Exploring a food market is one of the best ways to discover the daily life of the country you are visiting. As soon as we arrive in Bergen, I visit its popular fish market.
We arrived in Bergen after a seven hour spectacular train ride amidst fjords, gorges and glaciers. Also known as the World’s best train trip, this long journey from Oslo to Bergen, is a payback experience. You sit and stir in your carriage through colourful scenes of green forest banks, stretches of blue ice, emerald rapids and waterfalls, brown, rocky mountains, and occasional golden rays of light from a sequestered sun.
A popular port, surrounded by the Norwegian fjords and a name on the Unesco World’s Heritage list, Bergen is primarily a rainy destination. Records show that, in Bergen it rains approximately 275 days in a year. So, if rain disheartens your travelling vigour then visiting Bergen should not be on your where to go file. In summer, you might be lucky and get some sunny days. We weren’t and it was July.
Yet, Bergen is charming. With its colourful wooden structures and narrow cobbled lanes it feels like a scene from the Hansel and Gretel fairytale. We set to explore Bergen on foot. Battling with the umbrella, as the wind cheered our arrival, and holding my camera like a kangaroo would hold its Joey, only using my raincoat as a pocket, we passed through Bryggen. This is a Unesco protected merchant area dating back to the times of the Hanseatic League’s trading. Bryggen is an architectural marvel which preserves the history of the city.
Enough said on nature, history and architecture. I want food in the limelight. Fish precisely. I love to linger through food markets when we travel and as soon as we arrived in Bergen I wanted to run to the fish market. Fisketorget, which in Norwegian stands for fish (fiske), square (torget), is now open to everyone. There was a time when a law enforced that the market was available for the poor only to buy food for personal use.
It was crowded under the towering red umbrellas, with tourists mainly. All fastened with raincoats they made their way for shelter in the pungent area, locking their umbrellas and breathing in the fishy smell which could attract any cat in the entire town. The sky was one huge dark-leaden mass contrasting vigorously with the picturesque market ambience. I could hear Spanish and Italian accents which reminded me of the food market in Campo di Fiori in Rome, or the one on the Ramblas, in Barcelona. The bunch of traders, duly equipped with their stainless steel stalls, was definitely not of Viking descent. Their body odour could be repugnant to my sensitive, although sinus troubled nose, but they looked gorgeous in their bright orange waterproof dungarees and dishevelled aura. I walked on only to discover more merchants, this time outstretching their butcher’s knives with slivers of cured salmon. I really had to taste the salmon.
The atmosphere at the fish market is jocund – visitors gently pushing around to sample the fish, vendors attracting buyers with their charismatic statements. It is also a colourful and varied display of fresh fish laid on beds of ice flakes, including the superior quality Norwegian salmon, the Ocean trout, the ugly but versatile monkfish, the favourite mackerel, and also whale. You could not miss the unappealing dried cod hanging like bats under the tents. There was abundance of pink, deep-water prawns. And in water tanks you could pick your live lobster, crabs or scallops. Neatly stacked crab claws came in different sizes. I was intrigued by the smoked and cured salmon varieties and stupefied by the assortment of caviar jars, which you could taste as they ask you to extend your hand so they place a clot of roe on your hand between thumb and index finger. Similarly to the way you take your salt before drinking Tequila.
Indeed, the market is a pleasant subject for fish lovers and a palatable alternative for a Bergen kind of lunch. It is an open kitchen where to enjoy a prawn or smoked salmon baguette with mayonnaise and cucumber, a boiled shrimp salad, grilled lobster, freshly opened oysters or a salmon burger. Fish and chips is also popular. I opted for the salmon burger, it was remarkable. Other stalls sold fresh strawberries, cherries and berries. Souvenirs and flowers were also found around.
The entire Scandinavia is quite pricey and stuff at the fish market is no exception. But, the market experience is rather authentic. It exhibits the wide selection of fish and crustaceans available in the underwater world of Norway. For us who hail from the Mediterranean and are more familiar with the organisms living in our seas, this proves to be rather like a visit to the Museum. The difference is that at the end of your tour you will be definitely putting your mouth around some fishy snack which was on display.