DOGGONE IT, WE’RE GONNA HAVE A FOOD FESTIVAL: Sure there’s crowd limits, but fourth annual Smak Svalbard begins w/ free hot dogs, entertainment and local food prep lessons

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Like everything else this year there’s going to be considerable abnormal disruption at the fourth annual Smak Svalbard. In addition to the expected COVID-19 size/precaution measures, almost everything will be happening with an ambiance of massive construction sights/sounds just a few meters away.

But the fact is everyone still needs to eat and just being able to stage the world’s northernmost food festival is something of a triumph given that virtually all other local festivals have been forced to cancel since the pandemic started in March.

And in a sign of how ravenous many locals are to nourish themselves socially and well as calorically, many of the featured events are already sold out.

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Hand sanitizer and registration sheets in the festival tent are a new addition to all events at this year’s Smak Svalbard as part of the measures to comply with COVID-19 safety requirement. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

The five-day festival started Wednesday evening with a free giveaway of grilled hot dogs and sausages by Svalbardbutikken to a line of people gathering next to the festival tent in the store’s parking lot. That was followed by an hour-long entertainment show by Longyearbyen cultural school students, and three presentations on gathering/preparing two types of Svalbard fish and local mushrooms.

Similar evenings featuring local presentation and tastings of local foodstuff in the tent are scheduled subsequent evenings with reindeer on Thursday, grouse on Friday and life as a Svalbard trapper on Saturday. Another highlight of the festival will be a variety of local groups offering local/ethnic food sales in the tent from 2-6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

All events in the tent are limited to 100 people and signups in advance are requested. While a number of major restaurants are among the hosts of the tent events, the presence of another type of company is a sign of the times.

“We are also sponsored by ISS so that we can keep up a good cleaning,” Hege Giske, the festival’s director, told Svalbardposten.

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Construction crews work on Svalbardbutikken adjacent to the Smak Svalbard festival tent, in background to the right, although festival organizers said they hope the work will not be overly disruptive to events. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

Another unusual presence will be the large-scale construction work on Svalbardbutikken, which is undergoing a multi-month major remodelling that currently has most of the storefront surrounding by protective fencing, scaffolding, large machinery and other ongoing work. While Giske said some efforts are being made to scale back construction activities during events, she also told Svalbardposten “a new and better store is also important for the city.”

Two formal multi-course meals at local restaurants on Thursday and Friday are already sold out. But evening-long special festival menus are still available at Mary-Ann’s Polarrigg on Friday and Stationen on Saturday.

SMAK SVALBARD 2020 SCHEDULE

Wednesday
(All events in festival tent at Svalbardbutikken, food from 5 p.m. provided by Food provided by Restaurant Polfareren)

• 4 p.m.: “Street party” grill hosted by Svalbardbutikken.
• 5 p.m.: Entertainment by local cultural school students.
• 6 p.m.: Presentation on fileting/salting/smoking local Isfjorden fish.
• 7 p.m.: Presentation of smoking/preparing local whitefish.
• 8 p.m.: Presentation on gathering and preparation of local mushrooms.

Thursday
• 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.: Flatbread making lessons by makers from Bakstelauget in Morgedal. Free taste sample w/ pizza toppings. Svalbardbutikken.
• 6-8 p.m.: Svalbard reindeer meat sale and auction. Festival tent.
• 7:30 p.m.: Five-course kind crab dinner. Restaurant Nansen. Sold out.

Friday
• 11:30 a.m.: Fish and chips breakfast w/local cod. Kroa.
• Noon – 6 p.m.: Flatbread making lessons by makers from Bakstelauget in Morgedal. Free taste sample w/ pizza toppings. Svalbardbutikken.
• 6-8 p.m.: Svalbard grouse presentations, from hunting to cooking. Festival tent.
• 6 p.m.: “Arctic Symphony” meal featuring seal, whale and reindeer. Offered on menu throughout the evening. Mary Ann’s Polarrigg.
• 7 p.m.: “Best of Svalbard” six-course meal. Huset. Sold out.

Saturday
• Noon: Presentation on local fishcakes. Festival tent.
• 2-6 p.m.: Sale/presentation of local foods by local food and cultural groups. Festival tent.
• 6 p.m.: Presentation on living as a remote Svalbard trapper w/sales of sodd and drinks. Festival tent.
• 7 p.m.: Sea festival dinner. Offered throughout the evening. Stationen.

Sunday
• Noon: Flatbread-making course. Festival tent.
• 2-6 p.m.: Sale/presentation of local foods by local food and cultural groups. Festival tent.