I can’t believe I have written so many posts already and haven’t really touched on one of my favourite topics, FOOD.
Every country has its own version of traditional food and the Norwegian one is as interesting as any other. Less meat and more fish is how I would describe it in 3 seconds. Salmon is to Norway what beef is to Ireland and the UK. It’s affordable, great quality and a regular on most dinner tables a few times a week. The salmon is mostly farmed which is why it is affordable but production is closely regulated and it is great quality.
I miss eating more beef than is good for me as I used to sometimes. It’s available here in supermarkets but at upmarket as opposed to mainstream affordable prices. Norway is rich in coastline and mountainous terrain, not great for cow grazing.
I grew up on a small dairy farm in the West of Ireland and for as long a I remember, there have been grievances about the injustices of the supply chain as the ‘middle man’ supermarket squeezes the farmer to sell milk for next to nothing. I get the feeling that farmers don’t have the same problem here. Norway is not a member of the European Union and so doesn’t have to participate in any common agricultural policy which determines prices and supply. Core farming and fishery industries are protected by the government, partly by levying huge import taxes on food for any foreign suppliers wanting to break in to the market here. So unsurprisingly, Norwegian supermarkets sell mainly local Norwegian produce when it comes to dairy produce, meat, fish, seasonal fruit and vegetables. And this is what consumers want to buy. Lidl lasted in Norway for just 4 years before they sold out and moved on in 2008. They just couldn’t crack it here. They tried to trade as they always do, regardless of a unique trading environment here in Norway. As far as I can see, Norwegians like to shop local, buy good quality and buy what they know. Lower prices and strange good quality German food were not enough to rattle this.
So supermarkets here are much smaller than in other countries because although they offer the same selection of product, they do not offer the same range of choice. So translated, this means that I can get 1 brand and type of penne pasta, not 8 different choices of penne that I would find in Tesco. It makes shopping a lot faster and less decision heavy although of course, there is not so much choice.
When we came here first, we were doing the classic British or Irish thing of a big shop every week. I mean heaped trolley sort of thing. People looked at us with trepidation as we piled high and then neared the checkout. I noticed a trend of people dashing around and ahead of us to make sure they were checked out before us as they knew that the crazies would block the whole place for 20 minutes. The checkouts are not big enough for this sort of shopping and we would bring everything to a standstill with our very own little island of chaos on a Saturday morning. Norwegians traditionally shop little and often as opposed to the big weekly shop. They stop on the way home from work to buy what they need that day. We certainly weren’t discreetly fitting in with the local step in the early days. Many tailbacks later, we learned to modify our habits.
A great Norwegian food tradition is the freezer in most supermarkets with pre-cooked frozen prawns. You just scoop up loose prawns in to a bag and take them home with lemon mayonnaise, fresh bread and some salad for a traditional family meal. You can’t go wrong with this or so I thought. We tried it when my mother-in-law was here last summer but I was so keen to make sure the prawns were “fresh” that I didn’t give them enough time to defrost. The whole experience looses some charm when your fingers are numb from peeling them and then your teeth hurt from biting through the icy prawn. It never ceases to amaze me how my inner Nigella Lawson goes on holidays every time my mother-in-law is in town.
I love the tinned fish here. It is the most normal thing in the world here to eat mackerel in tomato sauce on your bread for lunch. It’s Norwegian mackerel from the North Atlantic of course. Kids are raised on this stuff in barnehage and school and you will see the elderly put tins and tins of it into their baskets to have for lunch with brown bread or knekkebrød which is high fibre crisp bread, a very far distant cousin of Ryvita.
And then there is the brown goat’s cheese or brunøst which is very specially Norwegian. I love it but as the only one in this house who will touch this rare brown potent sweet cheese, it becomes a lonesome fattening kind of joy after a while. I don’t know the stats but using my eyes as a measure, obesity is not a problem in this country. It must be the fish and the exercise going to the shops almost on a daily basis. Once again, they have it sussed.
As with everything else, food changes were an adjustment when we moved here, particularly for the kids. My son had Devon Ambrosia rice and custard on his Santa list for our first Christmas here. It was a whole year’s supply he was after. And then he discovered that Santa and the elves were not in the business of perishables. He got over it. My daughter gets up some mornings now and asks for mackerel in tomato sauce on bread for breakfast. Out with the old and in with the new I guess.