Aug 26, 2006

Eating in Norway

I ran across another American-in-Norway's blog and he told of making the mistake of making a full-fledged American sandwich, complete with "lid" for breakfast, whereas the Norwegian style is one slice of cheese or coldcut on a slice of bread, no sandwich. And today my brain interpreted "ice" as meaning frozen water, forgetting for a moment that Norwegians shorten icecream to "ice" (which does mean frozen water in Norwegian, too), so I was surprised by the coffee with icecream in it, but it was actually pretty good.

Norwegian food has traditionally been colored by limited area and climate for farming, spoilage (which lead to lutefisk) and poverty. The result is that a traditional Norwegian dinner used to be sinewy meat, heaps of potatoes with bad spots, and cabbage or carrots or cauliflower as a second vegetable (if any). Meat was expensive; fish was cheaper. Such was the situation when we arrived in Norway in 1969. No salads, no garlic, and the vegetables were usually cooked to death. If someone served a sandwich (open-faced, naturally) with a bit of parsely on it, most Norwegians would pick it off because all raw vegetables were for rabbits. The bread was good, but all too often fruit and potatoes had bruises and bad spots, and in general looked rather small and pathetic. Norwegians were still getting used to foreign food. They had discovered vacationing in Spain and some had finally tasted good chicken, not old hen. Back then, you could still find "hen" in the freezer; now it's "broiler", "chicken" and often in parts and pre-marinated.

What you find in the freezer today, next to the pre-marinated chicken, are all sorts of ready-to-eat meals, fish, squid, shrimp, vegetables, cake, berries, pizza, quiche, and more. Likewise, rows of canned peas are now replaced by spaghetti and taco sauces, French mustards, black olives and pickled garlic. Kits with spices and other necessities ease the making of fajitos, moussaka and lasagne, as well as a number of stews with recognizable ingredients, but exotic flavorings.

Salads are a regular addition to many dinners now, and the vegetable selection has expanded to include bell peppers, broccoli, zucchini and eggplant. There is more than one type of onion available, and Norwegians no longer turn up their noses at the idea of using garlic. Norwegians don't stick to just the home-grown fruits of cherries, apples, pears, plums and strawberries, but enjoy bananas, passion fruit, grapefruit, grapes and pineapple, etc. There are more varieties of cheese and spices, and a lot of imported and exotic foods, like Thai sauces, Indian curries, soy milk and even maple syrup. Cooking fat has been replaced by any number of vegetable oils, and the lowly potato by all kinds of pasta and rice. The bread is still good and more different types have been added, and nowadays, a Norwegian is more likely to not settle for one measly slice of sheep's sausage, but will indulge in pastrami and several kinds of raw vegetables as garnish. The employee cafeteria where I work has a salad bar twice a week.

I eat like the Norwegians, mostly, right down to the open-faced sandwich with one slice of cheese for lunch. I am revealed as a foreigner since I twirl my spaghetti on my fork (usually using a spoon); most Norwegians cut their spaghetti. Do I miss anything specifically American while living here? Yes: Tuna melt sandwiches, cole slaw, pumpkin pie and blue cheese dressing. I am delighted by the huge variety of everything available in an American grocery store, but I make do here in Norway and eat well. Today's Norway has produced some world class chefs, and today's average Norwegian eats a far more varied (if untradtional) diet, and is more willing than ever to try new things. Gone are the days when Norwegian housewives cooked and froze two week's worth of dinner before heading to Spain, so that she and her husband could eat something they recognized. Today's Norwegian will make paella in her own kitchen. And I make burritos.

12 comments:

Tim said...

Thanks for the mention - and you killed my future food post! :) I often take those pre-marinated whole chickens, pluck off all the meat and make fajitas. Much cheaper than buying the chicken filets. We did this today, and it's still a fairly inexpensive favorite of ours (if you include buying all First Price™ products).

Keera said...

You'll find a way to do your own. :-) Good idea with the chicken!

Your comment about price is typically Norwegian and I can't help but wonder if you learned it from your in-laws. :-) Me, I don't have to budget, and so I never check prices.

alice said...

I loved the food in Norway (though I have to confess, I didn't like the lutefisk so much). I can't remember the name of the restaurant -- though it was one you recommended, where you said you'd been for a Christmas party with your coworkers once, if I remember correctly -- but I had a delicious dinner in Bergen that consisted of wild game with an absolutely delightful berries in a light sauce. Ooh, that was yummy!

Keera said...

You ate here: http://www.bryggeloftet.no/ Lutefisk is an acquired taste, but definitely worth trying, and Bryggeloftet does it right (the season is from October to December). Moose, deer and reindeer are all tasty. The berries were likely lingonberries, a small cranberry, which is a lovely contrast to game meat.

alice said...

Thanks. That was seriously one of the best meals I've ever had, but I couldn't look it up -- all my travel books/journals/photos are still packed away. :-P

Keera said...

Ah, the joys of moving: Your life is now tucked inside cardboard and inaccessible. Oddly freeing when not being oddly frustrating, that.

alice said...

That pretty much sums it up. I could give up the stuff if I had to, I'd rather keep it all, but instead, I'm in a weird limbo...

Keera said...

Hey, you're not giving up the memorabilia from Norway! Walked by St. Mary's church last week and thought of you guys.

max said...

Sounds horrid.

Maybe it's the Swedes that had all the good Nordic food.

You want I should dig around for Blue Cheese dressing? (Danemark exports lovely Blue, after all.)

max
['No apple pie? Or lemon meringue?']

Keera said...

I need a good and simple recipe for blue cheese dressing, yes, thank you. Maybe one that can be frozen in portions. We have several kinds of blue cheese here, so that part's OK.

I prefer pumpkin pie. Lemon meringue ain't my cup of tea. I even prefer my pumpkin pie sans whipped cream. The Norwegians do this whipped cream-based cake (bl√łtkake) that they rave about but which became my first realization that not everything in Norway tastes good.

max said...

So...you want a pumpkin pie recipe?

max
['My mom CAN bake.']

Keera said...

Not necessary. See http://home.online.no/~kafox/blogfiles/2005/12/its-my-birthday-part-3.html