Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Social Sciences, Media and Communication


Food is more than what we eat. Food is also a cultural and social marker inscribed by relations of power, class, ethnicity and gender. This is what makes food a powerful cultural signifier. Grounded by the concept of national dishes I explore the role of food in the production of cultural identities. I use bacalhau as a tool of analysis because bacalhau (codfish) is the main ingredient of the Portuguese national dish. I examine what constitutes a national dish and explore why, how, and for what purposes a fish, which is not a Portuguese native species, has been recognised as the national culinary icon.

Using qualitative methods of research, I investigate multiple sites where cultural representations of bacalhau come into view. I draw on interviews with Portuguese chefs and food writers. I analyse a range of textual sources and I evaluate the main exhibition in the Museum of Ilhavo, which is dedicated to the practice of bacalhau-fishing.

The findings of this study are significant because they hinge on the role of food as a marker of difference. Based on these results I argue that bacalhau has been made a cultural signifier through historically bound processes that are manifested in various ways. Indeed, in the early decades of the twentieth century bacalhau was made to connote the nation through the deployment of representational strategies that produced “imagined communities” and unified national cultures. At the cusp of the twenty first century, chefs and food writers are using a new lexicon – cozinha d’autor, cozinha da terra and matrix of flavours – to use food (and bacalhau) as a cultural signifier that demarcates difference and articulates the tensions between the local and the non-local, between tradition and innovation, between sameness and hybridity.

By asserting its role as a cultural signifier, bacalhau confers membership with the nation and contributes to the production of cultural identities. Hence, this study contributes to an evaluation of bacalhau as an instrumental marker of Portugueseness that re-asserts cultural difference and re-defines the local in the current European pan-national context.