In late July each year 250,000 gather in Stavanger to take part in Scandinavia’s leading food festival.
Gladmat, literally meaning “happy food” has in 2014 been held for 16 consecutive years. The organizer states that “Gladmat is a showcase for food production, gastronomy and food culture, a venue where consumers and food producers meet. Gladmat is the leading food festival, both in Norway and the Nordic countries, and aim to promote the public interest in food and food culture.”
They are quite right and they have succeeded very well with that. Yet, the festival balances every year on a tightrope.
There is an active street life, with food stalls on land and on the boats along the pier as well.
Gladmat has an aim to be a festival and meeting place for people involved in the food industry, a task that in Stavanger is concentrated around The Culinary Institute of Norway (Gastronomisk institutt) and the Norwegian Bocuse d’Or world champions who have been associated with it. There is an underlying risk that the ambitions are too high, the criteria too narrow and the interest beyond the relatively narrow gourmet ranks is too small.
In this respect I would believe the festival has succeeded quite well, seen from a consumer’s point of view. The reason is that among all the stalls, stands and tents that are put up around the harbour in Stavanger, there are several exhibitors with a very special emphasis on gourmet cuisine, serving extra-ordinary dishes, always coming up with a something innovative. The main, “official” tent offered in 2014 a multiple course dinner with entertainment at the price of 1490 NOK (240 US$).
How about some Spanish paella?
On the other hand, a mass gathering that has succeeded in attracting up to 250,000 visitors during a four day festival, should avoid becoming a drinking haven and partying scene. Some years, Gladmat have gone a bit over the edge in this respect, the pub singers have been competing too much with the guy next door, and families with children and others have fled home. Thanks to public criticism, the situation has always improved the following year.
The big draw for most visitors is the cheap small dishes: The samples which cost 30, 40 or 50 kroner (5-8 US$). Many would want to eat from stand to stand, and to visit the entire festival grounds. Stavanger’s intimate inner harbour is like a bay with two sides, the festival ground runs on both sides. My preference has been to divide the two docks into two days of visit.
If the dishes are too large the visitors risk being satisfied before they have progressed beyond the first 30 meters. Or you risk that your willingness to pay disappears when a platter comes with a price tag of 150 kroner (25 US$). There is a fine balance to be found in these respects, which the organizers have been forced to stress from time to time.
Locally produced goods are for sale, not just the immediate consumption.
It’s not just food tasting one can engage in. Several goods are for sale, like cheese, dried sausages, chutneys, jam, bread and more. For both children and adults there are cooking classes, for adults also classes in wine tasting. In addition there are various competitions taking place and other entertainment as well.
Gladmat in Stavanger involves more than a hundred exhibitors, each serving several dishes. The variety is very large, with ethnic foods from countries such as Ethiopia and the Far East, local niche products and international cuisine from up to several regions. It is always a pleasure to stroll around in nice weather in the harbour area of central Stavanger, and Gladmat naturally adds to that experience.
After having walked around the grounds here for most of the 16 years, I am strongly inclined to agree with Ingrid Espelid Hovig. In 2014, the Mother of Cooking in Norway turned 90 years of age, and she will be in Stavanger this year as well. Ingrid calls Gladmat the highlight of the summer.
“Beware of falling corks”. There is a considerable amount of bottles with sparkling contents being opened during the Gladmat Festival in Stavanger.
Gladmat is arranged in Stavanger’s harbour, right in the heart of the city. Most people should use public transportation to get into town during the days of the festival, in 2014 from 23-26th of July.
Read more on the festival’s website (mostly in Norwegian). You can also download a Festival App to your smartphone – you get it for both iPhone and Android.
Map of the festival grounds.
Read about Stavanger’s picturesque Old Town.
Click on the images below to see them in a larger version: