Oslo, Norway – I’m a Glutton, but I’m also Frugal, Food and Norway – The North Star Reports – by Jonia Gordon. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal
Editor’s Note: this is a part of a special series from Jonia Gordon, a talented student who is studying in Oslo, Norway for the Fall 2015 semester. Jonia is a thoughtful writer, as well as a talented artist. The illustrations that accompany this article are also by Jonia.
Author’s Note: The exchange rate of the US dollar to the Norwegian Kroner is fairly high currently: $1 is roughly 8.1-. The exchange rate changes based on the strength of the currency. If you have specific questions about food, grocery shopping, etc. – feel free to ask.
Coming to Norway, I didn’t know what to expect for food. The stereotypical image of various fish-centred meals came to mind—which was honestly worrying as I do not like fish—along with the infamous lefse. However, that menu has not been a particular reality for myself. Yes, there are many fish options but, there are also many other meat options as well. Yes, there is lefse—which I tend to live off of—though it’s called ‘lompa’ here.
One thing to note about Oslo: it’s expensive to live in. I had researched a bit and talked to a friend who had attended the program the past year, previous to coming, and that prepped me with some knowledge. The problem is that my knowledge was purely abstract and experiencing the expensive prices first-hand is painful for a frugal (read: cheap) person like me. Luckily, my stipend is a respectable amount. I receive roughly 600.- (roughly $70) per week to buy groceries and other necessities.
There is one place I would highly recommend going to buy groceries (in particular: produce) if you are ever staying in Oslo for a prolonged amount of time: Grønland. It is located in eastern Oslo and offers fresh produce at cheap prices. It’s often swarming with people and if you go during a busy time (e.g. Saturday afternoons), expect to wait in the checkout line for a minimum of 20 minutes. Grønland is traditionally an area that immigrants have lived in and I believe that plays a large part in why the prices are so much lower – the businesses (the grocery and other establishments) cater to the community. On the other hand, the area is becoming more popular and trendy with the youth of Norway and that is playing an influence on how things operate there. It would be interesting to come back in five years and see how it has changed.
(Illustration Note 1,2: Exaggeration of fridge-space. I have 5 flatmates in which we share 2 fridges (1 shelf each) and cupboard space (1 cupboard each). If my fridge was this full and it was empty within a week; I would sob.)
Here are a few experiences I’ve had with food since arriving in Oslo:
A traditional fall (høst) food called “Fårikål” was a trip for my mouth and tastebuds. I had it at my volunteer placement with a bunch Norwegians telling me the background of the food and watching me as I tried it (no pressure…). First off, this seasonal food is boiled cabbage and lamb with some light spices. Secondly, it’s a prime time to eat the meat due to the sheeps feeding on herbs that provide the essence when eaten. At any other time of the year, the service users told me, it would not taste the same as the feed of the sheep would be different. Lastly, I quite enjoyed this “Norwegian” food; however, those who have problems with texture, the meat is slightly gummy/chewy. We finished the day off with waffles topped with sour cream and strawberry jam (jordbær) or brown cheese (brunost).
I have discovered an obsession within Norway and it is called Kebab. It’s an option that I tend to eat once of every two-or-so weeks; why? It’s delicious, it’s decently priced (55.- or ~$6.50), and establishments are located throughout Oslo—even on the outskirts of campus. It’s become a go-to meal when you want to walk around Oslo with friends and don’t want to spend a lot on food. For those who don’t know what kebab is: pita bread stuffed with lamb and an assortment of vegetables (cucumbers, corn, lettuce, tomatoes, etc.) topped off with dressing/sauce.
(Illustration Note, 3,4,5 : these exist in the U.S. and I must find them. I come from too small of a town that these are not common within a 3 hour drive. I’ll feed the love while I’m here and by the time I get home the craving will end. We all know that my last statement was a lie.)
If you’re a junk food lover, then you must be willing to pay the price. I’ve avoided it for the most part—great for my health and horrible for my desire to eat—and only splurge for certain occasions. I’ll often buy when I’m having a movie night with friends. Story time: One night, my friend and I had decided to watch a film together. We headed down to REMA 1000—a store located within our student village—and decided to buy junk food. All day I had talked about how I was determined to buy ice cream. As I looked through the ice cream freezer and decided on a chocolate-coated pistachio ice cream bar, my friend came around the corner and burst my sugar-coated bubble: (Illustration 6)
In the end, I bought the chips rather than the ice cream. I was disappointed and proceeded to eat the whole container of chips within a timeframe of 24 hours. I have come to learn that I have a much stronger will power to not spend money than to gorge on junk food: I never thought that to be a possibility before coming to Norway. At the same time, I have been able to decide when it’s best to splurge on something as a reward for doing well on papers, homework, or Norwegian class.
I have a confession: before coming to Norway, my cooking skills were… alright. I could make very basic food and primarily survived off of sandwiches, premade items, and my mother’s cooking (bless her soul). Since coming to Norway, I’ve started to learn how to cook and explore with trying different recipes and techniques. One of my greatest accomplishments is cleaning and cutting up chicken—I had no inkling beforehand that it would be as bloody as it was. On weekends, my friend (the same one who ruined my ice cream craving) and I cook together. She is very proficient and has taught me quite a bit; in exchange, I share my baking knowledge.
