Among such familiar variables such as the love for a craft or a national tradition, the maintenance of a legacy is complex, involving an entire process very similar to the desalting of the cod. Both require dedication, clear techniques and, above all, something that’s becoming increasingly scarce these days, even if it is found practically anywhere: time. The passage of the testimony – like the desalting process – goes through more stagnant phases and delicate moments of waiting. Today, it’s the original owner’s daughters who report with loyalty the epic journey of Batista do Bacalhau, one of the most famous houses in the region of Aveiro and the last reservoir of the most traditional Portuguese snack: The cod, of course.
Born in 1930, António Ferreira Baptista was as multidisciplinary as his energy allowed. A man of endless trades, he led horses as a cartwright, fulfilled the mandatory military service, worked on the railroads and as an artisan of the clay, served as a storekeeper, imported several items into the wine industry and did so many other things that no longer fit in this paragraph. Beyond these professions, he always maintained good relations with his fellow countrymen and was readily classified as a good listener, expert speaker and owner of an enviable handwriting. It was inevitable then that the history of this house would also be the history of his deeds, of how he emigrated within the country, of how in an era of intense farming he threw to the earth the seeds of friendships that once helped him and still remember him to this day. This was Batista. Now let’s talk about the cod (Bacalhau).
The year was 1963 and opportunity arose to explore a space in Aveiro’s Forca zone that Batista and his wife promptly tried to seize. With an eclectic offer of gastronomic treasures, the establishment that was located near the city’s current railroad station was doing the wonders of the villagers who were served rice with onion cutlets, liver baits, sliced stewed tongue, cooked casings, and everything else the family matriarch could, and knew how to cook. The quality of these dishes was exalted by those who ate there at lunch or at any other time, such was the readiness of the offer.
Ten years later the family house begins to be built with their own hands, in the present space of the restaurant. Little by little, the most intimate place of the household is being opened to customers from all over the region, and its space unfolds between a varied grocery store, a wine parlour and a drugstore, with the back space being reserved for snack tasting.
The love for cod was old – from the time it was sold in pieces, with the price tag still on it – and it was so great that it was enough to convert people who had never tasted it, into unconditional adepts of this delicacy. This was a recurrent exercise, but make no mistake: the cod was still far from being the flag dish of this restaurant. Although it was only served for lunch, it was reserved for inveterate lovers and patrons who knew what was coming. Only later, thanks to a recipe provided by a sea cook, the cod was eventually sold as a fully-fledged meal.
Somewhere in the 80’s, there was another turning point that helped to give Batista do Bacalhau an iconic status. A group of agrarian workers requested beef and cod for their meal. In the final stretch of the banquet, they were denied a new portion of cod, requested by themselves. Outraged, they blubbered and said they were robbed. From then on, Batista’s indication was to serve the cod in full, rather than in a final chipped form. Its price would accompany this transformation and the consolidation of a gastronomic legend was beginning to take shape.
Immediately before the millennium, the old building was demolished to make way for today’s restaurant which is by now fully equipped and provided with the best of conditions. The Norwegian consul will certainly agree: accompanied by his wife and friends, he religiously travels to S. Bernardo (only) with the intention of tasting this delicacy, having already become one of the restaurant’s main clients.
It goes without saying that any business should be run with dedication, heartfelt sweat and unconditional love. Although this might not be new, the tradition withheld by Batista’s descendants represents the purest of things that can be found in an inheritance.