They’ve got a lot to be happy about in Norway today.
Firstly its national day when they celebrate their declaration as an independent nation in 1814 with parades, parties, flag waving and plenty of food. And to add to the festive atmosphere their Eurovision entry, Alexander Ryback, stormed to victory last night with the highest ever score recorded and over 150 points clear of his nearest rival. Its only the third time Norway have ever won and for many years they were rather more well known for their 1978 ‘nul points’ than anything else.
So today I think they’ll all be going a little crazy. The flags will have been flying high on every building and there will be much merriment. Norwegians enjoy a good celebration and important events are marked with special dishes and the hoisting of your own flag on your very own flag pole; christenings, weddings, confirmation all have their own rituals but all involve the flying of the flag.
And I’m going to join them by trying one of their celebratory dishes.
When I was researching my Eurovision inspired Norwegian breakfast I came across a dish called rømmegrøt that I wanted to try, but further investigation told me that its wasn’t a breakfast dish at all but more of a festival one. I think I was thrown by the translation of grøt as porridge.
So what is rømmegrøt? Well having now tried it earlier today I’d say it a kind of sour cream custard rather than porridge in the way we think of oat porridge here in the UK. It’s very rich and quite sweet and then you add cinnamon and sugar, although apparently it’s also traditional to serve it with fenalår (air dried lamb leg – a kind of lamb version of Serrano ham – its lovely though fairly strong flavoured).
Rømmegrøt really is a celebration or treat dish and as well as being served today (17 May, National Day) is served on occasions such as weddings, Christmas and harvest festival. At Christmas some might be left out for the Christmas pixie, a bit like we leave mince pies here, and on farms at harvest it is traditional to leave some out for the ‘nisser’ or house spirits to appease and thank them.
Here’s the recipe I used, I went for the richest version to get the full on experience, some recipes are thinned down with milk and others use barley flour or semolina (I found at least 10 subtle variations).
Serves 4 (from The Norwegian Kitchen):
1 litre 35% sour cream (I used regular sour cream from the supermarket and that caused a small problem)
¾ cup plain flour
sugar and cinnamon (or fenalår) as garnish
Simmer the sour cream for 15 minutes and then stir in the flour, keep cooking and the butterfat should rise to the surface and you skim this off but keep it. This didn’t happen and I guess the sour cream had too low a fat content (having looked at the label I think its only about 18%). The mixture will go lumpy and so whisk it to get it as smooth as possible. Add a little salt then serve with the reserved fat drizzled over and your choice of garnish (I had to cheat and pour over a little unsalted melted butter but that seemed to work). The book suggests that as this is so rich you might want to use it as a topping for other porridges such as rice porridge.
It was really tasty but so rich we could only eat a little sample. My husband thought it would be great with bananas and fruit or compote would also go well to make a really nice rich dessert dish. We’ve put the leftovers in the fridge to see if its tasty cold as well. I’ll report back.
They say you should breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper. And today I am trying pretty hard….I’ve breakfasted like King Harald V of Norway on brown cheese and flatbrød and now I’m about to lunch like a Tsar (or Roman Abramovich) on blini and vodka. Its all good stuff and in aid of Eating Eurovision (a rather mad project thought up by journalist and food blogger Andrew Webb) – 25 food bloggers eat 25 cuisines within the M25.
I got Russia out of the lottery pingpong ball bag and also opted for Norway as an extra.
And that is where I came unstuck.
I woefully underestimated how long it would take to track stuff down, get it, eat it, write about it. I did Norway first because I thought it would be really hard to find the foods I wanted but actually it wasn’t so bad, finding Russian contacts and leads has proved much much harder. I thought there were lots of Russians in London and maybe there are but I didn’t find any. I found a possible deli in Queensway (Kalinka) but after buying my Norwegian cheese mountain had no time or strength left to get there to check it out. I’d spotted various restaurant options but time was short and I wanted to do some actual cooking.
Then I thought of vodka tasting at Potemkin but my friends could not be convinced to leave the grotty surroundings of the pub they had started the evening in to walk less than half a mile, they suggested the nearer Polish bar but that’s Polish so how was that going to help. I bet vodka isn’t just vodka you know, I bet it has hundreds of subtle nuances. Oh and to be fair to my mates by this time it was pouring with rain so we would have got drenched.
