I recently found myself in a situation of looking at a small list of lunch sandwich choices and having a friend ask me what he should pick. The list featured the usual: Ham, cheese, tuna. And then: Sardine.
My very good-natured friend, the author Alek Popov (read his hilarious novel “Mission London” if you haven’t), listened to my advice — the sardine, of course. For Alek, this new sardine adventure turned out to be a lunch so horrid I wouldn’t hear the end of it at dinner that evening.
For those who didn’t grow up eating sardine sandwiches like I did, I suppose the experience could be a little jarring — it’s intensely fishy, mushy and well, those two sensory things may not be what many seek in a lunch. For me, however, sardines are heaven. I love eating them in sandwiches, in puff pastry buns, on their own. (Not that I broadcast this information — I’ve learned my lesson since my last public show of sardine love.)
So when my Let’s Lunch group decided on making a dish featuring a secret food love — an item you’re so ashamed of eating you don’t talk about it much — sardines came to mind. What to make with it? A Singaporean classic …
Now, my fond memories of sardine sandwiches largely revolve around buying them from my primary school tuckshop — that’s “elementary school canteen” in American-speak — in Singapore. The sandwich auntie would usually have these pre-made, nicely stacked up in glass-covered shelving at her narrow stall.
As much as I enjoyed these sandwiches now and then, it wasn’t until many years later, when I found myself in the United States, that I actually made my first one. And it turns out, they’re super easy to make. You just take a can of sardines in tomato sauce and mash that up with a bunch of ingredients: Minced shallots, chili powder, chili sauce, ketchup and more.
My dear friend chef Simpson Wong, who’s from Malaysia and knows sardine sandwiches well, once told me he adds a little sesame oil to his sardine mixes — the toasty nutty oil helps to cut the fishy taste a little. So that’s what I now put in mine.
Once that’s all mixed up — there you have it. This is ready to be slapped on buttered bread — white, if you’re in Singapore.
Now, this may not look like the most appetizing dish — and believe me, I’m certainly wary of recommending sardine sandwiches to anyone these days. But for this Singaporean transplant, it always hits the spot.
So here’s the recipe, give it a whirl, but remember now — this is our little secret.
Don’t forget to check out other Let’s Lunchers’ secret food love dishes below! And if you’d like to join Let’s Lunch, go to Twitter and post a message with the hashtag #Letslunch — or, post a comment below.
Betty Ann‘s Adobo Eggs at Asian in America
Linda‘s Pinakbet (Filipino Vegetable Stew) at Spicebox Travels
Lisa‘s Potato Cakes at Monday Morning Cooking Club
Singaporean Sardine Sandwiches
Makes 2 sandwiches
- 1 4.375 oz. can sardines in tomato sauce
- 1 TB minced shallots
- 1 squirt tomato ketchup (if desired)
- 1 squirt sriracha (if desired)
- 1 splash of soy sauce
- Small sprinkling (more if you’d like it hot) of chili powder
- Few squeezes of lime juice
- 1 splash of sesame oil
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- Sliced cucumbers
- Unsalted butter
- Four slices of bread
Place sardines and tomato sauce in a bowl, remove cartilage and mash it all up, mixing well with the sauce.