Second helpings: Smak Svalbard returns with lower-cost options and high acclaim as one of Europe’s best food festivals

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It features “iffy-sounding” and politically incorrect dishes such as whale and heavily-salted sheep’s head (“a prize for those who eat everything on the head”), but a three-day food festival starting Thursday in Longyearbyen is whetting some impressive appetites in just its second year.

Smak Svalbard is named among “10 of the best autumn food festivals in Europe and the UK” in an article published last week by The Guardian. While most of the festivals on the list focus on a local specialty (i.e. Falmouth Oyster Festival, National Chestnut Festival) the article notes the world’s northernmost food festival “has culinary traditions that match its dramatic setting.”

“As well as iffy-sounding reindeer soup and seal meat, there is salmon, trout, herring and Arctic cheese, and beer from some of the world’s most northerly breweries,” the article notes. (Oddly, it recommends staying at Coal Miners Cabins, even though it’s “on the edge of Longyearbyen” and is far from all of the festival’s events.)

The debut festival last year launched on large scale with about 50 events over four days. This year’s festival has been scaled back to three days and about half as many events – among the notable changes are no breakfast events and the addition of two evenings of concerts not linked to meals – but festival director Tone Løvberg said an effort is being made to make the events more accessible.

“There’s a lot more things that are free or low-cost,” she said. “There an outdoor barbecue where admission is free. There’s a food tent that’s free. We wanted this to be a festival that everyone could afford.”

While admission to many events is free, there is an a la carte charge for some of the food and other items featured. An open day at the festival’s food tent at the Radisson Polar Blue Hotel, for example, will feature a mix of presentations and sales including Benjamin Vidmar featuring his greenhouse products, Elise Stømseng presents foods made by notable local trapper Tommy Sandal, Løvberg and Simon Liestøl Idsø serving fishcakes made from local fish, and other offerings.

“We want to show as many as possible the many exciting things Svalbard can offer of food, beverages and local products, where local food is in focus,” a festival description of the event notes. “In our multicultural mecca we will also highlight food from different cultures such as Asian food, Estonian food and, not least, food from the Arctic.”

A variety of foods will also be available in the tent starting at noon Thursday from ninth grade students from Longyearbyen School participating in a “cooking camp.”

As with last year, evenings will feature pop-up restaurants by internationally acclaimed international chefs, some accompanied by music and/or wine/cider tastings. Notable local chefs will also feature special menus, including Gruvelageret which will host its annual traditional smalahove feast where “there will, of course, be a prize for those who eat everything on the head.”

For those with a less gourmet/daring palate, Svalbar is offering a “burger challenge” Friday and Saturday where participates able to eat a 2.6 kg burger (total weight with condiments) will receive the 300-kroner meal free – or, if you really want to go hog wild, 400 kroner on Saturday where you can/listen to karaoke. (For what it’s worth, compared to eating challenges elsewhere this is roughly a three-star out of five challenge.)

Many of the events require advance bookings. Detailed descriptions of the events and reservations are available at Visit Svalbard’s website.

Schedule

Thursday
• 10 a.m.: The World of Jarlsberg, featuring free pizza samples. Svalbardbutikken. Free.
• 11 a.m.-midnight: Arctic menu from Svalbard and northern Norway. Mary-Ann’s Polarrigg. A la carte.
• Noon: Kookekamp with 9th grade students, featuring sales of street food. Festival tent at the Radisson. Free.
• 4:30 p.m.: Reindeer live paté-making class. Longyearbyen School. SOLD OUT.
• 5:30 p.m.: Four-course meal with cider tastings. Svalbard Hotell. 225 kr./495 kr.
• 8 p.m.: Northern Expo concert featuring all artists scheduled during the festival. Kulturhuset.

Friday
• 10 a.m.: The World of Jarlsberg, featuring free pizza samples. Svalbardbutikken. Free.
• 11 a.m.-midnight: Arctic menu from Svalbard and northern Norway. Mary-Ann’s Polarrigg. A la carte.
• 4 p.m.: Fishball and fiskcake making class by Tone Løvberg using local fish. Longyearbyen School. 200 kr.
• 5 p.m.: Outdoor barbecue featuring Svalbard reindeer. Svalbard Hotell. Free (side dishes 129 kr adults/50 kr. kids).
• 5-7 p.m.: Wine tasting. Svalbard Hotell. 100 kr.
• 5-10:30 p.m.: End-of-the-week beer gathering. Svalbard Brewery. Free bus to/from city center. A la carte.
• 6-10 p.m.: Svalbar burger challenge. Svalbar. 300 kr.
• 7 p.m.: Arctic menu from Svalbard and northern Norway. Mary-Ann’s Polarrigg. Music by Miss K and her acoustic trio. A la carte.
• 7 p.m.: Winemaker’s dinner featuring Spain’s Bodegas Murviedro winery. Funken. 1,150 kr.

Saturday
• 10 a.m.: The World of Jarlsberg, featuring free pizza samples. Svalbardbutikken. Free.
• 11 a.m.-midnight: Arctic menu from Svalbard and northern Norway. Mary-Ann’s Polarrigg. A la carte.
• Noon-3:30 p.m.: Open day featuring pop-up restaurants, grilling and sale of local products. Festival tent. Free.
• 4:30 p.m.: Beer tasting with cured meats from Isfjord Radio. 250 kr.
• 6-10 p.m.: Svalbar burger challenge w/ karaoke. Svalbar. 400 kr.
• 8-11 p.m.: Traditional smalahovelag feast. Gruvelageret. 595 kr.
• 8 p.m.: Fancy Smancy pop-up restaurant featuring Pjoltergeist Chef Atli Mar Yngvasson. 1,650 kr.
• 6-8 p.m.: Triple concert w/ Violet Road, Petter Carlsen and Sami band Annasuolo. Kulturhuset.

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