Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Buried Salmon in Bergen

When the rays are glittering across Bergen harbor on a sunny summer day, the fish market, or fisketorget, seems literally to sparkle as visitors and locals gather to shop, browse, and eat.
The hub of this bustling port city for several hundred years, this famous market is full of stands heaped high with delights of the sea and that Scandinavian favorite, deep-hued gravadlax.

Bergen’s history stretches back as far as the 11th century, and in its heyday it was a headquarters for the Hanseatic League – northern Europe’s dominating trade alliance in the late Middle Ages. The league was made up of German and Scandinavian seafaring merchants, and the legacy of the German merchants can still be experienced in the oldest, most charming of the city’s neighborhoods, known as Bryggen. A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1979, the 62 gently leaning wooden merchants’ houses here have been lovingly restored to their former glory, and wandering among these rickety antique houses is like entering a wooden maze. Several have been opened up as museums, while others sell typical Norwegian handicrafts, from fluffy knitwear to ornate Sami reindeer-bone knives.
Fish has always played a vital role in Bergen – it was responsible for drawing the Hanseatic League to the town’s shores in the 13th century, at around the same time that one of Norway’s national dishes par excellence, gravadlax, appeared on the culinary scene.
This signature dish, today most often served as an appetizer, was invented by fishermen, who would salt and then bury their freshly caught salmon, leaving it to ferment in the sand at high tide. “Grav” literally means “grave,” and “burying” the salmon gave it a very distinctive flavor. These days you won’t see any Norwegians digging up their dish of the day from the beaches, but gravadlax remains just as tasty, having been “buried” and cured in a marinade of salt, sugar, dill, and often a dash of aquavit or gin.
Much has changed in Bergen since the fish-trading of the Middle Ages, but the scene at the fish market is every bit as lively, as gregarious sellers vie for customers against the backdrop of the Hanseatic houses. Stands are piled high with bright orange or pink gravadlax, smoked salmon, rosy shrimp, purple lobsters, red crayfish, and apricot-colored mussels.
Open sandwiches stacked with fish and seafood call out to be eaten from improvised cafés with rustic wooden benches. It’s not hard to imagine a merchant in the Middle Ages tucking into the same dishes on the same spot some 600 years ago.

Above :The beautiful Lofoten Islands can be reached by plane or coastal liner from Bergen

Above :  Gravadlax with fresh dill and black peppercorns
Best Places to Eat Gravadlax
Enhjørningen Fish Restaurant
Enhjørningen Fish Restaurant, Bergen’s oldest fish restaurant, is steeped in the city’s history, housed as it is in an old Hanseatic wharf house in the Bryggen quarter near the harbor. Parts of the building date from the 14th century and the enchanting decor gives you the feeling of having stepped into the living room of an old merchant’s house, complete with antique furniture and paintings.
The menu ranges from the traditional to the more adventurous, with an emphasis on fresh local fish and seafood. Top choice must be their gravadlax, which is cured in aquavit – a caraway-flavored schnapps – and served with mustard sauce. For those with a hearty appetite, there are plenty of other unusual dishes to sample, including rakørret (cured trout – another traditional Norwegian dish) and vendace roe, a specialty. The three-course tasting menus, one of which includes the gravadlax dish, are particularly good buys.
Enhjørningsgården 29, Bergen; open 4–11 PM daily, closed Sun Sep–mid-May; www.enhjorningen.no
Also in Bergen
To taste some exquisite homemade gravadlax, try newly opened Cornelia Seafood Restaurant (+47 55 011 885; moderate), somewhat ironically located in the old meat market area. Alf Roald Sætre and Odd Einar Tufteland, the men behind the establishment, really know their seafood. In 2004 they opened one of the city’s most popular seafood and fish restaurants, Cornelius Restaurant (www. cornelius-restauranter.no; moderate), reached only by boat from central Bergen. Both restaurants are worth a visit for the sheer variety of fresh fish and seafood they offer; they also have no less than five different recipes for home-cured gravadlax, which is available to buy in the fishmonger’s next door to the Cornelia Restaurant.
Also in Norway
In Stavanger, Sjøhuset Skagen (www. sjohusetskagen.no; expensive), housed in an old, bright-red-painted timbered building, serves home-cured gravadlax with the traditional accompaniments of salad, mustard dressing, and dark rye bread.
Around the World
The Smörgås Chef (www.smorgas.com; inexpensive) has no less than three prime locations across New York, offering the very best of Scandinavian cuisine, including their own home-cured gravadlax. A special treat is their aquavit-cured salmon with traditional cucumber-dill salad and mustard sauce.
Food with a View
Bergen is surrounded by de syv fjell (“the seven peaks”), mountains with stunning views of Bergen and the nearby islands and fjords.
Several offer foodie experiences with a view. Fløien Folkerestaurang (www.bellevuerestauranter.
no), one of the Historic Restaurants of Norway, is reached by the Fløibanen Funicular Railway, one of Bergen’s main sights. Its old, atmospheric building is open daily in summer for traditional Norwegian cooking. Mount Ulriken, reached by bus and gondola from central Bergen, has the city’s highest restaurant, Sky:skraperen (www.ulriken643.no). It serves gravadlax and other traditional dishes. Jacob Aall Bar & Brasserie (www.jacobaall.no) offers good views without the need to climb a peak first. Located on top of a tall downtown building, you can admire the views from the bar on the premises.
A Day in Bergen
You can easily explore Bergen in a day; walk around the center and use the funicular for the surrounding peaks.
MORNING : Start the morning with a stroll around the harbor area and the Bryggen UNESCO site – a walk among these old wooden buildings is a step back in time. The Quarter has existed since the mid-14th century, but most of the wooden houses still standing date from 1704, after the great fire of 1702. Visit the Hanseatic Museum and Schøtstuene, the old Assembly Rooms.
AFTERNOON  : Walk to the fish market and wander around it to admire the stands of fish and seafood. Choose one of the great places serving lunch. Then take the Fløibanen Funicular Railway for a swift ride up to Mount Fløyen with gorgeous views over the city.
EVENING : In summer the funicular is open until midnight so you can stay late in the mountains enjoying the extraordinary light. Beware that Bergen is “blessed” with abundant rainfall, and if the day starts off sunny, reverse the itinerary, starting with the funicular railway.
Getting to Bergen
Bergen lies on the coast of western Norway.
Flights arrive at Flesland International Airport and there are shuttle buses and taxis to the downtown, 12 miles (20 km) away.
Where to stay in Bergen
Hanseatic Hotel Bergen (inexpensive) has 16 unique rooms within the Bryggen UNESCO site.
Augustin Hotel (moderate) is the oldest family-run hotel in Bergen, with a cozy restaurant and bar. www.augustin.no
Clarion Collection Hotel Havnekontoret (expensive) is Bergen’s most luxurious hotel.
Fresco Hall, Vågsallmenning Square (opposite the fish market); +47 55 552 000

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