Up until the 1920s, the Svalbard archipelago was essentially a no man’s land until it was officially recognized as belonging to Norway by the Spitsbergen Treaty.
Located 814 miles from the North Pole, Svalbard is known as “The Wildlife Capital of the Arctic”. Svalbard is dark four months of the year, a perfect time to see the Northern Lights, which is even possible during the day. The the sun returns in April when the days become longer every day until Midsummer night on June 23rd when the sun never sets. (and then the days begin to get shorter again).
The summer is the perfect time for for viewing the wildlife that has made Svalbard so popular with travelers who come to observe polar bears and other wildlife, such as arctic foxes, reindeers, walruses, beluga whales, seals and seabirds.
Approx. 60% of Svalbard’s land is covered in ice. Svalbard is a frozen desert made up of mountains and glaciers. Large areas of the land are covered in ice all year round. If you are a foodie you may wonder what kind of cuisine is characteristic for this Arctic destination.
So what do people really eat on Svalbard?
You may be surprised to find out that Longyearbyen, Svalbard's only town with more than a few inhabitants and the world’s northernmost town has numerous exciting dining options. In fact two of Norway's best restaurants are located in Longyearbyen.
Huset, a restaurant rich in traditions, with its focus on Nordic techniques, and local raw materials was noticed on the international radar as the world’s northernmost fine dining restaurant when the wine cellar was established in the 90s. Today the legendary wine cellar has over 20,000 bottles, being one of the most well-stocked in Europe.and critically acclaimed wine cellar. Since 2006, Wine Spectator magazine has awarded their wine list with the Best Award of Excellence.
The beautifully renovated Funktionærmessen restaurant is filled with local history and has the best view in Longyearbyen! This restaurant tempts with French inspired dishes served with Arctic views.
Vinterhagen restaurant, is a popular place, and while the dishes are seasonal, you will often find delicacies such as seal stake in red wine sauce, vegetables & potato gratin, or reindeer fillet with root vegetables, game sauce lingonberries and mashed potatoes. Fish, such as boknafish with carrot stew, boiled potatoes and bacon as well as whale steak with roasted potatoes, garlic butter, prawns and vegetables can of course also be found on the menu. You can even wash your meal down with locally brewed beer from Svalbard Brewery.
When discussing dining in Svalbard American entrepreneur Ben Vidmar definitely deserves to be mentioned. Ben works in Svalbard as a chef in addition to having his own business, Polar Permaculture. Ben is located 1.2 miles south of Longyearbyen in Nybyen, where he does arctic farming. Here he grows micro greens and other plants, which are sold to local hotels and restaurants.
Ben's vision is to help create a truly sustainable town. His plan is to open a zero-waste restaurant called the Greenhouse providing fresh, locally-grown food. He aims to solve one of the biggest headaches of life - obtaining fresh food while reducing waste.
For anyone spending time in Longyearbyen, can join one of Ben's permaculture tours to learn more about the process. There is a four-hour ‘Arctic Farm to Table' tour, which is part tour of Longyearbyen, part conversation, part cooking class. A trip to Svalbard will not only be an amazing nature experience, but a culinary one as well!
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Lene H. Minyard