In order to understand bits of this blog fully, you have to have a sense of daily life in Norway. And there are few ways to get a real feel for a culture than to eat their food. And I have mentioned before, not only is Norway renowned for its most frightening dishes, Norwegians revel in trumping their wobbling jelly-like lutefisk with a grinning smoked sheep’s head.
But dishes like those are for special occasions and holidays, what about everyday home cooking? Well, you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone, so one sensible way to measure what’s dearest to a Norwegian’s stomach is to see what they crave when abroad.
To this end, an aftenposten.no travel article about the most popular items sold at the Norwegian Seamen’s Churches provides food for thought.
The number one bestseller for those hungry for the taste of home was ‘fiskeboller‘ – fish balls – a traditional dish formed of fish, milk, potato flour and spices, though usually bought ready-made in cans.
Number two is ‘brunost‘ – brown cheese – also ultra-traditional and arguably anti-cheese, as it is based on whey rather than curds. Formed into kilo and half-kilo bricks, brunost is regularly mistaken for explosives by airport security x-raying hand luggage. I’ve experienced this first hand when taking some abroad as a gift to a pining addict.
The top ten includes Norwegian brands of typical products like cheese, chocolate and jam, but a few other national specialties round out the list: ‘kaviar‘, a spread based loosely on fish roe; ‘lefse‘ (soft potato flatbread); and ‘Seigmenn‘ – little sugar-coated jelly men.
It’s interesting that despite close ties to their Scandinavian neighbors, so many Norwegian favorites remain uniquely Norwegian. Their daily dose of cod liver oil (tran) remains a remarkably strong tradition, and they firmly believe it has near magical properties, imparting health and strength, and is to be taken in months containing the letter ‘r’. Health authorities recommend dosing begins at age four weeks, according to an article by Norwegian news agency NTB.
Swedes phased this habit out over 50 years ago, preferring to bolster their vitamin D levels with drops and enriched margarine, and recommending milk and fish intake. Despite all this, neither of the Scandinavian neighbors have great vitamin D levels in their populations, and Norway has one of the highest incidences of Osteoporosis in the world.
Norway’s recent successes in the Bocuse D’Or demonstrate that despite their delight in scary food, they do know what to do with their exquisite culinary resources. The gourmet restaurant Bagatelle, the country’s only establishment with two Michelin stars, has been hit hard after celebrity chef Eivind Hellstrøm and his entire staff announced they were quitting after a long-running disagreement with financier owner Christen Sveaas.
Sveaas recently promised that he would reopen Bagatelle in 2010, and continue its tradition of excellence. How remains a mystery, or secret, as none of Norway’s top chefs is reported to have accepted the job, according to Norwegian media.