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Oh my cod! The tasty gifts of the sea

Around the world, millions of people are regularly enjoying seafood originating from the Norwegian coast. But nothing beats the taste and texture of a fish that has just been caught from the cold and clear waters.

Imagine what they would think, the first Norwegian fish exporters of the 12th century, if they were told how this industry would grow in the years to come. The fishermen of yore started modestly by selling a few dried cod and herring to the English, and had no idea that they had just begun a business adventure that would eventually transform the whole country.

Today, Norway is the second largest seafood exporter in the world, and the equivalent of 37 million meals fetched from Norwegian waters are consumed worldwide each day. So it’s quite possible that you have tasted Norwegian seafood already, even without knowing it.

However, to experience our seafood at its finest and freshest, you should visit a Norwegian fish market or a restaurant in one of the coastal towns. Or even better, catch your own meal. The skrei (arctic cod), for instance, is at its best, taste-wise, during winter, when many travellers go to the north to experience the northern lights.

Travel to Lofoten in March, and you can experience the World Championship in cod fishing. A massively popular event that is open to all, despite its formal-sounding name.

Ninety percent of all Norwegians live along the coastline, which, if you could stretch it out, would be longer than the equator. The clear and cold waters allow fish, mussels and shellfish to grow more slowly, and the cold air preserves the freshness of the catch.

At the larger fish markets, you can find mussels and scallops, crayfish and crabs in addition to different sorts of fish. Further north, you can taste local specialities such as king crabs or smoked arctic char.

Good specialized seafood restaurants

The seasonal king of Norwegian cod

The skrei (arctic cod) is a unique type of seasonal Norwegian cod that migrates from the Barents Sea to its spawning grounds off Norway’s north coast.

Only the very best specimens meet the strict criteria to be graded skrei. They must be fully grown (about five years old), and line-caught by small local fishing boats.

The skrei can be landed between January and April, when the seas are ferocious and temperatures freezing, making this an incredibly exciting time for fishermen and fish lovers alike. Its meaty flesh is bright white, lean, flaky and tender, and like all of Norway’s cod, skrei is sustainably managed and MSC certified. The Norwegian fishing authorities are intent on protecting the species, so regulation is particularly tight.

See for yourself

Fishy feasts at the seafood markets

Unfortunately there’s not an abundance of good specialized fish stores in Norway. However, many supermarkets and stores have an excellent offering of fresh fish and seafood, and the last few years Norwegians have consumed more fresh than frozen fish and semi-finished products.

The absolute best and freshest seafood, however, can be found in the markets.

At Ravnkloa Fish market in Trondheim you can buy fresh marinated or smoked fresh fish and eat a hearty lunch at Kroa. In Bergen, fish has been traded since 1276. Today, fresh shellfish and local farm produce is available in abundance at The Bergen fish market.

At the fish market in Stavanger, you can get breakfast and dinner made with fresh local ingredients based on the catch of the day. The market is divided between Torjå – the fish counter, and Vågen – the restaurant.

The gift that keeps on giving

The seafood industry is the backbone of coastal Norway, and is absolutely vital to a lot of local communities.

Norway has through many decades tried to be on the forefront when it comes to developing a good fisheries and aquaculture management, and are working continuously to preserve a sustainable sea life through regulations and incentives in cooperation with the scientific communities.

In the eighties, Norway faced rapidly diminishing fish stocks in the Barents Sea, and had to take action to ensure future generations could enjoy seafood from the cold, clear waters of Norway. Norwegian authorities decided to ban discards, and as a result the stocks recovered.

The Barents Sea, where Norway captures about 93 per cent of all its cod, now has the largest growing cod stock in the world.

Local food the Norwegian way

The rise in use of organic food has been an important political target in Norway, and in the last few years sustainable food consumption has gotten a big breakthrough.

In addition, the word "kortreist" (literally "short-travelled") has found its way into Norwegian cooking dictionaries. The word implies producing and consuming more local foods that don’t rely heavily on emission-inducing transport. Many of the local producers combine ancient Norwegian food traditions with new scientific methods for developing the products in a safe environment.

The products can be bought locally, or through the large supermarket chains that are focusing more and more on higher quality products from local producers.

Many Norwegians also take pride in cooking from what they harvest themselves. During summer and autumn, the forests are brimming with fresh, wild berries and tasty mushrooms, and harvesting them is seen as a recreational activity.

Seafood dictionary

Arctic cod – skrei
Coalfish – sei
Cod – torsk
Crayfish – sjøkreps
Cusk – brosme
Flounder – flyndre
Haddock – hyse
Halibut – kveite
Herring – sild
Lobster – hummer
Mackerel – makrell
Mussels – blåskjell

Octopus – blekksprut
Oyster – østers
Plaice – rødspette
Redfish – uer
Salmon – laks
Scallops – kamskjell
Seabass – havabbor
Sea trout – sjøørret
Shellfish – skalldyr
Shrimps – reker
Tuna – tunfisk
Wolfish – steinbit

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