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Norwegian Fish Adapts to Local Culinary Traditions

Norwegian fish is influencing global seafood traditions. Norwegian salmon colors the dishes of sushi and sashimi displays around the world. In Brazil, Portugal and several other countries, Norway is associated with bacalao – dried cod. In Turkey, it is neither salmon nor cod that are the most visible, but mackerel.

A walk along the street and night markets of Istanbul, taking in the restaurants and the ferry docks, clearly demonstrates why exports of Norwegian mackerel to Turkey have increased, thus making the country, one of the largest importers of Norwegian mackerel. You can find the delicious fish everywhere, in restaurants and numerous small food outlets.

If you look at restaurant menus in Portugal and Spain you will quickly determine that bacalao is a must in any restaurant. It is alleged that there are as many ways to cook bacalao, as there are days in one year. Even in times of financial trouble there is something no one is allowed to take from the Portuguese; the enjoyment of eating bacalao. Without the supplies of Norwegian cod, it would not have been possible to keep the bacalao traditions alive.

Norwegians savor a hot dog when they are in a hurry and just in need of a quick bite to eat. The Dutch, young and old, happily eat matjes herring in bread. Much of the matjes herring is made from Norwegian herring.


Not long ago, I strolled around the area at the Galata Bridge in the European part of Istanbul. On the west side of the bridge, on the dock next to the New Mosque ‘Yeni Cami,’ I saw street vendors gathered on the pier. Under the bridge there is a restaurant area where a large number of restaurants sell seafood.

On my way to the restaurants, I stop at a small fast food trolley, rigged up with a gas barbeque, a cabinet for storing bread and fish, and of course, a gas cylinder. Fish fillets are called “Uskumru” – mackerel in English, and are always Norwegian mackerel. Last year, Turkey was the fourth largest market for Norwegian mackerel, after Japan, China and South Korea.

Turkey – import of mackerel and herring

Product 2011 2012 2013
1000 Tons 1000 NOK 1000 Tons 1000 NOK 1000 Tons 1000 NOK
Fresh mackerel 8 174 5 113 1 29
Frozen mackerel 19.167 206.427 18.799 178.433 19.795 184.075
Frozen herring 348 2.845 778 3.255 277 1.321

Source: Norwegian Seafood Council

Exports of frozen mackerel to Turkey continue to increase. An increase of 17 percent, and if the increase stays on throughout the year, it will mean that mackerel exports to Turkey will be around 23,000 tons.

The seller at the little street kitchen grills mackerel fillets served inside a small loaf. I ask him’’ what kind of fish fillet he sells? The seller instantly confirms – Uskumru ekmek – mackerel in bread, before he specifies that the fish is Uskumru from Norway.

Failure of own fisheries

When asked if he has Turkish mackerel, he shakes his head,and explains that there is very little Turkish mackerel. The Turkish capture of Atlantic mackerel in the 1960s was around 2,500 tons per year. Now the registered catch is less than 500 tonsa year. This quantity is nowhere near to meeting the demand.

Most travel guides, whether books or online guides, mention mackerel in bread when reviewing cuisine and culinary traditions in Istanbul. Some have even discovered that the mackerel Turks so immensely appreciate is Norwegian.

More than mackerel local fish

I check the menus one by one as I go along seafood restaurants under the famous Galatea Bridge. Here there is Norwegian salmon on every menu. Mackerel is an equally important item. Many restaurants have more mackerel dishes than salmon dishes. In fact, more dishes than there are local fish species. This is because the mackerel is suitable to be prepared in many different ways.

When I get to the last in a stretch of a dozen fish restaurants, I sit down. I order mackerel salad. It is cold, marinated mackerel, eaten with bread. In addition, I order some grilled mackerel. The waiter advises me that maybe I should choose two different species. I smile and agree, and explain that I like mackerel very much.

The picture on the menu showed a whole mackerel, but I was served two pan-fried mackerel fillets. It is the most common way of cooking mackerel. Many appreciate that there are very few bones in the fillets, if any at all. In addition, the Turks love the taste – the beautiful taste of mackerel.

There are countless ways to cook mackerel. Smoked is common. Whole mackerel stuffed with a mixture of onions, pine nuts, walnuts and other goodies is available at more up market restaurants. Most people in Istanbul prefer the mackerel to be served in bread loafs. When the riots took place in Taxim Square some months ago, barbecue kitchens were set up on the edge of the square so that the protesters could eat their fill of mackerel.

Adapts and develops traditions

The Turkish consumption of mackerel says a lot about how Norwegian fish has both adapted to local traditions, and how it probably also has helped to develop new traditions. Salmon is sold worldwide – even in tropical countries where it has never swum. Bacalao has a market built on Iberian traditions. Herring has never been an Egyptian fish – but the Egyptians consumes tens of thousands of tons, imported from Norway and several other Northwest Atlantic countries. Most of the herring eaten is hot smoked.

Renaissance for mackerel

Japanese sushi and sashimi traditions changed, when it years ago was discovered that Norwegian salmon were free of parasites, and in addition, had a perfect taste and texture. Making raw Norwegian salmon both delicious and safe to eat. Now the Japanese sushi and sashimi traditions have virtually spread throughout the entire world. Sushi and sashimi is a trendy food among young people all over the globe. Had sushi and sashimi not evolved into a global trend the demand for salmon would be lower.

There are many other examples of Norwegian fish that have become an integral part of the local culinary traditions in different countries around the world. Norwegian mackerel has given rise to a renaissance of a Turkish food tradition, a tradition that was about to disappear because of the failure of the local mackerel fisheries. Sushi- and sashimi would not have become a global trend without Norwegian salmon. The Norwegian salmon’s success as sashimi and sushi has probably relieved the pressure on endangered tuna stocks.

This year the export of Norwegian salmon will reach more than 1.2 million tons. The fishing fleet will catch nearly 450,000 tons of Atlantic cod and 290,000 tons of mackerel. Such volumes of fish are deemed to influence the eating habits and culinary traditions in many countries.

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