Food Culture in Lofoten
Lofoten’s Culinary Heritage & Food Culture
Where to start? Let’s take a deep dive and go all the way back to the beginning of our recorded history in Lofoten to explain Lofoten’s food culture.
8000 years ago
We have historic remnants in Kabelvåg that dates back 8000 years. People lived here during a warm period called Holocene Climate Optimum. A time when sea levels were lower and some areas of the land exposed. These areas are now submerged. Can you imagine what it looked like? And what did they eat?
Perhaps food sources in Lofoten 8000 years ago included:
- Fish and shellfish from the surrounding sea
- Whales and seals hunted with wooden harpoons where they used sharp stones or bones as the tip
- Elk and reindeer that lived in the forests
- Bread probably made from barley or rye
The Viking Era
Thousands of years later, during the Viking era, what people consumed took some interesting turns. The Vikings ate a variety of food that included stews, soups, fried pork, porridge, various types of bread, cheese, butter, honey, berries, eggs, nuts, and different types of vegetables. A big part of the diet in Lofoten came from the sea. They caught fish such as herring, salmon, and cod. Other seafood included mussels, oysters, seals, and whales. And as far as beverages go, they are known to have been drinking beer, mead, and milk.
To better survive the winter, they introduced preservation methods by salting, smoking, or drying their produce. With their wood-carving and navigational skills, the Vikings were able to establish overseas trade routes as well. And with newfound inspiration, produce, spices and knowledge from other cultures, they started to explore more ways of preparing their food and beverages.
Spices and produce depended on factors like seasonality and availability. Locally, Vikings sourced herbs and seasonings such as dill, coriander, thyme, mustard, horseradish, juniper berries and caraway seeds. Imported spices included pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and ginger. It must have been thrilling to be the first people in Lofoten to combine all these flavors into various dishes and drinks. As an example, we know that they used spices to enhance their drinks. Their beer, mead, ale, and wine where all part of their continues exploration. A famous drink you might have heard of is “Melomel”, which is a mead and fruit combination.
Let’s move even closer to our time, to 1432. This is the year Pietro Querini was shipwrecked right outside of Røst, the Island region to the far west in Lofoten. He had set his sails from Italy towards Belgium but was caught in a terrible storm that blew him and his crew (only 11 of 68 crew members survived the storm) far off their course. He was a Venetian merchant and captain now famous for his documentation of the life and traditions on Røst. Especially the stockfish tradition.
Captain Querini learned everything he could about stockfish during his stay. And he made stockfish famous in Italy when he brought the fish back to Vicenza where it became a local specialty. The fish that is dried to make stockfish in Lofoten, is called Skrei. It’s a type of Cod that is different from coastal Cod:
- It’s bigger (30kg is not unusual)
- It has a more pointed shape
- It has brighter skin
- More muscles and less fat, making it perfect for drying
- It’s flakier with a sweet and mineral rich flavour
The Skrei season in Lofoten has existed since the Viking era from January to April every year. The Skrei was, and still is, made into stockfish by drying outside on large wooden racks called a “hjell” or “fiskehjell”. The Skrei is not salted. Instead, it’s dried and infused with the salt that lingers in the cold air along the coastline. It’s 100% natural with no additives or preservatives.
Stockfish is still a major export product in Røst and throughout the Lofoten region, and has been a culinary staple in Lofoten for centuries.
Food culture in Lofoten today
In present time, the food culture has developed further. Lofoten’s cuisine is mainly based on local produce which include:
- Seafood and fish such as Cod (Skrei), herring, halibut, salmon, crab, shrimp, sea urchin, and oysters.
- Lamb, cows, and cheese from local sheep that graze throughout Lofoten.
- The Lofoten Lamb (Lofotlam) and the stockfish from Lofoten are both globally renowned and has gained European protected geographic indication status (PGI), on par with Champaigne and Parma Ham.
- Cloudberries, lingonberries, blueberries and tyme.
There is a focus in Lofoten, among restaurants and culinary artisans, that the food should be as local as possible. And there are now quite a few local products that might interest visitors, including; ice creams, yoghurts, dried meat-fish-seaweed, jams, cheese, and beer.
As far as Skrei goes, it’s now part of a global stockfish tradition. An exciting produce that is being prepared in many ways. Here are some examples of how it is used in Italy:
- Stockfish alla Genoverese: Recipe from Genoa that consists of stockfish (Skrei) cooked with garlic, parsley, celery, capers, onion, wine, potatoes and tomatoes.
- Stoccafissio Accomodato: A stockfish (Skrei) stew with pine nuts, garlic, raisins, and tomatoes
- Stockfish with Gnocchi: Originates from Friuli-Venezia Giulia and is a beautiful combination of stockfish (Skrei), potatoes dumplings and cheese sauce.
“Mølje” – Traditional Recipe
In Lofoten, Skrei is used in evolving menus by local chefs. A classic traditional dish however, is “Mølje”. It’s a delicious mix of Skrei meat, liver, and roe. The modern method is to cook Mølje in four different casseroles. Like so:
- The roe soaks in 85 °C for up to an hour.
- Potatoes (almond or golden eye) is cooked separately.
- The liver is boiled, cold water is added to “blow up” the liver. This process is repeated three times with some vinegar or lemon added. Salt, peppercorn, and perhaps bay leaf are added for taste.
- The Skrei is soaked in hot water until it changes color. It’s preferred to use cut fillets to avoid the much-dreaded fish bones.