Caviar, cod and cow vetch – “I’m on a culinary journey of discovery in Viking territory”

My journey to food heaven ends in hell.

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

Thankfully, this isn’t the spiritual realm of eternal evil and suffering, but a humble Norwegian village situated across the Stjørdalselva River from Trondheim Airport.

Its sinister name – said to derive from the Old Norse word hellir, meaning “overhang” or “cliff cave” – ​​can be seen on a Hollywood-esque sign high on the hillside that greets visitors at the gateway to Norway’s third-largest city.

Trondheim, some 20 miles west, is the beating heart of Trøndelag, the European Region of Gastronomy for 2022, and consequently I find myself on a culinary journey of discovery in Viking territory.

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

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

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


Jim-André Stene, right, a professional collector, with Trondheim chef and restaurateur Lars Laurentius Paulsen, left. PA Photo/Ed Elliot.

I meander along narrow paths, past traditional red wooden houses, and pick and eat wild plants and flowers under the guidance of Jim-André Stene.

The father of two satisfied his urge to reconnect with nature by educating himself about edible plants before quitting his sales job in 2019 to become a professional collector.

Today he leads a team of 10 at his company Trøndelag Sankeri, which supplies hand-picked produce to 134 restaurants across Norway and runs group tours.

“If it looks good, tastes good, and doesn’t sting you, it’s probably poisonous,” warns Jim, moments after using his bare hands to brush the harmful hairs off a stinging nettle and chew on a leaf.

Bluebells are at least one exception to the rule. We also sample cow vetch, juniper cones and mushroom-flavoured plantain before settling on a waterfront picnic bench covered in a reindeer hide rug to enjoy an al fresco meal prepared on a barrel-shaped grill by bearded chef Lars Laurentius Paulsen is prepared.

Salmon, venison and hake are expertly paired with some of the harvests from our baskets, while a sprinkling of red wood ants – collected on one of Jim’s previous expeditions – adds a crunchy bitterness to a dessert of strawberries, raspberries, meringue and meadowsweet syrup.

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

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


Speilsalen is one of three Michelin star restaurants in Trondheim. PA Photo/Dreyer Hensley.

Lured by the bounty 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 at the so-called Britannia Hotel, lured by the promise of English – speaking staff and afternoon tea.

The five star hotel still 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 Hall of Mirrors).

Manager Gina Endresen encourages her team to serve with swan-like grace as they present a sumptuous 10-course tasting menu (€250) with a carefully choreographed routine in an opulent setting of chandeliers and reflective glass.

Oscietra caviar paired with egg and crème fraiche and halibut with blackcurrant and Norwegian curry are particularly memorable dishes, while a wine pairing (£230) blurs memories of the petit fours a bit.

The Britannia, which opened in 1870, is perfectly located for exploring the festivals.

Trondheim’s annual food fair began in 2005, a time when – according to anecdotal evidence from many Trondheimers I meet – the area began to revolutionize itself from mediocre frozen fare to maximizing the abundance of seafood, game, vegetables and more.

Stands with 170 producers are divided into regions and stretch along the streets of Munkegata and Kongens Gate and attract around 250,000 visitors over three days.

I sample tough 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 wash it down with local beers at the beer festival, which started in 2013 and this year has 50,000 visitors.

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

“Our weather is chronic, but our food is iconic,” smiles Captain Amanda Hausken the next morning as raindrops fall on her Åfjordsboot during a trip along the Nidelva.


Stockfish or air-dried cod at the Trondheim Food Festival. PA Photo/Albertine Løseth Vestvik.

Amanda’s ship, which bears a striking resemblance to the Viking ships that sailed more than 1,000 years ago, helps offer a different perspective on the vibrant university city.

We glide under the red gates spanning the Old Town bridge, past the colorful old harbor buildings and zoom out onto the fjord where we are fortunate to spot a few porpoises before heading back to shore.

After three evenings of fine dining, which include a visit to the Michelin-starred Credo restaurant, my farewell party takes place in a cozier setting at Bjørn Fjeldvær’s home.

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

He tells stories of how he dined with his country’s royal family, developed an adoration for Johnny Cash because of his uncle’s hectic love life, and used a tombstone in the garden to deter rival bidders when selling his property from Norwegian writer Anne B. Ragde bought.

The captivating tales are accompanied by smoked salmon, trout and Bjorn’s signature dish, bacalao (cod stew), and capped off by a sing-along ode to the province’s burgeoning reputation, which pays homage 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 gentle strumming of his guitar. “We know a lot about biology, we all know a lot about technology, but we know most about gastronomy!”

Sips of fiery aquavit are actively encouraged during harmonica solos, and it’s not surprising that the 16 foot-tapping guests in his living room didn’t take long to add gusto to a catchy but simple chorus.

Bjørn’s scathing lyrics are still in my head the next day as I leave Trøndelag via a short detour into the satanic-sounding village-turned-small-scale tourist attraction.

I spent about five minutes in hell. The rest of the trip was the complete opposite.

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Fry Electronics Team

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