Of all the excellent reasons for visiting Norway, food hardly gets a mention. Compared to the northern lights or the magnificence of the fiords and their charming fishing villages, cuisine seems to take a back seat. Despite which, the Norwegian food scene can be surprisingly agreeable.
In a country that extends over more than 385,000 square kilometres with a wide variety of climatic conditions and environments, it would be unfair to recap the national cuisine in a brief description. We can give you some travel advices for one of the more frequently visited spots, the Lofoten islands, with a stop-off at Oslo, the capital city and entry point to the country.
The Lofoten islands
Cliffs overhanging the sea, daylight until midnight in the summer months and the play of northern lights in the winter, villages of red wood houses punctuating lush green fields: the Lofoten archipelago situated above the Arctic Polar Circle and consisting of 7 islands is of a wild and overwhelming beauty. The main industry is that of aquatic farming, cod in particular, which features strongly in most of the typical local dishes in the form of tørrfisk – stockfish, hung out to dry in the wind during the winter months – or klippfisk – salted codfish.
The lively town of Svolvær, the capital of the Lofoten islands, makes an excellent departure point for starting to explore the islands and familiarizing with their cuisine.
The BørsenSpiseri, built on a wharf in 1828, serves local specialities such as Stockfish Royal (Steamed stockfish fillet, stewed carrots, egg butter and potatoes), or Cured whale and Stockfish brandade. Dinner ends on a cheerful note at the pub next door with a shot of aquavit, the traditional liqueur made from potatoes and cumin, served with dried cod skin chips (we told you that cod was the unquestioned protagonist, didn’t we?).
Just a few dozen kilometres away, we come across the fishing village of Henningsvær, with its 450 inhabitants. To bring home the importance of fishing around here, our guide tells us that, from the early age of 7, children earn their pocket money in the fishing factories, cutting off cod tongues.
At Lofotmat , a tiny yet delicious bistro in Nordic style, it is possible to buy local products such as jam and charcuterie, and enjoy simple comforting dishes like prawn soup.
It is possible to stay at the Hattvika Lodge, whose owners offer an authentic cod fishing experience – sea conditions permitting – which can be great fun. In the evening, food is served in an authentic fisherman’s cottage dating back to 1880, which consists of simple yet accurately prepared dishes based on the catch of the day. And for those who fancy it, there is a chance to bathe in an open-air hot tub.
Getting off to a good start…
Frokost (breakfast) in Norway is a very important meal. The Thon Hotel chain, which runs over 40 establishments throughout the country, serves the most lavish of breakfasts. On the Lofoten islands, for instance, the Thon Hotel di Svolvær- the tallest building of the archipelago – offers breakfast with a view of the gulf, gladdened by a live piano performance.
The buffet table is laid out with dozens of types of bread, such as Fjellbrod made from rye flour and mixed seeds, with just as many different cheeses and sauces - comprising Kaviar, mackerel roe paté and Brunost, a sweetish dark coloured cheese, staple foods in any Norwegian larder – smoked and marinated fish, yogurt and spanking fresh juices, berry jams and home-made cakes. On request, the chef is willing to prepare omelettes and eggs of any type, as well as Norwegian pancakes, which are finer than the American version. After a breakfast like that, you are ready to face the most rigid temperatures.
Before going any further, you have to be warned: Oslo is an expensive city. Wildly expensive. The average price of a dinner in a restaurant is prohibitive for any tourist travelling on a budget and even a lunchtime sandwich or a simple breakfast in a snack bar can offer unwelcome surprises when it comes to paying the bill.
Then, if we start to talk about alcohol, the situation is even more dramatic, as expat Camilla Bonetti explains to us in her amusing and useful book From A to Å. Norway: instructions for use: “At the supermarket […] nothing has an alcohol content of over 5%. Alcohol can only be sold until 18.00 during the week and until 16.00 on Saturday. To buy wine and spirits you have to go to the Vinmonopolet, the state-owned retailer of alcoholic beverages located in every town. It offers products from all over the world, at prices that make your head ache”.
Our advice? The indoor market of Mathallen offers thirty venues comprising hipster cafés, bistros, street food corners and stores selling local and international specialities at – relatively – affordable prices. Here, beer enthusiasts will be in their element at Hopyard and Øltorget, respectively a store and a pub with a selection of Norwegian craft beer that is one of the best in the country. ---If, on the other hand, money is no object, we remind you that Oslo is the home town of Maaemo, the most northerly three Michelin starred restaurant in the world, where a gourmet menu with wine pairings will set you back about 600 Euros.