The Cod in Portugal

A natas, grelhado, a bras,  a Gomes de Sá, cakes, ….the cod (bacalhau in Portuguese) is the star fish of the gastronomy in Portugal. Actually, every portuguese eat 7Kg of cod a year (around 16 pounds), so there is a whole section in the supermarket aimed to the cod.

But, Why Portuguese people eat so much cod?

We have to go back to year 1353 when Peter I of Portugal and the King Edward III of England signed an international fishing agreement that allow Portuguese fishermen to fish in the coasts that belonged to England for 50 years. This agreement was reforced later in 1373 with the Treaty between Portugal and England called “Treaty of friendship, union and perpetual alliance” , that is the oldest active treaty in the world. This treaty has been used by England several times, for example during the Second World War and the Falkland war in order to use the airports and facilities of Portugal Air Force and Army. In the XIV century, the tradition of consuming habitually cod was forged, a cheap and affordable product for most of the people. Another advantage of the cod was that it could be preserved adding salt during 2-3 months and this was necessary beacuse the trips for capturing it lasted a long time. And adding salt also made the cod a non-perishable product, perfect to store it and keep it at home. The cod was a good substitute for other foods (like the pork or cow meat) during the period that were forbidden by Religion.

The fishing of the cod 

Since the signing of the Anglo-Portuguese agreement of 1353 there were expeditions that brought cod from the North Sea and even Terranova and the Arctic Ocean. At the beginning of the 16th century, under the reign of Juan III of Portugal, the fleet of boats responsible for its capture reached the number of 150. They left in May and returned in October, taking advantage of the spawning period in shallower waters.

During the loss of Portuguese independence and the union with Spain in the late sixteenth century, fishing in the New World became difficult and dangerous due to the threat of French and English fleet, enemies of Spain, die to in that period was not valid the bilateral Treaty signed in 1373 between Portugal and England. The fishing was practically interrupted and fish began to be imported.

It would take almost 300 years for cod fishing to be reactivated by Portuguese, although it never reached the same intensity again. In 1891 the “Parceria Geral de Pescarias Lda.” was created. (general fishing company of Portugal). During the years 1930 to 1960, the fishing area was extended to Greenland and the 80% of the Portuguese demand was supplied. During this time there were 51 boats in charge of cod fishing although many of these boats were a little precarious, made of wood and without adequate mechanics.

From 1960 fishing is no longer so fruitful and the number of boats that make up the Portuguese fleet dedicated to cod fishing begins to decline, all helped by the fact that Canada established a maximum fishing quota for foreign fleets what made not worthly to reach there because the volume of catches does not justify it. Therefore, the importation of most of the cod from countries such as Iceland or Norway begins, something that continues to this day.

The Cod in the Portuguese Culture 

Since the fourteenth century the relationship between cod and Portugal was born, with the  time hte cod has become more important and today is a symbol of Portuguese culture. Even the typical Christmas Eve dinner, also called Consoada de Natal, is served cod with cabbage and cooked potato or with turnip tops (tender shoots of the turnip). Also every Friday of Lent traditional dishes with cod are consumed. In fact, the two peaks with the highest consumption of cod in Portugal occur during the Christmas holidays and in August, when the Portuguese who are living abroad return on holiday. Not in vain, Portugal has an industry around cod that exports most of its production to countries like France, Angola and Brazil where there is a significant presence of Portuguese.

Shops for buying bacalhau

If you want to buy cod in a traditional shop in Lisbon, you have to go up to Rua do Arsenal, between Cais de Sobré and Plaza del Comercio, which is where traditionally all the “lojas” were, where people from Lisbon bought cod. Today there are only two stores: “A Perola do Arsenal” and “O Rei do Bacalhau”, although the street was full of them, but they have been replaced by large stores, with whose prices these small stores can not compete. … because Portuguese of course has not stopped consuming it.

Typical Portuguese dishes with cod

  • Bacalhau a natas (It´s a kind of lasagna made with cod, cream, potatoes, onion and grilled with cheese)
  • Bacalhau a bras o dourado (the famous scrambled cod with potatoes)
  • Bacalhau grelhado (grilled cod)
  • Bacalhau a Gomes da Sa (cod with potatoes, olives, onion and hard-boiled egg)
  • Pasteis do bacalhau (small cod cakes)
  • Bacalhau a Ze do Pipo (cod grilled with mayo)
  • Bacalhau a Lagareiro (cod made with olive oil, the Lagareiro was the man in charge of making oil from olives)
  • Bacalhau espiritual (very similar to Bacalhau a natas but with bechamel)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *