Eating local takes on new meaning for the passengers aboard Norway’s Hurtigruten ships, cruising along the country’s scenic west coast. As the fleet’s 11 ships make their frequent stops, letting passengers explore the towns and countryside, they also take on foods from local producers and transform them into a movable feast. Thus delicate arctic char, caught in the Arctic Ocean, was loaded directly onto the ship during the night and served at Tromsø, near the northern end of the voyage, to passengers on the MS Nordlys.

Not only is the food fresher with the direct delivery, but it reflects regional specialties and traditions, said Andreas Berg, the MS Nordlys’ chef de cuisine. One of the desserts is nyr, a creamy yogurt-like dairy product that dates back to Viking times. During the summer and fall, it’s topped with a mixture of fresh blackberries, blueberries and raspberries.

Every northbound voyage starts in Bergen with a dinner buffet that includes the creamy Bergen fish soup, topped with fish dumplings, a traditional recipe that has a slight sweet-sour tang. Even the super-chocolate-y Nemesis dessert has a local aspect in the warmer seasons — the raspberries scattered on top are from the area.

Berg, who grew up in the north of Norway and now lives in Leknes in the Lofoten Islands, alternates 22-day shifts on the Nordlys with another chef. Some of the Hurtigruten chefs worked with a larger committee to devise the new program. So far, it’s working well, he said. “Personally I think the concept is amazing — serving food from the places we pass by. It’s been easier than I thought. We invited local producers to submit bids and they were selected for consistency and reliability. The menu changes every two months, with the seasons.

“Many of us who work on Hurtigruten ships have grown up along the coast, and therefore can naturally tell a story behind many of the products and vendors,” said Berg.

In addition to the fish, meat and dairy products sourced locally, some of the berries, nuts and vegetables also come from local producers. Between 110 and 220 pounds of meat and fish is used daily during a six-day voyage, Berg said, with an average of 325 diners nightly for the three-course dinner. Although fish is a favorite entree, there is always a meat option.

“So far, the program has been a success,” Berg said, “but we’ve just started. Now the dinner menu and the cafe menu are local. The next step is breakfast, lunch and a local a la carte menu. We won’t give up until we serve at least 75 percent local products. Now, on the set menu in the evening, each of the three courses has at least one local, unique product from a small vendor producing on a small scale.”

While meal preparation is a serious matter, Berg also has time for a little fun with his food. One pitch-black night when our ship was supposed to traverse the narrow Troll­fjord, he stood on deck, ladling out samples of troll soup.

What was the secret ingredient?

“Why, trolls, of course,” he replied with a grin.


Anne Gillespie Lewis is the author of “Ingebretsen’s Saga” and “A Perfect Tree for Christmas.”