Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
Photo credit: GoodEggs.com
Monterey Sardine Story: A Recipe by Nepenthe

Though a sardine sandwich might not be the most obvious choice for lunch these days, the local history of sardines on California’s Central Coast may inspire you to create something delicious and satisfying with this oily, little fish.

Sardine sandwiches were once a popular menu item in the 70s, at the famed Nepenthe, just north on Highway 1. John Steinbeck’s “Cannery Row” captured the human stories of the Monterey canning industry, a multi-cultural manufacturing business which started in 1902 and expanded during World Wars I and II. In 1968, just six years after the founding of Esalen, the upscale Sardine Factory Restaurant opened on Cannery Row, officially starting Restaurant Row as we know it today. 

Label from the Portola brand sardine can

According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, sardines stay together as a way of life, moving together like synchronized swimmers as one in a single school. 

Honoring Esalen’s place in and around the Pacific, we resurrect this recipe from the cookbook My Nepenthe, Bohemian Tales of Food, Family, and Big Sur

Pair these marinated sardines with fresh, crusty grilled bread or a leafy, fresh green salad. And yes, if you want, lay them on a baguette with lettuce, sprouts, and a little aioli. Then, find yourself a nice view of the water. 

Nepenthe’s Marinated Fresh Monterey Sardines

 Prep time 5 minutes (marinated, 2 hours minimum)


Makes 1-2 servings

  • 4 to 6 fresh sardines, cleaned and filleted
  • 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
  • 3 or 4 slices lemon and/or orange
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or mint
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon good-quality red wine vinegar, or juice of 1 lemon


  1. Place the sardines in a nonreactive shallow dish with the garlic and lemon slices.
  2. Stem the thyme and scatter over the fish with the parsley.
  3. Cover with the oil.
  4. Grind some fresh pepper over the top and drizzle with the vinegar.
  5. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours or up to one day, occasionally turning the sardines over so that they marinate evenly.

Nepenthe shares a few favorite recipes on their website.


Esalen Team