Some years ago, I was fortunate to get involved with an initiative to get British products and companies into Norway. This consisted of staying at the Ambassador residence, hosting a trade delegation, and demonstrating at the Oslo culinary school.
It was not only good fun but also a fascinating exercise. Back then, Norway was quite far behind in up-to-date foods ready to go in supermarkets and delis. So, for them to see British companies producing such British delicacies as great pastry, pickles and relishes were a real eye-opener.
That was my first experience in this beautiful country. Since then, I have been back skiing to Geilo with a friend Sue & husband, Knut (who worked at the consulate) and last year returning to see the northern lights in Tromso, a 1½ hour flight from Oslo. So this is where my Big Worldwide Cookout would begin.
We landed after a short hop from the UK; thank goodness after so many long flights previously, it was a refreshing change. Oslo airport is very modern; Nigel, the soundman, described it as a large IKEA store with pale woods and lots of metal. It reminds me of a squash court. Janice, my boss, Matt, cameraman (from the Alaska trip), Rhian assistant producer, Hanne, our Norwegian PR, are on top form and raring to go.
After re-checking in, we are off for my first real taste of Norwegian food at a small restaurant in the airport. Hanne insists we have waffles, a Norwegian favourite. After a couple of attempts from the chef, we finally get them, smelling delicious and looking very good indeed. She says that you eat them with sour cream and jam or plain or with brown cheese (Geitost or Brunost) and jam, but with no cream. This was a little too complicated for me. I wasn’t sure what she meant by brown cheese until I saw it again. Yes, I quickly remembered I had seen it many years ago on Ready Steady Cook when TV vet Trude Mostue produced it from a bag. I thought it was vile then and a complete waste of time. Could she change my mind? For those who have not had the pleasure, it’s a softish cheese, with the colour of the 70’s Caramac bar. It has a sweet-ish edge, and its flavour is a cross between Marmite and Caramac and Plasticine in texture. I’m not selling it very well, I know, but to be fair, once Hanne had cut up a waffle into wedges, then added the very nice jam, topped with brown cheese, it was okay. I think the sweetness of the jam and the warm fluffiness of the waffle really did help. And yes is the answer to your next question. I would eat it again washed down with some okay coffee. We boarded again to get the short flight to Tromso.
Whilst on the flight I studied the long map of Norway, and it is a long thin country but a lot bigger than you think. If you were to stick a drawing pin into Oslo, then spin Norway around and down, the country would stretch down to the bottom of Italy!! I fall asleep, and the next thing we know, we are landing at Tromso. It is a clear afternoon, and the mountains around are sprinkled with snow. The ski jump is clearly visible. It’s not cold, but a bit like a British cool summers day, the sun is high in the sky, even at 4 o’clock. We are transported to the Clarion Hotel Bryggen and a new team member Goril our Marketing Coordinator. She is larger than life and very funny and loud. The bus is a very smart, almost a pimped up vehicle, complete with neon lights changing colour in the roof space. The short drive I remember is under the mountain, through a labyrinth of tunnels complete with roundabouts and before you know, you are in Tromso town. It’s a large fishing town, but also big with tourists, not only for the fishing and the northern light show but cruise liners dock all the time.
We check into the hotel with all the kit and relax for 10 minutes. We are off immediately to go sea kayaking with a local chap. I change into my working gear, and off we set. The drive is about 20 minutes out of Tromso, past the airport and slightly inland.
Across a long narrow bridge, I could see the Kayak trailer in the distance; it was a beautiful evening with the late summer sun still really high in the sky.
I meet up with Tove Sorensen, a bear of a man who runs the company. We exchange greetings, and then I slip into, well, force my way into a dry suit that nearly cuts off the blood to my brain. Tove laughs, and we have a cup of coffee and a bite to eat. He gives me a safety lesson and the dos and don’ts of open water kayaking. I have to say it all made perfect sense and made the journey really enjoyable.
Matt and Nigel check out the boat that is to accompany us so they can film and after a couple of pieces to camera. Lifting my director into the boat, we set off and go under the bridge we had just crossed. It’s a peaceful evening with a slight breeze. As we paddle around the small peninsula, the water gets a little rougher. We film and chat about seafood species, weather and Norway in general. Tove wants to know about premiership football, and we josh each other as to who supports the better team.
In no time at all, we are heading back. It’s easier with the wind behind us, then it’s back under the bridge, and we all get out. I lift Amy out and plonk her on the shore.
We lift the boats out of the water and carry them to the trailer. I really enjoyed being on the water, but it was getting a little chilly.
I undress, shake hands and take a couple of pictures. I may go back at half term with my youngest daughter as Tove runs 300 Husky’s and takes tourists out to sleep in reindeer Tee Pees. Mind you, 35 C below may be a problem, but what fun!
