I’ll be honest. I’m not the biggest fan of dried fish. I should give it another chance, I suppose. I had my chance in Nazaré, Portugal and missed it. Maybe next time.

I know…I know…it’s full of Omega 3 and vitamin D and it helps regulate blood sugar. It just isn’t appealing to me. (And, by the way, those people on various travel sites who I’ve read complaining about it being too hard and rough to eat…you do know you’re supposed to soak and cook it, right?)

But what a fascinating process to watch.

In Nazaré, there is what is called the Fish Drying Museum where fish are dried in the sun on the beach as they have been for hundreds of years.

Before Nazaré became known for the 100 foot surfable waves that form off the North Beach in the winter (yes, that was how I first heard of it), it was a fishing village.

Traditional fishing boats now on display on the beach

Though the local population probably derives most of their income from tourism these days, there are still local fishermen (and women) going out to set their nets in the Atlantic. Sardines, mackerel, turbot, octopus, squid, and red fish are hauled in. You know the fish in the market and restaurants are fresh. They we’re probably still swimming while you were doing the breakfast dishes.

Back in the days before refrigeration, if there were excess fish in the day’s haul, they had to be quickly preserved. Fish decay quickly, but brined and dried fish can last much longer. The toxic microorganisms that would render unpreserved fish inedible need water to grow.

Brining the fish

When the boats arrived each morning, fish were quickly bought up by the townspeople. What wasn’t sold was quickly skinned, filleted, brined, and hung on wood-framed mesh in the sun. On a sunny, breezy day, the fish would be dried by sunset. While the fishermen were out the next morning, their wives would sell the dried fish.

The ancient practice is alive and well on the city beach where the process is done the same way it has been done for generations. The fish are prepared and the racks are filled in an area adjoining a display of traditional boats. Women still sell the fish to customers on the nearby walkway just as their great-grandmothers’ great- grandmothers did.

Nazaré is a modern town with a firm grasp on its past (more on that in and upcoming post), but watching (and smelling) this living history unfold on this beautiful beach is something you don’t want to miss.