So having drawn some blanks and having been pointed at blini by fellow Tweeters – I thought lets make blini (and wash them down with a splash of vodka). I was tempted to go to a Lithuanian deli in Leytonstone I’d spotted during internet research for a (very) vague bit of almost authenticity but having seen @hollowlegs tweets about her Lithuanian restaurant eating I decided maybe not. Anyway I needed a recipe first, now I might have hundreds of cookbooks but curiously not one of them is about Russian food. Surfing the web throws up lots of blini recipes and some earlier surreptitious reading of books in Foyles suggested that actually mini blini are okay but the real deal is to have big huge proper pancake size blini – oh yay lunch sorted: big savoury blin (apparently the singular of blini according to wikipedia…hmmm doubtful) followed by big dessert blin.
Sorted right? Wrong. By this time it’s already past the deadline to post and I’ve only just decided what I’m doing. Oh dearie dearie me.
And there are only two choices in such circumstances: don’t post and FAIL completely or CHEAT.
So I cheated. Yes I did what we were not supposed to do I went to Waitrose bought the most Russian looking things possible, came home, cooked, ate and made myself listen to the Russian entry on repeat as penance! I could have cheated more by pretending the vodka we already had was Russian but I didn’t, maybe that makes it all ok?
My blini were good, they were rather thick so could perhaps be classed more as oladi (which are well, big fat blini) and very filling. I did a bit of a cheats recipe (what not more cheating) and followed the recipe on the bag of buckwheat flour using baking powder instead of yeast to get the raised texture but it worked fine. The 100% buckwheat flour makes a very brown looking batter. For the savoury topping I had sour cream, Russian (i.e. beetroot) cure salmon and chopped quails eggs and for the sweet more sour cream with warm raspberry compote I quickly made from frozen raspberries. Then I had a splash of Russian vodka to finish it all (and me!) off.
I am very very full now. I’ve had two hearty cuisines only a few of hours apart – perhaps fine if it was snowing and minus something scary outside but a little much for spring day in London. If I’m lucky it’ll mean I sleep through tonight’s competition and don’t have to watch all those crazy acts again.
I’ve also learnt that if you bite off more than you can chew you’ll get indigestion somewhere along the way but on the other hand, as Tennyson almost said:
‘Tis better to have tried and cheated than to have never tried at all’.
What did you have for breakfast today? Cereal? Toast? Fry up? Nothing?
Whatever you had I know it can’t have been as interesting as my breakfast was. Why’s that? Well I was Eating Eurovision and you, unless you are one of the other very mad food bloggers taking part in this caper (each with our own country to sample), you weren’t. Today for you was probably just a normal day with a normal breakfast. My breakfast may well have been normal for any self respecting Norwegian on any normal Norwegian day but it was an adventure through another culture for me.
So how exactly did I get to be eating Norwegian delicacies in East London on a damp Saturday morning (hey Norwegian style weather to make it more authentic excellent!)?
Um well, via the wonders of the superinternetmotorwaytechiethingy I recently joined a London food bloggers forum and, lo, one of then had come up with the challenge of 25 food bloggers eating the food of the 25 Eurovision finalists within the M25. Sounded like fun so I signed up and duly spent Thursday evening in a meeting room at the BBC watching the second semi final with 20 people I’d never met before…..ah the wonders of the internet bringing people together – a new approach to community. Once the complex voting for the last ten coveted slots was over we each selected (with some fear for which country we would get) a pingpong ball from a bag.
I got RUSSIA.
And so why have I just been eating Norwegian breakfast? Well poor old Norway hadn’t been picked because we were a few bloggers short – so I gallantly said I’d take it on – I mean they are right up there as one of the favourites to win tonight how could we not sample their cuisine plus it was going to be a great chance to introduce BROWN CHEESE to the rest of the world.
Now I happen to have some Norwegian connections in my family so I’ve eaten Norwegian before and been to the lovely city of Bergen several times. So I sort of knew what I was letting myself in for but I had no idea how easy or not it would be to get my mitts on some Norwegian breakfasty things within the M25 in time to blog about it all today.
First stop was Twitter where the airwaves were buzzing with #eatingeurovision tweets from everyone taking part trying frantically to track down leads for their country. I didn’t get any Norwegian specialists this way but I did get some general Scandinavian pointers. I moved onto the internet proper and that miracle tool that is Google. ‘Norwegian food cooking london’ and other similar phrases threw up a link to the Official Norway site in the UK – here there’s lots of info about all things Norwegian including the upcoming festivities for National Day this Sunday 17 May (which has its own favoured dish I’m going to blog about separately) and some background on Norwegian foods. Rather worryingly it refers to lutefisk simply as a fish dish particular to Norway when in reality it’s a pretty frightening sounding concoction involving cod that has been dried then soaked in lye or caustic soda until it becomes soft and jelly like. Moving swiftly on I find a link to a shop near Oxford circus that sells food goodies from Scandinavia so I decide to pin my hopes on this.
