The unlikely story of how tinned fish became 'Hot Girl Food'.

Tinned fish was once the height of an antisocial snack

Frankly, the smell is enough to put anyone off within a 10-metre radius (especially in a communal office kitchen) and the leftover oil in the tin inevitably spills everywhere. 

But like many cultural and culinary phenomenons, what is daggy becomes desirable again with the ebb and flow of the trend cycle. 

Who would have guessed it, but the humble can of tinned fish is now cool.

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Video via Mamamia.

But it's not only 'cool' - it's 'hot girl food'. 

Predicting food trends is no longer just the domain of elite chefs, food critics, futurists and gourmands. Somehow it's fallen into the hands of the youth of TikTok.

You see, they determine what's 'hot girl food' and what's not. 

And while you may think it's as simple as labelling an ingredient as hot or not with a hashtag - the use of the term 'hot girl' has a traceable history. 

You may be happy to just embrace and lean into the trend without thinking too much about it, but if you're interested in over-analysing internet trends like me, then read on.

Let's go on this journey together of finding out exactly what it means to be a so-called 'hot girl', what 'hot girl food' is and why - oh why - it has to be tinned fish.

What is 'hot girl food'?

To understand 'hot girl food' we must first understand what 'hot girl' means. The term 'hot girl' originated from American rapper Megan Thee Stallion. It started as a derivation of her self-coined nickname 'Hot Girl Meg'. Megan then featured the term "hot girl sh*t" on one of her songs and then cemented the term in her song Hot Girl Summer featuring Nicki Minaj. 


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In an interview with The Root, Megan said of the term, “It’s just basically about women - and men - just being unapologetically them, just having a good-ass time, hyping up your friends, doing you, not giving a damn about what nobody got to say about it."

Her fans then took this phrase and ran with it, dubbing anything 'hot girl' from their outfits to their moods.

So unlike the traditional meaning of the word hot, being a 'hot girl' is more about a mentality, a state of mind. A feeling of confidence and self-love. It's meant to be inclusive. 

So how did hip-hop fandom turn into the viral trend we know today? 

Like many co-opted cultural trends, what once originated with black women has ended up being used by the masses. Anything can be 'hot girl' now, from hot girl decor to hot girl walks, to hot girl food. It's all about the lifestyle. 

So why tinned fish?

Why tinned fish? Some articles claim it could be because of the rise of pescatarian diets or a marketing push and some eye-catching branding. But I think it's much simpler than this.

There are two reasons I think the new HGF of the moment is tinned fish.


Credit: Sarah Boyum/5280

1) Tinned fish is the epitome of effortlessness.

Tinned fish is an effortless food, and that's the main criteria for hot girl food. Minimal effort.

It's unfussy, unpretentious and shows that - god forbid - we're not trying too hard, something that women are eternally scrutinised for.

I can't help but think of the 'cool girl' descriptor in the book Gone Girl.

“Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping... jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot."

The 'cool girl' has now rebranded as the 'hot girl', but the premise is the same. 

Women have internalised the idea that we have to make everything we do look effortless. From our careers to our dinner parties - things need to look like they just magically happened. "Oh this?! I just whipped it up." 

The hot girl is, above all, low-maintenance. She's nonchalant in everything that she does.

And that's why tinned fish is the ultimate gastronomic accoutrement to the hot girl lifestyle. 


Being a hot girl is as easy as cracking open a can of dead, miniature fish. 

2) Tinned fish represents an aspirational lifestyle.

Yes, I know what you're thinking, how can something as un-sexy as fish in a tin be aspirational?

Let me paint a picture. 

*You're staying in a fishing village on a remote island in the south of Italy. There are more locals than tourists here. The air is hot but there's a cool breeze. You wander down to the harbour and dangle your legs over the cobblestone esplanade. Your hair is still salty from the evening dip you just took. You look over to your lover, ready to devour their company. You crack open a can of sardines and rip off the end of some crusty bread. A pairing made in heaven. As the night comes to an end, you use the bread to mop up the last inch of garlicky oil left in the tin so you can savour this moment a little longer.*

Tinned fish is essentially giving us access to the lifestyle we wish we were having right now. 

But for the foreseeable future, we can only live vicariously through those little cans of fish and imagine we're in that fishing village living our best life.

So do we actually like it, or do we want to be seen to be liking it?

Some things in life, I think people like more in theory than in reality. Like Aperol Spritzes. They look great on the 'gram but are actually quite bitter and gross. Just me?

Well, what about tinned fish? It has all the components of a yucky food; the odour, the fact they resemble actual fish and they usually have bones in them. It's not all that chic. 

So do people actually like them, or do they like the optics of looking like they like them as it implies they have refined taste?

I actually don't have the answer for this but I will say, if you are eating it just for the aesthetic then the joke's on you, because you're going to be left with a mouthful of fish you don't like the taste of.


Is this 'hot girl food' harmless?

Essentially yes. I think in terms of all things that could become viral, this is fine. 

It's better than other trends like the one where people were eating those multi-coloured detergent pods that looked like lollies or that drink-sculling challenge.

At least now we're eating Omega-3-rich proteins. It could be worse.

It's also a relatively cheap and accessible trend. You won't be forking out loads of cash to get involved. 

Just make sure you choose sustainably caught seafood (you can check the sustainability of your fish here.)

In terms of whether it's harmful to be posting about a trend just because it's cool - let's not be too worried about that either. We're only human. 

Tinned fish in everyday life.

Now that we've covered the theory behind the hot girl/tinned fish relationship, let's look at how the trend is playing out in everyday life. 

Tinned fish is literally everywhere. The category is booming. According to Bloomberg, the global market for canned fish is expected to reach $36.7 billion USD this year, up from $29.75 billion in 2016. It's also set to grow by $23.7 billion over the next five years. 

So you'll continue to see it pop up on restaurant menus. Chefs have always loved tinned fish and you'll often hear them say that it's a 'pantry staple' for them. I once read that Ottolenghi's guilty pleasure food is smoked, tinned oysters. 


Tinned fish in restaurants will often be served as an entrée alongside some kind of starchy vehicle to facilitate fish to mouth.

Tip: If you're a real hot girl you'll put the fish straight from fork to mouth. Such a palette flex. 

The tinned fish trend has also trickled out of restaurants and into supermarkets. (Well, they've always been there, but many have overlooked that section.)

As a tinned fish enthusiast myself, I believe there is a pecking order of tinned fish. I may be adding to the snobbery around the whole trend but I can't help but add my two cents. 

My favourites are:


In terms of recipes, you can't go wrong with some tinned fish and salad for lunch, or get fancy and try something like a Caesar salad with sardines or pasta with anchovies.

Will you jump on the tinned fish bandwagon? Are you already on it? Let me know in the comments below!

Feature image: Instagram/ Fishwife

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