Fish. A LOT of fish. That was our second impression of the Lofoten Islands. I have never seen so many fish in my life. I am not talking hundreds but perhaps millions, all hanging headless from ancient drying racks. We had no idea when we saw the racks in the distance what they were used for. At first, we thought it was only one town that was hanging fish. Oh no. Almost every coastal town we visited had drying racks!
Drying time is from March to April or early May, when the conditions are perfect. There is a distinct method to hanging the fish, called stockfish or Cod. The fish is stacked and arranged so that air can circulate freely around each individual fish. The largest fish, which require the longest drying period are placed at the top and the ends of the stacks to ensure that the drying time is as rapid as possible. The amazing thing is that it is not salted or smoked but just hung out to dry. There are various qualities of fish and we could not tell one from another, but the experts have the ability to determine good from not as good.
The fish, once dried, is easy to transport. One thing I will say is the fish are HEAVY. You would think that the drying out process would make them light, but it does not. They are tied together into a block that looks like a hay bale and shipped out. One bale weighs in around 100 pounds and the fish can last at least 15 years! And yes, in answer to your question, we could smell them. EVERY town had racks and we were there in May so they were pretty dried out. Cannot imagine the smell when they first go up!
Years ago, they used to throw out the heads of the fish as they cut them on the boats. Now they dry the heads as well. We learned that in Africa, they use ground up fish heads in recipes. Sounds a bit different, but I am sure it is a good source of…..something.
In light of all this fishing, we decided to head to Nusfjord, a traditional fishing village that is one of the oldest and best-preserved fishing villages in Lofoten. We arrived on a Sunday and everything was closed, but we enjoyed a nice walk around the village. I am glad that we were here at this time because you could see that they have parking areas for buses. Yay! Missed them.
The colors here are red and gold with crisp white trim. The fishermen live in houses on stilts and they are nestled among the rocks. There were some fish hanging out to dry, a few fishing boats and a peacefulness that we enjoyed as we walked around. With a general store and a few places to eat, it is easy to see why this is a great destination to learn about Norway and its fishing history. There are several places to stay here as well making it a nice getaway location.
Nusfjord has a refinery that was built in the early 1900’s where they used to boil down the cod liver to make cod liver oil until it closed in 1991. The Vikings used this raw oil made from Atlantic Cod as it was highly valued for its powers of healing, strength, energy, and stamina. Today, many take it for its omega-3 benefits. It is a true testament to Norwegian efficiency that as much of the fish is used as possible with very little waste.
Driving back to the place we were staying in Henningsvaer, we passed a beautiful Caribbean looking beach and decided to stop and take a few pictures. It was very strange to see the white sands, turquoise waters and snow capped mountains all in one view.
Norway is full of surprises!