BERGEN (Norway), Dec 31 — How do Norwegians eat? We wonder if they adhere to that Scandinavian stereotype of open-faced sandwiches or is there a secret, utterly Norwegian ingredient we’ve yet to uncover?
Well, there’s only one way to find out — and that’s to eat our way through every meal, the way a Norwegian would.
In Bergen, we start our day with frokost (breakfast) at Det Lille Kaffekompaniet (The Little Coffee Company), a tiny and aptly named café close to the popular Fløibanen funicular.
Even before the aroma of freshly-brewed coffee reaches us, we are charmed by the gentle cobblestone path that leads us to the little café.
As the second largest consumer of coffee in the world (9.9 kilograms per capita, behind only the Finnish), Norwegians are particular about their coffee. Nordic coffee culture was Third Wave long before the rest of the world — good quality espressos and drip coffees are the norm here rather than the exception.
Co-founded by Carl Eugen Johannessen and now owned by Hans Flø, Det Lille Kaffekompaniet uses beans from Solberg & Hansen, Norway’s biggest specialty coffee roastery.
We enjoy an Ethiopian brew (made with a French press) that is redolent of blueberries. Perfect to go with that quintessential Norwegian pastry — the skillingsbolle or cinnamon bun. Unlike their American cousins, Norwegian cinnamon buns aren’t leaden with a thick glaze; only a light dusting of sugar is needed, making it less of a guilt trip.
Time for lunsj (lunch). In Norway, heavier meals in traditional restaurants tend to be relegated to the evenings. Lunsj calls for something lighter and more casual.
Smørbrød (open-faced sandwiches) fit the bill perfectly. For some of the tastiest smørbrød in Bergen, we stroll towards the quiet neighbourhood of Stølegaten where a cosy little soup bar called Bastant is located.
Run by Giovanni Sanchez and Jakub Nadolski, Bastant offers supper (soups, that great Norwegian favourite) to go with their smørbrød. Everything is homemade — not just the soups and sandwiches, but even the salsas and cinnamon-accented ketchups.
Soups and sandwiches vary daily. So you might have their cauliflower and broccoli soup drizzled with Spanish olive oil with their mozzarella and tomato smørbrød one day, and enjoy your Serrano ham and Manchego cheese sandwich with a spicier Thai-inspired curry pork soup the next. Pairing their beef and lentil soup with their hummus smørbrød will keep you full for hours — perfect for exploring the city.
(More coffee — a cappuccino, perhaps — is necessary to ensure we don’t sleepwalk for the remainder of our Bergen eating tour.)
For te tid (teatime) or a matbit (snack), we head over to Hallaisen, an artisanal ice cream parlour run by Bergen native She-Fah Szetu and her Malaysian partner May Yee (who co-founded The Last Polka in Kuala Lumpur).
The name “Hallaisen” is how Bergen locals say hello to each other, so it’s fitting that conversations are started here over the delicious ice cream.
Families enjoy Hallaisen’s creamy scoops both inside this shop along Skostredet and outside on the benches, basking in the rare sunny day in famously rainy Bergen. The basics include sjokolade (chocolate), jordbær (strawberry), bringebær (raspberry) and vanilje (vanilla). Common flavours, yes, but uncommonly good here when made with the freshest and best ingredients.
As a nod to Yee’s Malaysian roots, there are South-east Asian influences in many of the ice cream flavours such as tropisk salt karamell (made with gula Melaka), vegansk kokos & lime (creamy coconut with a dash of lime) and Vietnamesisk kaffe (dark roast arabica beans blended with sweet condensed milk).
Szetu’s Norwegian heritage isn’t left out either as evidenced by very local flavours such as melk & honning (milk with heather honey from Voss), øl & espresso (crafted from Lysefjorden’s Oatmeal Porter and Bergen Kaffebrenneri’s Espresso Debut) and my personal favourite — the classic skillingsbolle, in ice cream form!
For evening meals, Norwegians either have an early dinner (middag), usually around 4-5pm, or supper (kveldsmat) at a later hour, around 7-8pm. A good idea would be to catch the sunset at the Bergen harbour before tucking into a hearty meal at Lokalt og Lekkert, a shop at the fish market that specialises in traditional Norwegian fare.
We reckon nothing is more Norwegian than tucking into a hval (whale) burger. Here the whale steak comes from a Norsk Vågehval (Norwegian Minke whale) and isn’t fishy at all. In fact, it tastes slightly beefy, almost gamey, making us wonder if this was what Vikings ate during their heyday (though, possibly, without the soft buns encasing the whale meat).
The sea theme continues with sjømat pasta (fettuccine with mussels and codfish in a white wine sauce) and the humongous skalldyrtallerken (shellfish) platter of shrimp, stone-crab claws, king crab and steamed mussels — a decadent spread, indeed.
For something more heart-healthy, the dampet laks (steamed Norwegan salmon) with asparagus, pickled cucumber and a dill sour cream dressing is lovely.
How do Norwegians eat? We’ve seen uniquely Nordic traits such as the use of cinnamon in everything from pastries to ketchup to their seafarer dedication to whale meat, for example.
But above all, it’s the use of the freshest and best quality ingredients that make eating in Norway such a pleasurable experience — and one we can’t wait to repeat again soon!
Det Lille Kaffekompaniet
Nedre Fjellsmauet 2, Bergen, Norway
Open Mon-Fri 10am-8pm; Sat-Sun 10am-6pm
Tel: +47 55 32 92 72
Stølegaten 8A, Bergen, Norway
Open daily 11am-11pm
Tel: +47 969 50 050
Skostredet 5, Bergen, Norway
Open Tue-Wed 11am-7pm, Thu 11am-1am, Fri-Sat 11am-2am, Sun 12pm-7pm, Mon closed
Tel: +47 928 73 112
Lokalt og Lekkert
Strandkaien 3, Bergen, Norway
Open daily 8am-11pm
Tel: +47 989 05 555