Local cruise line Hurtigruten offers a true taste of Norway’s coast on new food-focused itineraries.
The moment of abrupt mayhem arrived right after the fifth course. One second, we were gushing over the tender Atlantic wolffish served with Jerusalem-artichoke puree and crackly puffed grains, and the next, the table cleared in one cacophonous frenzy. According to the captain’s announcement over the loudspeaker, the aurora borealis had made its long-awaited appearance. Navigating around throngs of passengers moving all too glacially toward the ship’s stern, I emerged, breathless, into the bracing cold, just in time to watch the sky above the Norwegian Sea ignite with the pale green glow of the northern lights.
I was aboard the MS Trollfjord, a vessel I joined this past March to preview The North Cape Express, one of the new food-forward routes being launched this year by Hurtigruten (which means “fast route” in Norwegian). The 130-year-old company first began sailing in 1893 to transport passengers, mail, and cargo to remote corners of Norway during its predictably punishing winters. Nowadays, its sustainability-minded Expeditions arm operates ships all over the globe.
The new North Cape Express route builds on the charm of the cruise line’s Original Norwegian Coastal Express route. That OG itinerary dives in to Norway’s culture and cuisine; in The North Cape Express, it’s enhanced with next-level culinary experiences. Passengers can select an itinerary between seven and 15 days in length. The longest journeys embark from Oslo and hit coastal towns up into the Arctic Circle, all the way up to the North Cape and back again, picking up fresh cod, cloudberry jam, and other local provisions along the way. It runs in the darkest months of the year, from September to early April, affording passengers a good chance to see the northern lights — so good, in fact, that the company offers a guarantee in the form of a free voyage to any guests who don’t get to see them. Call it the evening’s entertainment: an after-dinner show that occasionally kicks off a little early.
During my weeklong expedition, I ate reindeer tartare and ice cream made with local beer and found frosty adventures in far-flung coastal locales. One evening started with a tour of the world’s northernmost ice hotel, Sorrisniva, built with 250 tons of ice, and capped off with a visit to the hotel’s ice bar for a cocktail. The drink was made with Norwegian vodka and blue curaçao and served in — what else? — a cup made of ice.
In Alta, which marks the finish line of Finnmarksløpet, Europe’s longest dogsled race, we met exuberant huskies that zipped us around a snowy course. After, we retired to a toasty lavvu, a traditional tent used by Norway’s Indigenous Sámi reindeer herdsmen, to drink hot cocoa around the fire inside. Near Honningsvåg, one of Norway’s northernmost cities on the Barents Sea and a center of commercial king-crab fishing, we cracked into the massive crustaceans — just two feeding eight of us. Afterward, I drove an ATV a little over 20 frigid miles to the North Cape to stand on the edge of a dramatic cliff that juts out over the Arctic Ocean. The next night, the ship docked in Tromsø for under two hours, enough time to beeline to Bardus, a cozy cocktail bar off the snowy main street, for a Dill & Tang made with Bivrost Arctic Gin and a housemade seaweed distillate.
During one longer excursion in Sortland, we dined at Lille Kvitnes, the now-shuttered sister restaurant of Kvitnes, run by Halvar Ellingsen. The Norwegian chef is one of the pioneers of the country’s fjord-to-table movement and one of Hurtigruten’s culinary ambassadors, creating dishes for its onboard restaurants. At the café, Ellingsen held his rosy-cheeked infant son while presiding over tables of diners clad in ski bibs and knitted wool sweaters. After a lunch of baked cod slathered in brown-butter sauce and served with a crisp apple cider, we bought a few sweet buns laced with cherries and white chocolate for an afternoon snack.
It was just as easy to get a taste of Norway on board the ship, too, where instead of offering an array of international restaurant and bar concepts, Hurtigruten concentrates on smaller homegrown ventures. Brasserie Árran, for example, serves Sámi-inspired fare like bidos, a traditional reindeer stew, and Flora, the ship’s main restaurant, is home to à la carte lunches, dinners, and buffet breakfasts. There, I started my day with smoked mackerel, fresh bread with crowberry jam, and a cheeseboard that included brunost — a caramelly Norwegian brown cheese.
In fact, 80% of the ingredients on board come from 50 farms, bakeries, dairies, and other suppliers in Norway, often picked up along with the mail at each port. And while this is also true of The Original Norwegian Coastal Express, the new North Cape Express and Svalbard Express routes offer a few added culinary experiences, including cooking demonstrations, afternoon tea with Norwegian brews and local sweets, and a new restaurant concept, Røst, featuring seafood-centric fine dining.
During a preview dinner at Røst, the menu took us on a journey through Norway via its ingredients. One bite was a scallop from Frøya, a tiny island off the coast of Trondheim, where icy water keeps the shellfish at peak freshness. Brioche shellacked in buttery honey was served alongside reindeer tartare and elk marrow — the latter sourced just north, in Steigen. The Atlantic wolffish came from a fishery outside of Trondheim and the juicy duck from a free-range farm in southeastern Norway. A dessert of dense chocolate terrine was crowned with raspberries from Lofoten and served alongside ice wine made from local plums. Even one of the ice creams was churned with Lofotpils, a beer from a microbrewery on Norway’s Lofoten archipelago.
Our final dinner on board the Trollfjord was another tribute to local producers, featuring wild cloudberries, goat cheese from a family-run dairy and herb farm in Lofoten, and sugar kelp from Hurtigruten’s own seaweed farm. Afterward, we left the table — this time at a less frenzied pace — to take an after-dinner stroll around the deck, holding out hope for one last light show.
2024 at a glance
Hurtigruten's The North Cape Express
8 itineraries, from 7 to 15 days
15-day round trip Oslo to Bergen, from $3,050
10-day Arctic Circle and Norway’s Capital, from $1,922
Norwegian Christmas at Skraastad Farm
Architecture & Breweries — Ålesund on Foot
Winter Fishing in Lofoten
North Cape & King Crab Experience — Winter
Arctic Ice Fishing
Sámi Handicrafts, Food & Culture
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