Norway is a rather expensive country and when we travelled to Oslo, most of our budget was spent on the ferries to get there and the hotel where we stayed. But here are some culinary highlights of our stay as well as some tips on where to eat if you’re on a budget and what to avoid ordering if you don’t want to go bankrupt (spoiler: alcohol). To read about the things we did and sights we visited in Oslo go here.
We ate breakfast at the hotel where the breakfast buffet was very well stocked and the coffee good. There was a “mix-your-own-muesli” table that I appreciated as well as several kinds of bread and lots of “pålegg” which is Norwegian for «anything you can put on your bread”: cheeses, meats, jams, cured salmon…
Among the more unusual items on the buffet were gherkins, pickled beets and brunost. Brunost (“brown cheese”) is a peculiar Norwegian product, not really a cheese, made by boiling a mixture of milk, cream and whey for hours so that the water evaporates and the milk sugar caramelizes, giving the “cheese” its brown color and unexpectedly sweet taste. It is one of the things you have to encounter early in life in order to appreciate it (like Marmite) – not many foreigners do.
The breakfast item I liked the most were small shots of a strawberry kefir smoothie.(left photo front)
Famous “eplekake” at Frognerseteren
Frognerseteren is a beautiful old wooden building (top picture) in a wooded area just about 2 km above Holmenkollen (the ski jump) and it is famous for two things: the spectacular view from the terrace and a special kind of apple cake.
You can take the T-bane up to Frognerseter, have a coffee and the cake and then hike through the woods down to Holmenkollen – or the other way round, hike first and then reward yourself with the cake. The cake (the recipe for which is secret) consists of a thick layer of apple filling sandwiched between two thin layers of puff pastry with a generous serving of whipped cream on top. I appreciated the originality of the cake and the cream being a real cream.
The prize (62 NOK/ 7,50 Euro) starts to seem reasonable if you take into account that it includes the view of the whole city of Oslo.
It is worth noting that when you order coffee somewhere in Norway, it usually includes free refill (“gratis påfyll») unlike any other drink you may order. Norwegians drink even more coffee than the Dutch and understand the need of some people ( I am looking at my husband here) to keep properly caffeinated through the day.
Kolonihagen Frogner restaurant
I have been following Kolonihagen for more than a year on Instagram and it is a restaurant right up my alley: with a seasonal menu based on local products of small scale producers and great bread baked on the premises. The name means “allotment” and is meant to evoke the purity of taste and freshness of home grown produce. The restaurant is just a short walk down the street from the entrance to the Vigeland park or a little longer walk up from the Royal palace.
By that point in the week I was somewhat starved for fresh vegetables and ordered both the cold tomato soup and seasonal salad with roasted quinoa. I know a well-grown vegetable when I taste one and the salad did not disappoint even though I could have done without the addition of dried parsley – parsley is a herb that unlike Mediterranean herbs does not lend itself to drying. Also the quinoa was a mere sprinkling on top the salad – almost not noticeable tastewise.
I solved my usual problem of being unable to choose between a sweet dessert and the cheese platter by ordering the carrot cake with forest fruits and meringue and persuading Remco to order the cheese. He said he was fine with that as long as there weren’t any brunost on it. It turned out there was brunost and to our surprise we liked it. It turns out that there is a big difference between the supermarket mass produced stuff and a brunost made by a small local producer. Surprise, surprise!
My carrot cake was good and not too sweet which is my usual complaint with baked goods. But serving cake in a canning jar is really impractical and makes for awkward eating. If you want to be original please concentrate your efforts on taste rather than weird presentation, dear restaurant.
If you’re looking for a reasonably prized vegetarian meal, Krishas cuisine is the best place to go. It was the only place we were able to afford as students 17 years ago. It is close to Majorstuen, which is where all the metro lines stop and many trams and buses too. The restaurant serves a fixed daily menu for 145 NOK (about 18 Euro) which includes a small bowl of soup and salad. The cuisine is Indian and the food good and filling, though the ambiance is strictly utilitarian.
Scandinavians are great bakers which may have something to do with the long and dark winters. Their pastries are the kind I am genetically hardwired to appreciate – yeasted, not too sweet dough and generous use of spices as cinnamon and cardamom.
So it is should not be a surprise that the last thing we did before leaving Norway was go to a bakery and spend all our remaining Norwegian crowns on “kanelknuter” (cinnamon knots), “jubileumkaker” and almond “kransekakeringer”. I think I may have to hunt down some recipes…
The Norwegian state operates under the assumption that if you make alcohol difficult to obtain and very expensive, the consumption will decrease. That’s why you can only buy alcohol (apart from beer) in state owned stores called “Vinmonopolet” that have a security on par with a jewelery store in the Netherlands.
The prices are the highest in Europe (sharing this dubious first place with Iceland). From my experience as a student in Norway back in 1997, I would say that this policy does not really work. The thing is that when something is made scarce it becomes more desirable. Even though I hardly ever drank before (or after), in Norway it felt like if you could get hold of alcohol, you had to use the opportunity. So every time we went abroad (back home during Christmas break or on a trip to Denmark) we would stock in the Duty-free store. Desperate German students brought a beer-brewing kit from Germany and then got very sick because, unable to wait, they drank the beer before it was ready. The sad consequence of this policy is that alcohol in Norway is generally not a civilized “glass of wine with dinner” affair but rather “get drunk as fast as you can any opportunity you have” race.
Obviously, alcohol is even more expensive in restaurants. Remco only had one beer in a restaurant during our stay and when I asked “why don’t you have another one?” he said he couldn’t. More quickly than me, he calculated that this 0,4 liter glass costing 105 NOK was about as expensive as a crate of half a liter bottles in the Netherlands. Plus, he complained, the waiter did not even pour it properly so there was no foam.