We head back to the hotel to shower and warm up. It has to be a quickie, as dinner at the well-known Fiskekompaniet restaurant is at 8:30 sharp. Luckily the restaurant is only a two-minute walk from the hotel on the stunning quay. My wife and I ate here on our last trip, so I did recognise it. There is no doubt it is a very stylish and beautiful place with lovely views and has certain calm.
We are all seated with a cold Mack beer, perfect after a long trip. We swiftly moved onto a 2009 Barbera Superiore and an equally good Sancerre Rose Pinot 2011. In fact, I loved this; it was delicious. I personally love drinking a blush, dry rose with any fish, especially in summer.
Sourdough bread was nice, and the starter arrived. It was a king crab with coalfish salmon, all very pretty and delicate. It tasted fine but was a bit confusing for me; in fact, I’m trying to remember what it actually was?
The main course was halibut; I had seen it in the fish cabinet as we arrived, and it looked magnificent. Unfortunately, when it arrived, it was overcooked. However, the lardons, broccoli, tarragon sauce and hazelnuts were all very nice.
Dessert; Brulée, too eggy and a bit too firm for me, but had a nice flavour. Finally, we head back to the hotel, shower and turn in.
Up early and away to breakfast, gradually the crew arrives. We pick up all the stuff, get back into our pimped up bus, and go back to the airport. The sun is out on this beautiful day, so take advantage and get some General Video (GV) of the surrounding mountains with a dusting of snow.
We meet Olaf and film a sequence getting on a small plane. The other passengers seem slightly bemused as we film over and over again.
Once everyone is on the small plane, our captain, Ola Giaever Jr., says he will do whatever we want, including filming in the cockpit (good old Wideroe Airways). When we take off, he says he will fly over the mountain range called the Lyngen Alps to get some lovely scenic shots. Normally he goes a different route but says it’s up to us.
We fly and film, and film more Matt in the cockpit.
Our first stop is Hammerfest, an oil and gas town, then quickly onto Honningsvag. On this leg of the journey, I sit in the cockpit for take-off; it’s a spectacular sight.
This time we fly around the North Cape at the tip of Norway. The good weather makes it a spectacular sight.
We land on a tiny runway and get all our gear together. We transfer to the Sarnes fishing huts some 15 minutes from the airport. Again it’s a stunning place with fabulous views. These huts are for tourists and are very nice inside.
We film the reindeer and the other GV shots. Goril sorts out all the ingredients and cooking equipment. She is fantastic, and if I ever got stuck on a desert island, she would be the person I would take.
After a quick bite to eat, David, our man for the day, is on-hand to explain what we are going to do. He takes out tourists and students to haul up the huge King Crab here in these waters. They are huge and have gradually made their way from Russian waters. We all tog up in dry suits and head out into the bay, and it’s great fun.
We do a few pieces to camera and then haul up a trap, its packed full of what I can only describe as the biggest crabs I have ever seen in my life. They are enormous! David explains they can get up to 14-15 kg and measure 2 metres from claw to claw. We film and then go back to the huts. David asks me if I want to go to the sea…in a survival suit. Well, I’m up for anything and get changed and hop in. The crew film me and then leave…ha ha ha…all very funny…
Once out and dry, we set up for the cooking sequence. We film a dish of sauté bacon, turnips, potatoes, boiled King Crab with mayo and fresh dill. The first thing is to light a fire on the beach and boil the crabs in seawater, perfect.
Next, cut and sauté the lovely soft, smokey bacon that Goril had found, along with potatoes and the sweetest turnips I have ever eaten. Goril eats them like an apple.
Once cooked, the crab is removed from the shell, cut into large chunks, and then added to the warm potato mixture. Off the heat, I add a few blobs of mayo and a lot of roughly chopped fresh dill. Matt gets his close-ups, and right on cue, a herd of wild reindeer wander over the ridge and along the beach, perfect. The setting sun gives the mountains a lovely warm glow.
We all have a quick glass of wine, lightly chilled from the fjord. It’s delicious and a lovely way to finish the day.
The crew all take a dip in the freezing sea, all very funny to watch. Then to warm up, everyone hops into a Jacuzzi set on the deck of an old fishing boat. It’s very relaxing.
After a quick shower and change, we head into the large teepee, complete with roaring log fire for a King Crab supper. Huge plates of juicy, succulent crab are handed around on large wooden boards. So much, in fact, we cannot eat it all. I bring some of my cooked potatoes and bacon with lashings of mayo which completes a lovely meal.
Nigel, Matt and I have a camera competition, and the girlies drink the wine. So it’s not long before we all head off to bed in our respective huts.
