For a fish that is found only in the frigid depths of the North Atlantic Ocean, far from Portugal’s coastlines, the country’s obsession with bacalhau (salt cod) is indeed perplexing. How exactly did it come to be on Portuguese plates?

It might arrive at your table con natas, hot from the oven and bubbling with cream, sandwiched between fried potatoes and sliced onions, and seasoned with nutmeg. Mouth-sized garlic and parsley-flavored pastéis-style fried potato dumplings can also be purchased for a stroll along the banks of Porto’s Douro River. Bacalhau is the heart of these recipes and others, ingrained in the culinary identity of Portugal, which consumes 20% of the global supply. In fact, this ingredient is so adored in Portuguese culture (and cuisine), that “there are 365 ways to prepare salted cod, one for each day of the year.” The long culinary legacy of bacalhau dishes started when the Portuguese navy discovered that dried and salted fish could be stored for years in holds, making it the ideal nourishment for lengthy ocean voyages, around the end of the 14th century. The dictator of Portugal in the 20th century, António de Oliveira Salazar, led a “cod campaign” in 1934 to revive the country’s fishing (and drying) industry and establish cod as a national emblem. However, this was arduous, exhausting, and frequently hazardous work, and many of the men never returned to their families. Because of this complicated past, cod is so deeply loved in Portugal.

Perhaps, despite the lengths the country has to go to secure this North Atlantic fish, the passion for it will continue to flow through Portuguese veins for generations to come.