Over the years I have been very lucky to have visited Norway a few times and also cooked and filmed there. On one occasion we even stayed at the Ambassadors residence as we were over there to showcase great British food and regional suppliers.
One thing I have observed about Norwegian food is that its very clean and simple. By that I mean good quality produce, prepared, cooked and served without too much fuss. Salted then dried fish and meat are the bedrock of Norwegian cuisine, and you will find pretty much all Norwegian restaurants serving dishes that involve these base ingredients.
When I was there recently there just happened to be a Saturday food market in the centre of town and I was genuinely surprised at the variety of foods available. Dried salted cod and also whitefish, along with salted air dried legs of hogget called Fenalar were being snapped up by the locals. I enquired about the lamb, and the lady told me that the meat was salted then dried for up to 4 months. She deftly cut a very thin slice for me to try. Once you get past the salty kick, the meat is very smooth and has more of a mutton fat flavour. It really wasn’t what I was expecting, the after taste of the fat did linger quite a while after.
There were a few local cheeses, but not much to shout about and the pancake stall was doing a roaring trade. Just as we were setting off there was a small stall selling salami and more dried meats. The man tried to sell me a pack of 3, reindeer, pork I think and whale! Mmm I know what your thinking, I did enquire as to which species of whale it was made from, he told me Minky. Think its best I leave that right there.
We had a late breakfast at a restaurant called Café Opera. The coffee was excellent and I have to say every coffee I had was superb, they really love their coffee here and pay great attention to it. The menu was short and straight to the point, omelettes and sandwiches, plus a sort of mulligatawny soup, made with chicken. This was full if flavour, and quite spicy. My open smoked fish omelette was fine, if not overcooked, plus I ordered a spiced chicken sandwich that really consisted of 2 flat breads with some chicken mayo and lettuce. One thing I did find was the breads here are very good indeed and every restaurant we went to served top quality and variety.
The Norwegians do have a sweet tooth and the few bakeries I looked in did sell a lovely array of sticky buns, cakes and biscuits. I was tempted to try a Skolebolle, a sort of baked sweet doughnut filled with custard and rolled in desiccated coconut with another superb coffee, it was very nice.
That evening I booked into Dr Wiesener, one of Bergen’s well known restaurants. It took a bit of time to find it, but after bit of hike we found it. Its really a horseshoe shaped bar, with few formica tables and a separate room. The staff are great and very attentive and explained the very short menu to us, only 12 dishes in total. By the time we had arrived most of the menu had changed as they had been busy.
I wanted the air dried lamb salad, but that had been substituted with veal tonnato, which was fine, if not a little overdressed. The fish of the day had been some huge char grilled langoustine, wow!!! No wonder they had sold out, that was replaced with pan fried trout and boiled potatoes, so I went for that. It was fine with no frills. My wife had braised veal, that was superb; I did get a little bit of plate envy.. We finished with a plate of cheese, sadly no Norwegian cheese in sight. The gorgonzola was pretty good though!
Next day we had brunch in another of Bergen’s well known places, Pingvinen and is rated very highly by the locals. Again the menu was pretty short and straight to the point, local dishes feature heavily, served without fuss.
I was quite tempted by the Norwegian cheeses, but not for an early lunch. My wife wanted the Lapskus, a rustic smoked pork stew, but sadly it wasn’t ready, so went for the cauliflower soup, which was fine if not a little watery. I again had the Fenalar with potato salad, simple and straight to the point, livened up with a nice smattering of dill.
Main course was the perennial favourite Plutfisk, Atlantic dried salt cod cooked with mashed potatoes, crisp chunks of bacon and a very thin flatbread. This was a very comforting, packed full of flavour and totally delicious, probably may favourite dish I have eaten on this trip. Other dishes I did want to sample were, deer neck with beetroot and lamb and liver sausages, next time.
If you like simple, well cooked fairly unadventurous food then Bergen will not disappoint. In fairness I didn’t go to ‘top end’ restaurants, I didn’t really want to, plus I don’t really think I would have eaten better food from reading some f the local reviews. Like always ‘you pays your money and takes your choice’ as my father would say, just be careful its rather expensive here.