I get to Scandinavian Kitchen just before the lunchtime rush and I’m so excited I forget to take any pictures of anything, dear oh dear. I spot the cheese section fairly quickly and can see they have some of what I’m after so I have a little chat with the guy behind the counter, telling him what I’m up to and asking what else my Norwegian breakfast should involve, he directs me to the flatbread (flatbrød) but also tells me that crispbreads are not very Norwegian and steers me away from a Ryvita type moment. He has to get back to serving so he hands me over to a lovely lady who takes me on a whistle-stop tour of what I need: the cheeses are good, flatbread is good, there should be fresh bread too (they don’t have any specifically Norwegian stuff at the shop so she suggests sourdough but not rye, Norway is not big on rye bread she says and they like their bread less sweet than the Swedes!), liver paste, lamb salami, a Norwegian take on Nutella, fish egg paste (I skip on this option), boiled egg, jam (but she doesn’t have any cloudberry so I skip on getting jam as well). I’m pretty loaded up by now and then along comes a customer she knows well who happens to be Norwegian and so we double check the breakfast options with her and we are bang on track, I just need to drink a big cup of coffee with it and I’ll be having a full on Norwegian breakfast moment. I take my haul to the till, pay up (ouch the prices are high but they are also high in Norway, food is not cheap there) and dash off weighed down with stuff. The friends I’m meeting for lunch are all a bit bemused when I roll up with a huge bag full of Norwegian stuff and clearly think I’ve gone completely mad since they last saw me, ah well, they don’t know what they are missing.
On to this morning and its time for a Norwegian breakfast feast. My husband looks a bit dubious as I start getting all the stuff out and is clearly disappointed that it’s not the bacon and mushroom sandwich option that Saturday usually brings. But he joins in skipping only on the brown cheese.
So what did we have and what was it like? Here’s the spread:
We’ve got (L to R, back row first):
lamb salami (this one is actually Swedish but the shop didn’t have any specifically from Norway and I wanted to give it a go)
Flatbread (take a look inside the box….erm where does the packing stop and the bread begin….)
My nice glossy Norwegian cookbook that my brother gave me
some Ridder cheesesome brown cheese (Gudbrandsdalsost)
Liver paste (isn’t the kid cute)
the chocolatey nutty spread
some Norvegia cheesemore brown cheese (Ekte Geitost)
And here it is on the plate with my lovely Norwegian pewter cheese slice (essential for cutting slivers of these boingy cheeses):
Was it good?
Pretty much so. The salami wasn’t as lamby flavoured as I’d expected and it was rather too salty but pretty nice. The flatbread was very dry (you could play the eat 2 creams crackers challenge with it) but that’s part of the point, its dry so it stores well, its not especially interesting or full of flavour and when I told my husband I’d spotted a recipe for soup made with it he looked at me rather oddly; its not inedible just a vehicle for other stuff. The chocolate-y spread was so so sweet I couldn’t have more than a mouthful – I guess you either like that kind of thing or you don’t. The liver paste was really tasty, a smooth liver pate basically, good stuff. The two paler cheeses (Ridder and Norvegia) were fairly mild, a bit like Edam; the Norvegia was a lot like Jarlsberg which you can get easily in supermarkets here; the Ridder was stronger with a slightly earthy flavour and probably better as a lunch or dinner cheese.
And the BROWN CHEESE??
They are both made from goats milk and are very traditional Norwegian cheeses. There are quite a few variations available in Norway in terms of strength and creaminess, sometimes cows and goats milk are used together which generally makes a for a milder cheese. All are made from a mix of milk, cream and whey cooked together until they caramelise which is where the brown colour and surreal sweet flavour comes from. I really love the flavour, its weird but tasty (think savoury fudge!), others think it’s vile (e.g. my husband for one). The Ekte Geitost was stronger and had a drier texture than the Gudbrandsdalsost, which is milder and smoother.
Go on give them a go you know you want to and you can get them at some branches of Waitrose according to the Norwegian Cheeses UK site. Hurrah a constant supply for me ?
And as for tonight well lets hope young Alexander Ryback has been brought up on a good diet of smooth tasty brown cheese – its sure to give him the edge over rivals. Go Norway Go.