www.nordnorge.com stumbled upon Gammelbua in Reine quite by chance, one icy cold, bright spring evening, while the sun went down behind Olstinden mountain, right outside the window. The evening sunlight lit up one of the small-paned windows with a warm glow, and glittered in the glasses above the little bar. Outside, dried fish were hanging on racks, and the rays of the sun drew shadows across the red walls of the rorbu fishermen's cabins. The friendly waitress offered us the 'catch of the day', pan-fried cod with boiled potatoes and sautéed vegetables. So fresh that it was almost wriggling, it was perfectly fried, and flaked beautifully under the fork. You could taste the Lofoten Sea in every mouthful – heavenly.
Catch of the day at Gammelbua
"We pick the best fish from what comes in on the boats", says the owner Michael Gylseth. "One day that might be halibut, the next day we will be serving coalfish nape, and the next it could be monkfish. Sometimes it can be nerve-racking, because we need the fishermen to have caught something!" In other words, like the fishermen, they are at the mercy of what the sea gives them.
Seasonal food at Gammelbua
When the Lofoten Fishery is under way, mølja is served here. At Gammelbua, this is served in the most traditional way: fish, roe, liver, potatoes, carrots and good, melted butter. "One of our contacts is a girl in Henningsvær who cuts cod tongues for us, and we serve these breaded and fried in butter, with grated carrot, potatoes and sour cream", says Michael. In early summer, they get whale steaks, which they serve either as a steak sandwich for lunch, or with a cream sauce, boiled potatoes and raw vegetable salad.
Most of the dried fish that hangs on racks all over the archipelago is exported to Italy, where there is a long tradition of stoccafisso norvegese. Now the dried fish has become a protected brand, similar to gorgonzola and champagne. Over the last few years, some recipes have found their way back to Lofoten, including dried fish salad and dried fish risotto, which they serve at Gammelbua. Grilled dried fish is a more modern innovation and is popular with summer tourists, and the preferred variety is regina rossa, the red queen.
Everyday favourites at Gammelbua
Boknafesken, the semi-dried fish that tends to be dried at home by people with north-facing verandas, is a favourite that is eaten all year round. Gammelbua also goes for the traditional choice here, with boknafesk, creamed peas, bacon and potatoes. For dessert, you can choose between traditional favourites like søtgrøt, a sweet porridge rather like rice pudding, cloudberry cream with wafer cones, or Norway's national cake, the famous Kvæfjordkake.
Eating at Gammelbua
Gammelbua is open most of the year, and only closes in the dark, stormy late autumn. During the Lofoten Fishery, the place is buzzing with Italian fish buyers, tourists and Lofoten fishermen, all warming themselves by the flickering glow of the open fire. It can be extremely lively in summer, and it's worth booking a table.