It may seem strange that Portugal is so obsessed with bacalhau (salt cod), a species that is only found in the icy depths of the North Atlantic Ocean, far from its shores. How exactly did it get on Portuguese plates?

Bacalhau is the main ingredient of Portuguese cuisine, which consumes 20% of the world’s supply. The Portuguese love this fish, so much so that it is said to have “365 ways to prepare salted cod, one for each day of the year.” Around the end of the 14th century, the Portuguese navy learned that dried and salted fish could be preserved for years in holds, making it the perfect food for long ocean journeys. This is when the long culinary tradition of bacalhau recipes began. António de Oliveira Salazar, the 20th-century dictator of Portugal, organized a “cod campaign” in 1934 to resurrect the nation’s fishing (and drying) industry and make cod the nation’s symbol. However, because of the difficult, draining, and usually dangerous nature of the work, many of the men never made it home to their families. Because of this complicated past, cod is deeply loved in Portugal.

The extent to which the nation must go in order to obtain this fish from the North Atlantic is indeed difficult. But the Portuguese’s affection for it will endure for many centuries.