16 September 2012

Wharfside Norway

In Arendal, we finally gave in to the pier pressure.  It's a particular societal pressure, to turn your chair outward toward the water and have a mid-day beer.  Arendal is known for its pretty, chi-chi dock and for its local beer (delicious Arendals).  On a sunny Saturday afternoon, people pulled in on their motorboats from the suburbs that are scattered across the nearby islands and peninsulas.  Most of these well-heeled brunchers were heading to join the rosé sipping set.  We joined the already settled in crowd at Fiskebrygga ("Fish Wharf").  A different sort of 'in' crowd.  The type we always feel lucky to join.
The older set at Fiskebrygga carried newspaper cones to their tables, filled with golden brown fish and chips.  We ordered the fiskekaker - a flattened and fried version of fiskeboller.  The Fish Wharf professes that these are the best fish cakes on the southern coast.  The trio of fish and flour patties, which oddly resemble English muffins in this photo, tasted elegant, a little sweet, dense but fluffy.  They were served pub-style, with potato salad, a packaged tab of butter and some slices of white bread.  The thing about dock-sides is that they have a salty quality about them.  There's something that makes you want to use your hands, have something a little greasy or a little messy.  Something completely simple. 
At the center of Pollen, the name of Arendal's rectangular inner harbor, this fishing boat sold peel-and-eat shrimp, small crabs and big ones - which were split in half by hand before being bagged up for customers.  It was the sort of harbor lunch that you brought home to enjoy, at least here in Arendal where the crowd isn't necessarily one to sit on the steps and tear into shellfish.  The scene is something we now expect from a Norwegian dock.  Norway is the world's second largest exporter of seafood (after China) - but there's still plenty kept in the country to go around.
Reker, shrimp, most often show up in piles atop halved round rolls and stuffed into split baguettes with a slice of lemon on top and bed of mayo below.  But this is how Norwegians like their little pink crustaceans best.  Into the gusty port air, a plume of shellfish steam goes up like a smoke signal.  Open for business!  It was the first thing we saw when we stepped off the ferry in Stavanger.  This man, sorting through his freshly steamed catch.  The scampi (long clawed mini lobsters with a body about the length of a cigar) were separated out and placed in a blue, plastic bag.  The rest were available to be scooped up and weighed and given to waiting customers.
Stavanger's harbor was that perfect mix of luxury and grit.  Of life by the water and life on the water.  Boat shoes and neck tattoos.  As Merlin put it earlier, Stavanger's history is one of 'depression and wealth, boom and bust' all tied to the sea.  So, its dockside life has that extra edge of energy that comes from a sense of desperation. I've always loved the term 'watering hole,' because there's a suggestion that there's something life giving, thirst quenching and habitual about visits and returns.  Sometimes, it just fits a place so well... and dockside pubs are often that place.  Under the canvas awnings outfitted with heat lamps, men find the drop to drink they craved so much when they were out there with water, water everywhere.
A raucous maritime bar wreaks of jubilation to be back on land, but also a strange sense of sorrow to have left the sea.  At least, I get that sense.  Piers have an atmosphere all there own.  The way the water intensifies sunlight and seagulls squawk energetically, hit the senses sharply.  But then there's a rhythm to it that builds up.  There's that melodically melancholy squeaking of docked boats, the creak of their wood, heavy like sighs.  And when you watch kids sit on the edge of a quay looking out, you can almost see them creating a memory that they won't necessarily think of in words.  Above, the wharf in Oslo - a tip of a calm in a great, busy city.
Of course, Oslo's harbor had its resident shrimp boat, scooping out servings.  There were at least fifty tents set up this Saturday, some sort of food festival that included farmer's stands, outposts of the Norwegian grocery chain Meny and a ridiculous array of prepared food.  It was everything from chicken and rice to waffles and baked goods, an all you can eat herring station and the requisite fish and chips.  But the shrimp guy was still there taking care of his loyal customers.  When you're docked in the water, it's a lot harder to get lost in a crowd.

No comments:

Post a Comment