I fall asleep really quickly, a full moon flooding the room. It’s quite a chilly night.
In the morning, we wake early and head to the breakfast room. It’s pretty good, too: bacon, eggs and tomatoes, nice coffee and lovely soft bread.
We pile onto the bus to make the hour-long journey to the most northern tip of Europe, the North Cape, 71 degrees north. The terrain gets bleaker and bleaker and incredibly windy. We film at the top of a valley, and I very nearly get blown off my feet. We also have to hold down the camera tripod.
The North Cape is very quiet; most people come to see the midnight sun in high summer. So we film and film some more, getting some lovely shots. It’s hard to believe that only 1,400 miles further is the North Pole. It’s quite an eerie place.
We are running behind so quickly pile into the bus and head to the town of Gjesvaer, a small fishing village, to pick up a boat. On the way, we stop and purchase souvenirs from a local Sarnes lady. I buy a magnificent head of antlers and a couple of knives.
We are going to Gjesvaer to sail around Bird Island, some 2 million birds visit this small island, and it’s an incredible sight, and I’m looking forward to it. We will also cook with a couple of local celebrities, Bjorn & Helene Dag, who run a snack van right on the quay outside their home. They are better known locally for winning the Norwegian lottery. They are both funny and have a very British sense of humour.
We set off and meet Ola, the ship’s captain and sail off with a few Italian tourists. It’s only a short hop, and we are there. Puffins, Gannets, Cormorants and Sea Eagles soar above us. Seals bob up and down, keeping an eye on us; it’s all very exciting. After interviewing Ola, we head back to port.
I take some lovely pictures, and we get some good shots on the way to Bjorn and Helene’s.
We set up, and Helene, in her van, cooks me a traditional Norwegian fish dish. First, soak fresh cod in cold water to firm up, then boiled. Next, a white sauce is made with onions, garlic and curry powder added. Finally, the cooked cod is added, along with cooked macaroni, egg yolks and cheese. It’s pretty good; the freshness of the fish comes through. Next, we eat some lovely, really smokey, smoked salmon and some fried fish sausages or pate (can’t remember).
We say our goodbyes and start the drive back to Honningsvag, getting slightly worried as the wind and rain are picking up and our flight to Tromso may be cancelled, oh dear…
We get to the airport after an hour-long drive, and it’s still touch-and-go. The incoming flight is all over the place when it lands. Eventually, we get on and take off. It’s probably been the scariest flight I have ever had, and we are all over the shop. The hostess is completely nonplussed by it all. I suppose she is used to it.
I fall asleep and wake up as we are coming into land at Tromso in the dusk. The wind and rain have gone, so we land with a gentle bump.
Again it’s a quick turnaround, as we have dinner booked at RA Sushi Bar, a trendy new Japanese restaurant in town. It was only a couple of minutes walk from the hotel, so nice and quick. It’s small and straight to the point, airy and with charming staff who were obviously well trained. We start with local beer and move swiftly onto Riesling, perfect with sushi in my view.
Hanne explains that dinner is on the owner this evening, and he would pick the menu for us. I have been in this situation quite a lot over the years but was not prepared for what was to come.
Starters are delicious; King Crab rolls with pickled cucumber, slivered almond coated prawns, deep-fried whale, Thai style (yes, I know it’s an issue), salmon with pickled cabbage all delicious.
Two huge main course platters arrive far too much for us all, crammed full of all the dishes you can name. Fried Maki rolls are excellent, as is crab and scallops. Numerous varieties of Nigri, some even topped with fruits, are not authentic, but the locals love it, the owner explains. This is really pushing the boundaries of Japanese food, and it does take a little time to get your head around it, but I quite liked it. I’m a firm believer that this type of food is incredibly good for you, and you can’t get fresher fish than right here in Norway, so a perfect place for a sushi restaurant. Oslo has 140 sushi restaurants; I can’t help thinking that Tromso will be next to take off.
We say our goodbyes and leave a healthy tip for the staff and head back to the hotel. We try and get a late drink, but the hotel is packed with a Norwegian police ball, so I headed off to bed.
In the morning, I get up early and wander off around Tromso to get some photos. The air is still and cool, with a lovely light perfect for pics. Then, I head into the coffee shop that my wife and I had been in some months ago for a nice (but expensive) cappuccino and a croissant. I sit there and watch the local traders set up for the Saturday market. Before I know it, it’s back to the hotel and packing before setting off to the airport for the final time.
It’s been a whistle-stop tour of this huge country, but I’m delighted I had the opportunity to meet such lovely people and see the spectacular scenery, and the food was excellent (apart from the brown cheese, sorry).
My thanks to all who helped with our trip, and yes, as Arnie once famously said, “I’ll be back.”