“Reaching Bergen we fail to find it particularly attractive. Everything is fishy. You eat fish, and drink fish and smell fish and breathe fish.” Lilian Leland, Travelling Alone A Woman’s Journey Round the World, 1890.
Brightly painted houses on the quayside
Yes everything in Bergen is fishy, but for this traveller it only added to the attraction. The traditional brightly coloured wooden houses of Bergen with their crooked laneways that run between them line the busy port where cruise ships and fishing boats still ply their trade. The focal point of the town is the fish market, an open air affair that still functions as a place to buy fish for Bergen’s citizens as well as offering various lunch options for visitors.
Crab claws for sale at the Fiskertorget
Bergen Fish Market (Fiskertorget)
The stalls at the Fiskertorget are piled high with huge crabs, fat, juicy prawns and gleaming pieces of fish. Friendly stallholders dressed in flourescent overalls offer a series of dishes that you can eat at tiny tables and chairs. Buns topped with smoked salmon or cooked prawns (30k or £3 each) were typical Scandinavian fare according to my friend Anna who we were travelling with and delicious to boot as well. Salmon steak and prawns cooked on a BBQ that imparted a lovely smokey, charred flavour were served in a “meal deal” with a drink and some salad (150k or £15). For the total Bergen experience though it is hard to go past the Bergen fish soup (70k or £7), a local speciality that was traditionally made using the bones of coal fish to form the stock and given some extra oomph with pickled purslane and whatever vegetables were to hand. The modern version is more likely to feature haddock as a base which is blended with vegetables to give the soup a creamy, thick consistency. Pieces of fish were flecked throughout along with carrots and celery for some texture. It was really packed with flavour although a bit overseasoned for my taste.
Details: Bergen Harbour, Bergen, Norway (Ph +47 55 55 20 00)
Fish wasn’t the only thing on offer at the fiskertorget there was also fresh berries and fruit and jams
Norway is also famous for its cinnamon buns so we could not resist the opportunity to try them in Baker Brun, a small cafe on the wharf that had come recommended. The cinnamon buns were huge scrolls with copious amounts of crunchy sugar sprinkled over the top. Baker Brun’s version verged on the side of being too dry so if you visit it may be worth trying Grodt Baker instead for buns which is also nearby and looked to be a better bet.
Details: Torget 2, Bergen, Norway (Ph +47 55 31 51 08)
Restaurants in hotels are often best avoided but with a recommendation from a local to try Sott og Salt for contemporary Norwegian cuisine I ignored the location of the restaurant in the Radisson Hotel. Sott og Salt offers a set menu each night with a choice of three, five or seven courses. We opted for five courses (645k or £65) although MTV boyfriend said confidently “this is a posh restaurant so we will get lots of little free courses”. Sure enough, an amuse bouche of a kindler jar filled with delicate scallop foam swiftly arrived.
Lobster with apple and pea shoots
Next was sweet, meaty lobster teamed with slices of apple and pea shoots in a confection that was so pretty it was a shame to eat it. We opted for two “main” courses, the first was a fillet of exquisite Norwegian ocean trout topped with roe which tasted like a more intensely flavoured version of salmon. It was served with a smear of pureed parsnip and red onion that had been slow cooked until it was soft and sweet. The second was lamb which was cooked to a tender blush pink and smothered in a thick dark sauce with chanterelle and oyster mushrooms scattered over the plate. As with Icelandic lamb, I felt the Norwegian lamb had a distinctive, light flavour which must come from surviving in such a harsh climate.
Norwegian ocean trout
The only miss on the menu was the dessert of blue cheese with Norwegian plums. The plums were slow cooked to a sweet, soft state of jammy perfection but the cheese was served as a foam littered with tiny pieces of oatmeal biscuit. This was the case of a foam to far when the actual cheese would have been much preferable. The dessert was really the only fault I can find in what was otherwise cutting edge food. Service was fairly slow and more work is needed to give the restaurant some atmosphere and make it feel less like an extension of the hotel lobby, but the food itself was stunning. If what I ate at Sott og Salt was representative of contemporary Norwegian cuisine then it is certainly something I want to try more of.
Dessert of blue cheese and Norwegian plums
Details: Radisson Blu, Hotel Norge Nedre Ole Bulls plass, Bergen 5012, Norway (Ph +47 4000 3713)
Damage: Budget Breaking
Gourmet Traveller Tips
We spent our time in Bergen wandering around the fish market and quaint wooden buildings then we walked to the lookout which gives you a view over the whole of Bergen. If you are feeling lazy you can take a funicular to the lookout.
Bring a rain jacket and umbrella – it rains a lot in Bergen and stock up on alcohol at the airport duty free as it is highly taxed in Norway. The duty free at the Bergen airport is open for every incoming flight and is priced similarly to the UK.
We stayed at Sandviken apartments which were pretty basic but clean and centrally located. They charged k3,500 (£350) for six people for two nights which is a bargain for Bergen.
If you liked reading this you might be interested in my other travels in Norway in Flam and Sognefjorden.