors perfectly! It’s a fresh chili flavor, as if they mixed equal parts tomato sauce and Sambal Oelek (which is an educated guess, since they are packed in Thailand).
Heat: For me, the heat was just right for this type of product – probably a 5.5 on the 10-point HSB scale. Assuming these are Thai peppers, they do just what you would expect. The burn starts at the front of the mouth, then spreads to the tongue, roof of mouth, then the back of the throat. The heat stays pretty steady through the meal rather than building to a crescendo. By the time you have downed the second sardine, you have a good lip burn and a mild shvitz just above the eyebrows. I am always amazed at how localized the sweat points are for different types of peppers – one can make you perspire just above the eyes, another affects you just below the hair line, or on the side of the nose, or back of your head.
Where to Purchase: Well… that’s about as big a mystery The Siren herself. I tried to get this information, to no avail. On the can, it lists the distributor as Otis McAllister Inc. www.otismcallister.com . I wrote to the email address on the website and it bounced back to me. I also went on the website of La Sirena www.lasirenafoods.com and the inquiry form on the site bounced back at me as well. So I called the phone number for La Sirena and got what sounded like a cell phone greeting in Spanish.
So, if you want to find this product (and I think it’s well worth the hunt!), start first at your local Latin grocery store. (Even though this product is made in Asia, it is packaged for the Latin consumer). Failing that, maybe someone who speaks Spanish can call that number at La Sirena and report back to the blog.
For those who are lucky enough to hear the Siren’s song, enjoy!