Italian or not, I heart Sirena tuna

18 Aug

Today I learnt something that probably everyone else in the entire world knows.

Sirena tuna is not and has never been Italian.

Its bright yellow and red tin, cute little fish and modest retro mermaid might all evoke 1950s Vespa-Lollobrigida Italy but the product is the invention of a canny migrant from the Veneto whose family is now worth  some $327 million, according to BRW’s rich list.

Can of Sirena Tuna

A true Italo-Australian: Sirena tuna, since 1956.

Carlo Valmorbida saw a gap in the market in 1950s Melbourne for tuna preserved in olive oil. Instead of importing it, he decided to service the increasing “continental” market by getting it made to his own Italian recipe. And so Sirena tuna was born.

Not imported from Italy like I thought, but made in Australia by Italians. Kind of like me.

According to a report by GJ Crough on the development of the Australian tuna industry (now there’s a thrilling read!), Sirena tuna was originally canned in Port Lincoln, from tuna fished off NSW. Later it came to be canned in Melbourne, which meant it was “located in the city where Sirena brand was most popular“.   Now,  like every other major  Australian brand, the tuna comes from Thailand, but it still tastes pretty damn alright.

As a kid, it was the only tuna my parents would buy. I remember it best on Fridays for school lunch. As good Catholics, it was always in my grease-paper wrapped sandwich along with fine strips of preserved eggplant.  Delicious.

Dieting made me try tuna in brine and springwater. This was a mistake. Cat vomit comes to mind.

Good sense brought me back to Sirena.  So cheers to Carlo Valmorbida, who died just last year, for being entrepreneurial enough to make it.  Below is my favourite Sirena tuna stand-by recipe – simple, but good, like all the best stuff.

Quick tuna sauce for pasta

  • Olive oil
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 1 clove of garlic, squashed
  • 1 big tin of Sirena tuna
  • 2 cans of peeled diced tomatoes
  • Salt to season
  • A pinch of sugar (if it needs it)
  • Pasta to serve
  1. Heat the olive oil in a frypan over medium heat. Fry the onions and garlic till they are soft.
  2. Drain the tuna and then toss it in the pan. Break it up with a spoon and stir.
  3. Throw in the peeled tomatoes. Stir and let simmer till the sauce thickens a bit.
  4.  Season with salt, add a bit of sugar if it needs it and serve with pasta.

Bibliography

  • Crough, G.J. The Development of the Australian Tuna Industry. Sydney:Transnational Corporations Research Project University of Sydney, 1987.
  • “Families.” BRW Rich 200, May 26  June 29, 2011, pages132-143.
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3 Responses to “Italian or not, I heart Sirena tuna”

  1. rabbitwithfangs January 20, 2012 at 9:18 pm #

    I would love to get the Sirena mermaid as a tattoo one of these days.

  2. Arianna November 14, 2012 at 2:11 am #

    Hello Tania,

    Just nosing around your blog, very interesting stuff on here for my research and I love the pictures of you and your family cook ups. Just as you mentioned in our conversation, this article describes one of the most interesting details of Italian Australian history.
    Thanks a lot for helping me out with my journey of discovery 🙂

    Speak soon (hopefully)

    Arianna from London

    • lamingtonsandlasagna November 14, 2012 at 9:11 am #

      Hi Arianna,
      Am glad you found some interesting stuff here. I look forward to talking again soon! Good luck again with your project, I really hope it gets off the ground as it sounds amazing!
      A presto (spero!)
      Tania

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