I’m in Oslo (or Osslo, as they prefer it here) right now trying to dig around the Norwegian food scene, such as it is, for a magazine feature. During my wanderings through this airy, relaxed, ferociously expensive city, as well as bumping into this chap...
and the king...
... I found this amazing shop selling traditional Norwegian foodstuffs. When you walk in, it smells like old, wet, woollen hats and it takes a moment of adjustment as you realise you are going to have to breath through your mouth for the next few minutes. Then you look up and see where the smell is coming from: those are dried lamb ribs hanging from the rafters.
And this: it’s not from Spain, it’s not even pork.
It is dried leg of Norwegian lamb which was actually rather delicious, in small quantities: sweet, herby, not too lamby, but at the same time with a definite lamb identity.
There were also various funky fish products, including salted cod (which the Norwegians have sold to the Portuguese for bacalao for centuries) and air dried fish. The Norwegians also have one of those ‘leave some fish to rot for a few months then serve it to foreigners and watch them squirm’ kinds of dishes. Now, since Japan, I have come to see fermented things in a whole new light, but I think I would draw the line at this (even though I love the fish sauces of SE Asia, I think it would be the jelly-like texture that would be the insurmountable hurdle here).
Eirik Bræk the generous and welcoming Norwegian food evangelist who runs the shop, kept urging various samples of dried and/or salted meats on me - reindeer, elk, lamb, pork, horse, all lovely and subtly different (the horse somehow tasted of horse, if that makes any sense), and, rather less pleasant, darkly liverish, bear (though he promised he never had polar bear: “The police would take me away!”) - and Norwegian cheeses. Some of the latter were rather wonderful - one was a passable Comté-style, the blue was good too, an the sweet, brown goats milk cheese is great in small doses - but there were some I wouldn’t care to meet in a dark alley - gammel ost (old cheese) was hideously bitter, virtually inedible. “Jamie Oliver tried that when he was in here a couple of years ago,” Eirik told me. “He said it was... interesting!”
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