What’s up with all of the boiled potatoes?
One thing you can always count on eating in Norway no matter where you live is boiled potatoes. Not boiled and something elsed-just boiled in slightly salted water and served. I’m not a food anthropologist but I’ve been told that boiled potatoes have always been popular because they are relatively easy to cook, inexpensive, filling and easily grown in the soil conditions in many parts of Norway.
People joke that potatoes are served at every meal-even with pasta. Truth be told, they often times are. As someone who doesn’t love potatoes as such, I can tell you, they are Served. At. Every. Meal.
After my first few months in Norway, I went on a boiled potato strike. I couldn’t take eating them at every meal anymore, so I decided to stop. My strike is still going strong (two years and counting. . .) but I usually have one or two when I have meatballs.
I’m traveling to Norway to visit family/friends but I’m worried about being vegetarian/vegan. Can you offer some pointers?
I was a vegetarian for almost 10 years and know all too well the pains of eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at dinner because there is nothing animal free to eat. Simply put, it sucks. Here are some tips for veggies and vegans moving to or traveling in Norway:
• Soy and vegetable meat replacements (hot dogs, hamburgers, mince, faux chicken, etc. products) are available, but be ready to pay for them. They tend to be pricey and can be hard to find outside of major cities. There are some online retailers, look out for those if you live outside of the four largest cities. In the larger cities, look in the freezer and produce sections of major grocers. Health food stores usually stock some items, but selection may be limited. Due to the high prevalence of milk allergies, soy based diary products are becoming more common. Soy, oat and rice milks are available in many larger grocery stores and supermarkets.
• Tofu (silken and firm varieties) are available in most major cities. Check out Asian food stores for freshly made tofu and cheaper prices on the packaged stuff. Some major grocery store chains sell packaged tofu (usually the silken variety) in the Asian food section. Also check organic food stores and health food stores. The ingredients to make homemade tofu are easily bought in Norway.
• Tempeh and wheat gluten (faux duck) can also be found in health food, Asian and organic stores.
• I buy dried TVP (textured vegetable protein-used in stews and faux mince friendly meals) in a Turkish store that stocks Indian food stuffs or in the organic food store.
• Most grocery stores have a decent selection of vegetables but seek out green grocers/produce grocers for the best and widest selection. Most major cities have at least one. Root vegetables are usually Norwegian grown and very good quality.
• Nuts and seeds are widely available and often located in the baking section. Sunflower, sesame (white), pumpkin and linen seeds as well as raw hazelnuts, raw almonds, salted pistachio and salted cashews are most widely available. Brazil and pine nuts are also sold, but not as widely available. Prices vary widely between stores so do your research if you are cost conscious.
• Beans and legumes are available dried, tinned, conventional and organic. ‘Ethnic’ and organic grocers sell the widest variety but tinned garbanzo and red kidney beans are available in most stores.
• If you are eating at someone’s home, feel free to mention that you don’t eat meat but also offer your host suggestions on what you do eat. Ask if you can bring something to dinner to share with the other guests (but always ask if this is okay first).
• ‘Ethnic’ restaurants offer more choice than Norwegian ones. Bean and tofu dishes are not commonplace outside of ‘ethnic’ restaurants (and even in some places you will have to ask for a special order sans meat).
• Cafes usually have some salad and sandwich options, but for the most part, most meal options are simply the meat varieties minus the meat.
Norwegian meat cakes (kjøttkaker) vs. Swedish meatballs (kjøttballer)-what’s the difference?
I’m still trying to figure this one out. From what I’ve read and heard (the few grannies I know here love to chop this topic up) the major difference is in size (meat cakes are larger), sauce (meat cakes are served in a brown sauce, not a brown creme sauce) and texture of the meat (meat cakes are traditionally made from more finely minced meat).
Why is fish so cheap in Norway?
Because it’s plentiful-duh. The largest industry in Norway is actually fishing-which means good quality, fresh fish is found in most if not all full-service grocery stores. Many cities have a fresh fish market, the most famous is the Bergen Fish Market. Many types of fresh fish (especially trout, salmon and mackerel) are cheaper then beef and chicken.
Norwegian shrimps are available year-round. You can buy these boiled in salted water (and chilled on ice) at the fish counter of most major supermarkets by the kilogram. They are normally eaten on buttered bread with sliced boiled egg, mayo and lettuce.
I’ve seen a lot of hot dogs (pølse) in Norwegian stores-what’s up with that?
Again, I’m still trying to figure this one out. I think pølse are so commonplace because they are easy to cook, a crowd pleaser and not so expensive. You will find the following varieties in most grocery stores:
• Smoked and skinless
• Regular and skinless
• Wrapped in bacon
• Grilling also summer grilling (don’t ask me what the difference is)
• Bratwurst (not the real German ones, but something closer to it than the normal hot dogs)
• With chili
I’ll definitely eat pølse given the right situation (topped lots of dark and spicy mustard, deep friend onions and a little potato salad on top), but I prefer Idsøe brand sausages to hot dogs if I have a choice.
Tell me more about the drinking culture in Norway. I’ve heard stories. . . .
Norwegians like to enjoy themselves, and that often times includes a good swig of brew (like most Europeans).
For many Norwegians, most if not all drinking is done on the weekends (Friday and Saturday) and by American standards, usually a bit excessively. Not all mind you, but it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary to see more people drinking more heavily then it’d be socially acceptable to drink in the U.S. That said, as people tend to drink only on Fridays and Saturdays, the total volume people drink in a week(end) is comparable to hitting happy hour 2-3 nights a week. This varies a bit due to age (college students-usually more than average) and lifestyle (kids, marital status, etc.).
People of drinking age tend to consume first at house gatherings known as forspiels (pre-parties), then hit the town to keep the vibe going. Beer is common (usually pilsner style beer) as is wine. Spirits are more commonly consumed at home (they are outlandishly expensive from bars and pubs) or during a night on the town for a special event. Congac is common during the colder months and aquavit reigns supreme around Christmas (especially with traditional Norwegian Christmas food).
All wine, spirits and beer over 4,5% is sold at state run stores called the Vinmonoploet. There is at least one vinmonopolet in almost every kommune and if you happen to live in a small kommune without a ‘pole, you can order your liquor online and have it delivered to you door free of charge. The ‘pole also does online orders to your nearest ‘pole location or your home for a fee.
As alcohol is very expensive in Norway, Norwegians and their fellow foreign born citizens living in Norway, tend to indulge a bit while on vacation. After having lived in Norway for almost 3 years, I can DEFINITELY see why.
Do people like to eat out a lot?
Unless you are going out with work, for most Norwegians and their fellow foreign born citizens living in Norway, it’s uncommon to go out to eat (dinner) that often. The café scene is alive and well for lunch or a light meal on weekends but most of the people I know aren’t going out for dinner dates that often.
The high concentration of international residents impacts the local food culture in that people here are a bit more opened minded to food from other countries then they may be otherwise. One of my favorite cafes in Stavanger has recently added a chicken +veggie coconut milk soup to their menu-yumm.