Health freaks, dieters and the Marine Stewardship Council tout the benefits of Sardina pilchardus, trumpeting its "natural source of Omega-3s," "high-quality protein" and sustainability.

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MY SISTER sent me the perfect gift: a can of sardines. For years, she’s been keeping her eye out for just the right can — labeled Moosebeck and sold, with a key, in a red box.

Those were the sardines of our childhood: the ones I loved — and she hated.

My taste memory of Moosebeck — small, fine-boned, packed in fragrant oil — has apparently outlasted the company that made them. (If anyone knows different, I’m your new best friend.)

The can my sister sent was cast in sterling silver, its sardines made of copper, the key bronze. “It cost a fortune,” she said of that pretty pin, “but you had to have it, because I love you.”

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Edible canned sardines, on the other hand, are inexpensive, and even the cheapest pack a lot of love into a small tin.

Health freaks, dieters and the Marine Stewardship Council tout the benefits of Sardina pilchardus, trumpeting its “natural source of Omega-3s,” “high-quality protein” and sustainability.

I eat sardines just because they’re delicious.

Taichi Kitamura agrees. As chef-owner at Sushi Kappo Tamura on Eastlake, he served fresh local sardines as part of his $55 tasting menu during their brief summer run. But he enjoys them canned, at home, year-round.

In Japan, “sardines were seasoned with soy and teriyaki flavors,” Kitamura recalls of the way he ate them growing up. But after moving to Seattle as a student, he rented a room from an elderly Filipina who turned him on to tomato-sauced Ligo brand from the Philippines.

“She’d take cellophane noodles, soak them in water, stir-fry garlic, add the sardines, toss in the noodles and put green onions on top.” Beat the heck out of instant ramen.

These days, “I buy the cheapest brand, dip them in a mixture of soy sauce and mayo and eat them with rice.” An avid fly-fisherman, he also keeps a can in his daypack. “It’s the perfect snack.”

Chef Ba Culbert thinks so, too. The owner of Tilikum Place Café says she and her family would take them camping and hiking, or eat them with bread and butter, tomatoes and lettuce.

As for me, I happily satisfy my old hunger with the signature sardine sandwich at Tilikum Place. The star of that show is the Spanish sardine import Matiz Gallego, harvested off the coast of Galicia and available locally at high-end supermarkets for about $3 a tin. For this sandwich, the little fishes are halved and deboned, then layered with slow-roasted Roma tomatoes and arugula on a baguette. The bread’s grilled, then laved with a purée of roasted red peppers, anchovies, capers, garlic, shallot, orange zest, marjoram and olive oil to which Culbert adds a mix of chopped kalamata and green olives.

It’s a recipe easily translated at home. And if your sister, or anyone else, shrieks “Ewww, sardines!” do as I do and say, “More for me!”

Nancy Leson is The Seattle Times food writer. Reach her at John Lok is a Times staff photographer.

Not My Sister’s Sardine Sandwich

Serves 1

1 6-inch length of baguette

2 tablespoons tapenade (olive spread) homemade or store-bought

A handful of arugula or other salad greens

1 can of oil-packed sardines (buy skinless/boneless if you’re finicky)

4 slow-roasted-tomato slices (available at many supermarket olive bars)

½ fresh lemon

Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling

Grill or toast the bread. Spread each half with 1 tablespoon tapenade, then layer each with salad greens and as many sardines as you like. Top with tomatoes. Spritz with lemon, drizzle with olive oil, eat open-faced.

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