The etiquette rules on how to serve and eat sardines. Tips to be the ideal host or the perfect guest and avoid any embarrassment.

What sardines etiquette is

Sardines etiquette is the set of rules to properly serve and eat sardines. Such rules help avoid behaviors that can disrespect your hosts or guests, or make you look unpolite.

If you are hosting, follow the etiquette to serve sardines to your guests appropriately.

As a guest, respect the etiquette rules to properly eat sardines at the dining table and avoid offending your hosts or embarrassing yourself.

how to serve and eat sardines

What you should know about sardines

Sardines are a type of small, oily fish that belong to the herring family.

Sardines are typically small in size, ranging from 3-7 inches in length. They have silver skin with a blue-green back and white belly. The flesh of the sardine is soft and tender, with a rich and distinct flavor that is often described as nutty or buttery.

Etiquette rules to serve and eat sardines

1) How to store sardines

The ideal temperature to store fresh sardines is between 32-39°F (0-4°C). You can store sardines in the pantry, fridge, or freezer. Store canned sardines in the pantry. They can last up to a year if they are canned or packed in oil. In the fridge, they can last up to 3-4 days if they are fresh, and up to a week if they are cooked. In the freezer, sardines can last up to 3 months if they are packed in oil or frozen in water.

Sliced or cooked sardines should be stored in an airtight container in the fridge and can last up to a week.

2) How to clean sardines

To clean sardines, rinse them under cold water and gently pat them dry with a paper towel. There are no significant risks associated with cleaning sardines. A sharp knife can be used to remove the head and gut the fish, but it is not necessary to scale them.

When sardines turn bad, they will have a strong, unpleasant odor and a slimy texture. The skin may also appear discolored or have a grayish tint.

3) How to prepare & cook sardines

Sardines can be eaten raw or cooked. To prepare fresh sardines for cooking, rinse them under cold water and pat them dry. Sardines can be grilled, broiled, baked, or fried. The most common ways to cook sardines are grilling or frying. Utensils and appliances that are appropriate to prepare and cook sardines include a grill, skillet, oven, or deep fryer.

The most popular dishes or types of dishes with sardines include grilled sardines, sardine pasta, sardine sandwiches, and sardine salads. Sardines are good in salads and sandwiches.

Sardines may not be suitable for guests who are on a vegan or vegetarian diet, as they are a type of fish. They are suitable for guests who are on a keto or paleo diet. However, sardines are one of the most disliked foods. Thus, it is considerate to ask your guests whether they like them before serving.

4) How to serve & present sardines

Sardines are appropriate for every occasion, including formal or informal meals, brunch, or snacks. You can serve sardines as a side dish, main course, or appetizer.

The most polite ways to serve sardines to guests are on a plate or platter at room temperature. You can present sardines on a decorative plate or bowl with garnishes such as lemon wedges, fresh herbs, or olives. Appropriate serving tools include a serving fork, tongs, or spatula.

You can serve sardines with a variety of seasonings and accompaniments, such as lemon, olive oil, garlic, and herbs. You can also accompany them with bread, crackers, or vegetables.

5) Food and wine to pair sardines with

The best food pairings with sardines include flavors such as lemon, garlic, and olive oil. Sardines pair well with vegetables such as tomatoes, arugula, and peppers, and with fruits such as oranges and grapes. Avoid vegetables and fruit pairings that are overly sweet or acidic.

Sardines can go well with certain types of cheese and dairy, such as feta or goat cheese. These pairings work well because they balance the strong and rich flavors of the sardines. However, it is best to avoid pairing sardines with strong and pungent cheeses like blue cheese or aged cheddar, as the flavors can clash.

Sardines can pair well with other seafood like shrimp or anchovies, as well as with light meats like chicken or turkey. However, it is best to avoid pairing sardines with red meat, as the flavors can be too overpowering.

When it comes to wine pairings, sardines go well with dry white wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, or Albariño, as well as light-bodied red wines like Beaujolais or Pinot Noir. It is best to avoid pairing sardines with heavy or tannic red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah. Sardines can also pair well with sparkling wines, rosé wines, and even certain types of beer or spirits.

6) How to eat sardines

The most polite etiquette for eating sardines is to use a fork and knife to remove the bones and skin. On informal occasions, it is not impolite to eat sardines with your fingers, but be sure to clean your hands thoroughly before and after. The entire sardine can be eaten, except for the head and tail, which you should discard.

Sardines etiquette: the worst mistakes

The Rude Index identifies and ranks negative behaviors. 

A high score (8-10) means that the behavior has the potential to trigger a conflict with others. A medium score (4-7) means that the behavior risks making you look inelegant and unsophisticated. Read more about the Rude Index and its methodology here.  

Avoid the most common sardines etiquette mistakes:

  • 8/10. Serving sardines that are not fresh or have a strong, unpleasant odor.
  • 6/10. Serving sardines and leaving the bones in, as they can be difficult to eat around.

Additional information for properly serving sardines

How many calories per serving?

Counting calories is important to stay healthy and correctly plan a menu.

One serving of sardines typically contains around 100-200 calories, depending on the preparation method. A single sardine contains around 25-30 calories.

How to buy the best sardines

A crucial factor in sardines etiquette is serving your guests the best product possible.

Season and availability 

Sardines are available year-round. The peak season for fresh sardines is from spring to fall.

Choose the best

Sardines can be found in commerce in various forms, including fresh, canned, smoked, and dried. Canned sardines are the most common form of sardines found in grocery stores.

The most popular varieties of sardines in commerce include Portuguese sardines, Spanish sardines, and Mediterranean sardines. Portuguese sardines are often considered the most prized, as they are known for their high quality and flavorful taste.

When buying fresh sardines, look for fish that are firm, with bright, clear eyes and shiny skin. The fish should have a fresh, ocean-like smell and should not have any off odors. Fresh sardines should be consumed within a few days of purchase, while canned or smoked sardines can be stored for longer periods.

Alternatives to sardines

Some common alternatives to sardines include other types of fish like salmon, tuna, or herring, as well as tofu or chickpeas for plant-based options.


  • Safety and Quality of Canned Sardines after Opening: A Shelf-Stability Study: