Caviar, cod and cow vetch – why Trøndelag is spearheading a Norwegian food revolution


My journey to food heaven ends in hell.

It’s nicer than you imagine. There are pine-filled cliffs, sweeping views of a vast fjord, and a quaint mustard-colored train station.

Fortunately, this is not the spiritual realm of perpetual evil and suffering, but an unassuming Norwegian village across the Stjørdalselva river from Trondheim airport.

(Mykola Ks/PA

Its sinister name – said to derive from the Old Norse word hellirmeaning ‘overhang’ or ‘cliff cave’, is displayed on a Hollywood-style sign at the top of the hill, welcoming visitors to the entrance to Norway’s third-largest city.

Trondheim, about 20 miles to the west, is the beating heart of Trøndelag, the European region of gastronomy for 2022, and therefore I am in Viking territory on a journey of culinary discovery.

“It’s the garden of Norway,” says Roar Hildonen at his family restaurant To Rom og Kjøkken (Two Rooms and a Kitchen) on my first full day in the city center.

“Twenty-five percent of the products in Norway come within two to three hours from Trondheim. It’s like having a restaurant in the middle of paradise.

(Mykola Ks/PA)

My four-night visit coincides with Trondheim’s annual food and brewery festivals and begins with a foraging course on the shores of the aforementioned fjord, which shares the city’s name.

Winding along narrow paths past traditional redwood houses, I pick and eat plants and wildflowers under the guidance of Jim-André Stene.

The father-of-two satisfied a desire to reconnect with nature by learning about edible flora, before leaving a job as a salesman in 2019 to become a professional forager.

He now leads a team of 10 at his business Trøndelag Sankeri, supplying hand-harvested produce to 134 restaurants across Norway, as well as leading group tours.

Jim-André Stene, right, has been a professional forager since 2019 and supplies ingredients to Trondheim-based chef and restaurateur Lars Laurentius Paulsen (Ed Elliot/PA)

“If it looks good, tastes good and doesn’t sting you, it’s probably poisonous,” warns Jim, moments after brushing the harmful hairs off a nettle with his bare hands and chewing. leaf.

Bluebells are at least one exception to the rule. We also sample vetch, juniper cones and mushroom-flavored ribwort plantain before sitting down on a waterside picnic bench covered in a reindeer-skin rug for an al fresco meal. air prepared on a barrel-shaped barbecue by bearded chef Lars Laurentius Paulsen.

Salmon, venison and hake are expertly combined with some of the pickings from our baskets, while a sprinkle of red wood ants – harvested on one of Jim’s previous expeditions – adds a crunchy bitterness to a strawberry dessert. , raspberries, meringue and meadowsweet syrup.

Trondheim – known as the “homeland of Nordic flavours” – has a population of around 205,000 and is located in central Norway, around 300 miles north of the capital Oslo and a two and a half hour flight from London.

British explorers have been drawn to the region’s fertile valleys since at least the 1830s and my journey follows in the footsteps of ancestors colloquially known as the ‘Salmon Lords’.

Lured by the abundance of fish in the Nidelva River and further north, these intrepid adventurers, including members of the aristocracy, endured journeys far more arduous than mine before enjoying a welcome respite in what became the Britannia Hotel, lured by the promise of English- speaking staff and afternoon tea.

The five star hotel always delivers on both fronts and provides the luxurious base for the duration of my stay.

It is also home to one of Trondheim’s three Michelin-starred restaurants, Speilsalen (the Mirror Hall).

Manager Gina Endresen encourages her team to serve with swan-like grace by presenting a sumptuous 10-course tasting menu (£211) with a carefully choreographed routine against an opulent backdrop of chandeliers and reflective glass.

Oscietra caviar paired with egg and crème fraîche and halibut with blackcurrant and Norwegian curry are particularly memorable dishes, while a wine pairing (£194) means memories of petit fours are a bit more blurry.

The Britannia, which opened its doors in 1870, is perfectly placed to discover the festivals.

Speilsalen is one of three Michelin star restaurants in Trondheim (/PA)

The annual Trondheim Food Fair began in 2005, a time when – according to anecdotal evidence from many Trondheim locals I met – the region began to revolutionize from serving mediocre frozen food to maximizing its abundance of fruit seafood, game, vegetables and more.

Stalls featuring 170 producers are divided into regions and stretch along the streets of munkegata and Kongens Gateattracting around 250,000 visitors over three days.

I try chewy stockfish (air-dried cod) and tender reindeer meat from the mountains of Røros, near the border with Sweden, before heading to the market square to pair it with local beers during the beer festival, created in 2013 and this year welcoming 50,000 people.

Bright sunshine enhances the atmosphere during the first full versions of these events since the pandemic, but blue skies are far from guaranteed in this part of the world, even during the long daylight hours of summer.

The Trondheim Food Festival, first held in 2005, offers the chance to sample the best of Trøndelag cuisine, including Stockfish, air-dried cod (/PA)

“Our weather is chronic but our food is iconic,” smiles Captain Amanda Hausken the next morning as patches of rain fall on her Åfjord boat during a cruise along the Nidelva.

Amanda’s ship, which bears a striking resemblance to Viking ships that sailed over 1,000 years ago, helps provide a different perspective on the bustling college town.

We slip under the red gates that span the Old Town Bridge, past the colorful old wharf buildings and on our way to the fjord, where we are lucky enough to spot a few porpoises, before returning to dry land.

After three evenings of fine dining, which include a visit to the Michelin-starred restaurant Credo, my farewell feast takes place in a more comfortable setting at Bjørn Fjeldvær.

Bjørn Fjeldvær (McKenna Starck/PA)

The charismatic musician, storyteller and former restaurateur (with a passing resemblance to Antonio Banderas) has been entertaining visitors at his charming red house in Trondheim’s Ila district since 2019.

He tells tales of dining alongside his country’s royal family, developing an adoration for Johnny Cash due to his uncle’s turbulent love life and using a tombstone in the garden to deter rival bidders from buying. of his property to the Norwegian novelist Anne B Ragde.

The captivating sagas are accompanied by smoked salmon, trout and Bjorn’s signature dish, bacalao (salted cod stew), and topped off with a sung ode to the province’s burgeoning culinary reputation, which nods to the city’s healthy student population and was written specifically for the gastronomy award.

“We know a lot about history,” Bjørn begins, with a soft strumming of his guitar. “We know a lot about biology, we all know a lot about technology, but above all we know about gastronomy!

The charming Hell’s train station, located across the Stjørdalselva river from Trondheim Airport (Ed Elliot/PA)

Fiery gulps of aquavit are actively encouraged during harmonica solos and, unsurprisingly, it doesn’t take long for 16-foot guests tapping away in his living room to add excitement to a catchy but simple chorus.

Bjørn’s catchy lyrics are still in my head the next day as I leave Trøndelag, via a brief detour through the satanic-sounding village that has become a minor tourist attraction.

I spent about five minutes in hell. The rest of the trip was the very antithesis.

Rooms at the Britannia Hotel (britannia.no) cost from £265 for a superior bed and breakfast.

For more information, visit exploretrondelag.com.

Norwegian (norwegian.com) offers return flights to Trondheim from Gatwick and Manchester, from £41.70 one way.

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