Thursday, February 23, 2012

Bergensk Fiskesuppe (Bergen's Fish Soup)

When we arrived in Bergen, we had nothing to eat, nothing cook with, and nothing to clean with in our new home. We made the necessary first trip to the grocery store. This took place after a big shopping trip to Ikea, so our patience was dwindling. My intentions were to stock up on pantry items and supplies for everyday living (things like toilet paper, paper towels, shampoo, soap, sponges, a mop, a broom, a bucket, and food that was shelf stable while we got settled). Stian's intentions were to buy dinner and get the heck out of there. We got most of what we needed for a whopping 2200 NOK (close to $400).

Uff da.

One of the things that I wanted to make sure we had was soup - in an pinch, soup is always a quick and easy option. A few months went by and we hadn't touched the stuff, so one rainy Saturday afternoon (isn't that almost every Saturday??) I decided it was a perfect soup day. I offered Stian our choices: vegetable, something with meat, and fiskesuppe. Secretly, I prayed he would choose the vegetable because the very thought of fish soup grossed me out.

My wishes didn't come true and I ended up making the fish soup. Surprisingly, it smelled okay. I brought the spoon up to my mouth and thought: it's okay...there's still a package of vegetable soup in the cupboard if this is terrible.  I was pleasantly surprised. I polished off the whole bowl and went back for seconds. No wonder the stuff is famous here (and that was just the packaged stuff)!

A few weeks went by, and I suddenly had a major desire to find some real fiskesuppe in Bergen...hopefully at the Bryggen. I did a little research and found a restaurant with great reviews for their fish soup. Just in case you don't know what I'm talking about, this is a picture of Bergen's Bryggen (translated to the wharf, I guess):

This was taken in 2009 during my first-ever visit to Norway.

Early one Friday evening, we walked down to the Bryggen looking for this place:

Bryggeloftet & Stuene (wharf loft and living rooms)

There was hardly anyone there because it was still early, and we got seated almost right away. The place could be updated, but I loved the paintings on the walls and the big fireplace.

I looked at the menu and found the fish soup...but sadly in the appetizer section. Noooo, I thought, I wanted this as my main course!!!! I paged through some more, doing my best reading in Norwegian, and found "Big Fish Soup and Bread". Perfect. Then I read a little more and found out this was only served until 5 and unfortunately it was almost 5:30. I was heartbroken. This was precisely what I wanted. I made up my mind to beg the waitress if that's what it came down to - so when she came to take our order, I politely mentioned that I noticed it was after 5, but I really wanted to try the fish soup.

"Oh, it's no problem for soup! That's okay. It's very good," she said, smiling sweetly.

What a doll!!  What an absolute doll!! This was my new favorite, weird little place.

(Did I mention that she spoke English to me the very second I walked in the door?? That doesn't always happen as I've decided I look kinda Norwegian and people rarely assume I don't speak the language. I couldn't figure out how she knew, but when I look at the above picture, I realize that, hello, I was snapping pictures of the restaurant walls like a bona fide tourist. A tourist with a dead camera battery that only stayed on long enough for me to snap a quick picture before it turned itself off).

Only a few minutes passed by and pretty soon what I had been waiting for was right in front of me: a big bowl of fish soup and some fresh bread.

Good grief, it was so good. Creamy, a little salty, ribbons of carrots and celery, and lots of fish! There were big pieces of cod, salmon, shrimp, and even muscles!

I had never eaten a muscle before, so it was pretty exciting to try and there were about 6 in my bowl!

It's not usually a popular choice to eat traditional Norwegian food here because there are so many other international influences, but when you can find the good stuff - appreciate it! This is probably one of my favorite Norwegian foods that I've tried and hey, it's surprisingly not expensive, either.

So, if you're coming to visit, be sure to push yourself to try something that sounds a little weird, because it's SO good.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Learning the Language

I waited awhile before taking my first Norwegian class...and I'm glad I did. 

After a wildly crazy summer that included the wedding and a family camping trip not long after, moving 5200 miles away from my sunny hometown, family, and friends, setting up a new apartment, and starting a new job...I needed to rest. That was okay because I knew and had no problem speaking a few key phrases even before I arrived. I could, for example, say "Can you speak English?" (Snakker du engelsk?), "I'll have a white wine, please" (Jeg vil ha et glass hvit vin, takk), and "Where is the toilet?" (Hvor er toalettet? And hope that when they answer they use more body language than descriptive words...).

I knew my numbers, the alphabet (sort of, there's 3 extra letters in the alphabet that aren't exactly easy for people learning the language: æ, ø, å; plus the "r" is notoriously awkward for Americans), and I knew other things like the days of the week, months of year, etc.) I could get by, and that was enough for the first 5 months. 

And then the darkness came. And the family get-togethers. And the general desire to communicate - to listen comprehensively and speak coherently. I spoke to people about where to take a class, did some research, and 3750 NOK later (roughly 650 US $) plus another $200 ish for books, I currently sit in a class of about 12 other students with a fantastic teacher who speaks just slow enough. 

I leave class feeling quite confident - until I run into the real world where people don't speak that slowly or that patiently. Or maybe they speak an entirely different dialect. This is tricky business, this learning a new language thing. In any case, I can read a bit more, and I'm understanding a lot with all these new words I've learned. 

This is good...just a few more months and *cross your fingers* I'll be able to have a decent conversation!