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National symbol

“Portugal – Europe’s largest codfish consumer”

“My novels, deep down, are French, as I am, in almost everything, a Frenchman – except for a certain sincere background of lyrical sadness that is a Portuguese characteristic, in a depraved taste for the fadinho, and in the just love for codfish with onions!”

Eça de Queiroz in a letter to a friend, 1884

Cod is the fish of fish

A symbol of wealth and prosperity. Abundance and scarcity. Ecology and business. Food and culture. Reality and legend.

How can a fish that does not exist in the Portuguese sea become a Gastronomy icon and a symbol of national identity? The answer lies in History.

If it is true that the consumption of codfish in Portugal began to become widespread in the 16th century, the first contact with this fish dates back to ancient times. The codfish arrived in the Iberian Peninsula through the Vikings, who exchanged this fish for salt. 

Later, with the discoveries, the Portuguese were pioneers in setting up fishing boats to fish in the designated Newfoundland of the codfish. From then on, fishing became a long-haul economic activity, not only for the Portuguese, but also for Spaniards and French, among others, in Newfoundland and Labrador.

In the 50s and 60s of the last century, thanks to the impulse of the Estado Novo, codfish fishing had reached its peak. The fleets of codfish fishing boats guaranteed 70% of national codfish consumption, helping to make the Portuguese the world’s largest consumers of this fish.

And the codfish became the “Loyal Friend“, symbol of culture and Portugal.

The faithful friend


The religious practices widely spread in Portugal were decisive in the process that established codfish as the greatest symbol of Portuguese culture. Abstaining from eating meat at predetermined times led the Portuguese to seek other alternatives.

In times when it was difficult to eat fresh fish, cod was the solution for every sector of the population. From the richest to the least wealthy.

Portugal is considered the world’s largest consumer of salted codfish: 62,000 tonnes per year, according to the Association of Cod Industries (AIB).

The expression “faithful friend” has been documented for more than 200 years in popular literature.

“Judas’ torments”, popular prayers said in public and in the rituals of the burning of Judas on the Holy Saturday, celebrated the end of the “lean days” associated with Lent and made codfish the target of popular satire as the “faithful friend” was buried.

The fuzzy origins of the parable of the “faithful friend” are rooted in this widespread consumption of codfish and, above all, in its affordability and ease of conservation, as well as in the protection it provides for stomachs and souls.

(Álvaro Garrido, historian).

Maritime museum of Ílhavo

The Maritime Museum of Ílhavo (MMI) was founded on 8 August 1937. Its mission is to preserve the memory of the work at sea, promoting the culture and maritime identity of the Portuguese.

Santo André ship

The Santo André museum ship is a hub of the Maritime Museum of Ílhavo. It was part of the Portuguese cod-fishing fleet and intended to illustrate the trawling gear. This side trawling (or “classic trawling”) was created in 1948, in Holland, by orders of the Fishing Company of Aveiro. It was a modern vessel, 71.40 metres long, with a hold for 20,000 quintals of fish (1,200 tons).

Gil Eanes hospital ships

It operated as a support vessel for the cod-fishing fleet between 1955 and 1973. It was converted into a museum in 1998, in Viana do Castelo, where it is today.

Special dates and codfish

Codfish and christmas 

The tradition of eating codfish on Christmas Eve is deeply rooted in Portugal, as well as in the communities where Portuguese culture is present.

Over the centuries, the Christian influence has dictated the rule of fasting and penance in the preparation of religious holidays, such as Christmas, leading people to abstain from eating food considered more noble, such as meat.

On Christmas Eve, just before the midnight Christmas celebration, codfish became the meal par excellence, since it was available to the entire population in the middle of winter. All the social strata had access to the “faithful friend”, which thus established itself as a gastronomic icon of Christmas.

Codfish and easter

Just like at Christmas, codfish became a reference meal in Easter celebrations.

The same religious heritage of fasting and penance associated with Lent (particularly on very significant days such as Good Friday) has made codfish a preferential option over meat.

In Portugal and in the countries where the Portuguese culture is present, this tradition of religious origin has spread to the point that codfish is even served to celebrate Easter Day, as it happens in some regions and countries, for example, in Brazil.