Taste

A New Onboard Menu that Pays Homage to 1893

Norwegian food never forgot its roots.

WORDS TIM McGLONE

Taste

A New Onboard Menu that Pays Homage to 1893

Norwegian food never forgot its roots.

WORDS TIM McGLONE

Local King Crab.

It would be slightly misleading to say Norwegian cuisine has come a long way since Hurtigruten’s original voyage in the late 19th century.

Sure, it’s been modernised and influenced by cuisines from further south – not to mention the globalisation that has brought western fast-food conglomerates barging in like everywhere else. Yet Norway’s food has managed to retain many of its traditional core values. If a passenger from that maiden voyage almost 130 years ago was to see a menu from a modern Norwegian restaurant today, they would have no trouble recognising the meals available. Fresh seafood from the bountiful North Atlantic and Arctic oceans still underpins much of the diet and economy of Norway, while reindeer herds in the north provide another traditional staple. In fact, while small-scale farming and ‘paddock to plate’ have become fashionable throughout the rest of the world they have both been commonplace here for years. In other words, Norway was doing it before it was cool. This is something Hurtigruten’s Head Chef Øistein Nilsen is proud of. “It’s one of the core values of our food. Hurtigruten are actually sailing over the world’s best seafood platter in a way,” Nilsen says.

Soup, fish, meat, dessert and coffee on the menu in 1931.

A Hurtigruten dining room circa 1930.

Seafood is very important to our country, and a lot of our food is sourced from this sea.

— Head Chef Øistein Nilsen

Hurtigruten Head Chef Øistein Nilsen.

“Seafood is very important to our country, and a lot of our food is sourced from this sea. “It’s a no-brainer that we need to use the shellfish and seaweed that grows along the coast of Norway, and it’s the best seafood in the world. “With the cold waters and the nutrients that come from the Atlantic, it’s quite amazing how good the quality of the fish is. “But I would say the flora, the herbs, the meat, and the farms along the coast are equally important as the seafood, because they all make up Norway’s coastal cuisine.”

The world's best seafood is along the coast of Norway, according to Nilsen.

Generally, Hurtigruten might change the menu twice a year to reflect seasonal changes, but Nilsen is also preparing a special menu for next year’s 130th anniversary celebrations. The strategy is not to recreate what was being eaten in 1893, but to pay homage to it. Not that this is particularly difficult when you consider Norway’s commitment to culinary tradition. “We will try to go back in time,” he says. “It’s a long time ago. I don’t know if there were refrigerators back then. They would have been eating a lot of salted meat, cured fish, smoked fish and smoked meat – things that could last a long time without proper temperature gauges.

Nilsen has been with Hurtigruten for a decade.

Dinner served at Torget restaurant on board MS Polarlys.

“They boiled a lot of the meat and fish. There were bread puddings, easy desserts, and compotes. “And if I combine that with what we are doing now, I think it’s easy, because we are doing a lot of traditional dishes already.” Born in the very north of the country, in Kirkenes, Nilsen studied there for several years before moving to Oslo where he worked at the Michelin-starred restaurant Bølgen og Moi. After a long stint there he joined Hurtigruten, where he has been for the last 10 years.

The menu generally changes twice a year, to reflect seasonal changes in produce. In 2023 there will be a special 130 year anniversary menu.

King crab has a sweeter, milder flavour compared to traditional crab meat.

Paddock to plate has become a popular trend, but was already commonplace in Norway.

Nilsen himself is in many ways the archetypical Norwegian chef, from his background right through to nominating his favourite dish. “Reindeer. Is that too boring?” he laughs. “It’s very Norwegian, I guess.” “The one that I like is reindeer with mushroom, lingonberry sauce, potato mash and then cabbage and onion. It’s very good. In fact, it’s a classic.” It’s this pride in their own that seems to permeate Norwegian food, and is perhaps why they have remained true to character over the years. But when tried-and-true recipes of deliciously fresh food keep ending up on your plate every night, who would want to change it?

Four quintessential Norwegian dishes you should try:

Brunost

A brown cheese made from cow and goat milk, that has been described as sweeter and sharper than a regular cheese. It’s a regular fixture in most pantries, maybe most akin to Vegemite for Australians – you either love it or hate it. A brown cheese from Stordalen Gardsbruk even won the silver medal at a recent World Cheese Awards.

Kleppmelk

Kleppmelk is a thick sweet dessert soup filled with doughy dumplings. This one puts a new spin on the word traditional - going right back to the Viking days.

Smalahove

Not for the faint hearted. A dish made from a sheep's head, traditionally eaten before Christmas. So says Nilsen: “When it comes to every country’s food there is always some weird traditions that they do.

“I guess we have Smalahove.”

King Crab

Only discovered in Norway in the 1970s, the king crab now reigns supreme when it comes to Norway’s seafood dishes. King crab is comprised of white flesh with streaks of red and a mild, sweet flavour that is often compared to lobster.

Discover Norway's Coastal Kitchen. Fresh ingredients, sourced where we sail.

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