Sunday, September 21, 2008

Norsk Food

After a week in and around Oslo, I was surprised that the Norse seem be genuinely embarassed about their cuisine. Or at least many meals at this food conference I was attending were "Provencal lamb" and the like, served with ruddy southern wine. There were some seriously Norsk meals too though.

The best thing about Norwegian food is of course its simplicity, freshness, and then some seriously funky cheeses and pickled things. And fish, oh my. One lunch explained by Astri Ritterwold was sublime. Microthin crispy flat bread, gravlax, smoked mutton slices, stinky gamelost, cold slices of venison. Incredible cultured butter. And unctuous aquavit.

The one night we had to ourselves I ate at this charming Habsburg yellow inn from 1700, called Stortorvets Gjaestgiveri. Slices of raw reindeer that melt in the mouth, with a tart goat cheese and bitter greens. I doubt it was traditional, but really tasty. Then a whale steak on green pea puree with caramelized onions. It wasn't fishy as I expected, but sort of livery, in a pleasant way. Very dark, chewy, sort of like beef but without the same muscle striations. It probably would have been great with red wine, but I thought a Ringnes pilsener and aquavit made more sense. It did.

Overall the food was really quite remarkable, flat open-faced sandwiches with shrimp salad, really nice pate, pickled herring, beets, caviar paste in a tube. And that was for breakfast. The rye was amazing. If only one could find the like here. Gjetost is really an aquired taste, though I do like it. Something like a cross between caramel and cheese. But what I am truly looking forward to trying is a bit of stockfish I bought in the airport. Not bacalao, nor salted I think, just air dried cod, as was eaten through the middle ages for Lent. I will fill you in once I've figured out how to cook it, though actually I think it was sold and meant to be eaten as is, for a snack. Sort of like Japanese dried cuttle fish.

Well, if you have a chance, and a big wallet, because everything in Norway is perversely expensive, I can highly recommend it, especially for lovers of fish.


Heather said...

I guess it makes sense for whale to taste bit steak-y, since it's a mammal. Very brave of you!

I made some aqvavit last year, but the coriander and caraway took over a bit too much. Now I just use it for cooking.

Ken Albala said...

Heather, You distilled it yourself? Or flavored alcohol? Either way, let me know what you did. I'm planning on building a still bsed on 16th century instructions and giving it a shot.

Lulu said...

Really interesting to read about your experience with norwegian food. Here is a link to some information about stockfish and how to prepare it for cooking . Stockfish is as you probably know the main ingredience of "Lutefisk", an old norwegian traditinal way of serving fish (not to everyones taste I can asure you :), and here is a link to a recipe for that: Best regards from a wintery Norway, Hilde