Norwegian cuisine usually does not come to mind when the Nordic country is mentioned, and perhaps rightly so: the Scandinavian countries tend to be perceived as having a weaker gastronomic identity. Nonetheless, Norway, and in particular Bergen’s, legacy as a trading port for fish means that the history of food-related goods can be traced back to the Hanseatic League. The country’s cuisine traditionally emphasises the resources that can be found in Norway’s countryside and seas, particular focusing on game and fish. And there is arguably no better place to try a cross-section of Norwegian cuisine in Bergen.
Bergen’s proximity to the sea makes seafood a logical staple of food in Bergen. Bergen boasts one of the world’s more famous fish markets Fisketorget – where it is lacking in size, it makes up for in exotic seafood and game. In displays neighbouring Norway’s famous smoked salmon and giant crab legs, it is not difficult to find smoked whale meat or reindeer sausages. Many fishmongers have an adjoining restaurant, allowing you to sample the freshest of seafood. In the summer, the fish market sprawls into the surrounding square, invading the Bergen’s picturesque waterfront.
Where can you sample traditional Norwegian fare in Bergen? The restaurants Enhjørningen and Bryggen Tracteursted, both near Bryggen, are perhaps more expensive choices. I personally opted for Pingvinen, an intimate gastrobar which serves traditional, “home-cooked” food. Other good meals included Zupperia, a centrally located restaurant which serves good value-for-money food in enormous portions, as well as Trekoneren, a late-night eatery offering various hot dogs, even ones made out of reindeer meat.
Recent years have brought about a sea change in the Scandinavian food scene. Christopher Haatuft, in particular, catalysed the change in 2012 when he opened the “neo-fjordic” Lysverket, tucked away in a tiny corner in the KODE art gallery. Traditionally bland and largely functional Nordic cuisine has been reinvented: for instance, the conventional Fiskesuppe, a form of Bergen fish chowder, was simply thickened with flour with little flourish. Haatuft lifts the flavour by including large bites of pickled carrots and celeriac and finishing the dish with a drizzle of leek oil, elevating the simple and everyday dish. Many new restaurants have followed in the stead of Lysverket: the gastronomic Colonialen, the Norway-themed tapas of Bare Vestland, and the seafront Cornelius Sjømatrestaurant, reachable only by a designated boat, which offers both a meal and a whole culinary and gastronomic experience.
No mention of Bergen is truly complete without bringing up the city’s coffee shops. The city, permeated by an artsy ambiance, is home to a few great coffee shops. Det Lille Kaffekompaniet is by a street corner but a few steps away from the popular Fløibanen, but is hidden enough to be eschewed by crowds. Tens of metres away is Kaffemisjonen, a large and somewhat more popular coffee shop which offers several single-origin coffees. Further from the centre and across the university district is Bergen Kaffeebrenneri, where they roast their own coffee beans in an intimate and secluded space. Another good choice is Litteraturhuset, a literary space and bookshop with an adjoining café in the heart of the city.