(Illustration Note 7: These pictures are a combination of homemade food, store bought foods, and a flatmate cultural feast + doodles for dramatic effect)
I’m not going to lie: there are times where I resort to eating food that I don’t have to cook or prepare. I think we all have those days where we just want to be lazy and not put any true effort in to making delicious food. For me, this day often falls on Sundays. In Norway, stores (food and other sorts) are not open on Sundays—an exception being Grønland and expensive shops. I probably spend more time daydreaming about food that I want to eat but (1) can’t afford and/or (2) can’t have as it doesn’t exist here (e.g. hotdish).
The main message I give to those future travelers to Norway (and anywhere in the world): you can survive and find fairly priced food here, it’s okay to splurge every once in a while, and trying new things can be fun. Maybe I’ll listen to my own message and try to eat fish or I can always fall into the “Do as I say, not as I do” life lesson. We’ll see how that goes, for now: off to eat a lazy meal (as shown below).
(Illustration Notes 8,9: Kjeks = Crackers, Brunost = Brown cheese)
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46 responses to “Oslo, Norway – I’m a Glutton, but I’m also Frugal, Food and Norway – The North Star Reports – by Jonia Gordon. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal”
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It’s crazy to me that I also had the same fear leaving the country for the first time that all there would be to eat was seafood. I quickly found out as did you that there are plenty of different foods to eat. Did you notice any American influence any of the food? I traveled to Costa Rica and I couldn’t believe that every restaurant we went to had chicken fingers on the menu.
I didn’t notice too many items of American influence on the food necessarily; primarily, I would say the restaurants and fast foods often seen in America are prevalent. You can find a 7/11 on seemingly every other street, McDonalds and Burger King are also fairly widespread, and TGIFridays are also fairly common. Though, that’s only my experience.
Food is such an important aspect of traveling. Eating the local food and being open to try it as you have described is something every traveler should endorse and try to enjoy. The lamb sounds especially delicious to me personally and with such a seasonal flavor I am even more intrigued. How much more expensive is junk food in Norway? It seems considerably more expensive from what you have written, but I am just curious how much more.
Junk food tends to be more expensive in general there. For example, a soda in the U.S. costs around $1.99, whereas in Oslo it typically cost roughly $3. Some chips would cost roughly $5-$6 and chocolate bars were around the same price.
For me, the scariest thing about travelling is what I’m going to eat. I’m an extremely picky and cheap vegetarian, the most exotic thing I’ve tried recently is avocado (and it was quite delicious). Over the summer though I traveled to London and I can definitely relate to quite a few of the things you said! In London food is also extremely expensive, especially once you convert from pounds to dollars, and anything “traditional” looked questionable to my picky taste buds. So instead of immersing myself in the food of London, which is very multicultural, I bought apples from Tesco and ordered nachos at pub. I hope you continue to enjoy the food though and can even brave trying some new things.
Thanks so much for sharing your experience! I actually ended up trying fish while I was there (the day after I sent in this article…) and it was edible. I preferred the cutlet over the regular fish as it was easier to pretend it was something else. I usually just tried to eat whatever I was given and not think too deeply about what it actually is.
What a great article for a picky eater to read! Travelling seems to be increasingly appealing to our generation, but my lack of culture and willingness to try new foods has me fearful of journeying internationally. So a kebab sounds pretty similar to a Greek gyro, am I right? I wonder if it’ll be difficult to adjust to American food when you come back home, or if you’re eager to do so and think about it every day.
You are very much right: a kebab is similar to a Greek gyro! The difference mainly lies in the extra veggies and the sauces; it’s one food I miss the most! I definitely looked forward to eating the stereotypical Midwestern food when I got home –and I’ve enjoyed it since! However, I did have to get adjusted to having larger meals and foods that were much greasier.
Food is super important both as a means of cultural immersion and a way of bringing people together. Being open to trying new foods, and learning how to cook some dishes as you have, is an awesome way to further flesh out ones experience in another country. I’m curious as to why junk food is so expensive. Is it that way in all Norway? I know there are some who support some kind of government regulation of the prices of unhealthy food, in hopes of fighting obesity. Is there something similar in Norway?
I’m not sure about regulations in terms of pricing on junk food; however, in my travels around Norway (which were largely populated areas), the prices remained roughly the same. I recall that they attempted (or are attempting) a system where certain items are always in the same container and colour throughout Europe so that people can easily identify what they are buying even if they cannot read the language. Though, the problem is that different unit systems can cause issues for smaller companies (who must adjust and end up losing profit).
I think the concept of having junk food be more expensive is a great idea! It would certainly help the U.S. become more healthy. I have experienced similar hesitations with going to new places to eat, though it has not been to a country with a seemingly very different food culture. Was it difficult for you to spend your money on things you didn’t know if you’d like? I tend to be more on the frugal side and have a hard time trying purchasing new things if I’m not sure that I’d enjoy them.
I did have a harder time choosing to buy food in the grocery if I didn’t know the food well–since I had to live off it throughout the week. However, in restaurants I would try different things (reindeer, stuffed mushrooms, etc.). I agree, it would be a good system for more expensive junk food but there are obstacles to get over before that can happen. Let’s hope!
I find it interesting that the word for lefse is different in Norway. Tracing the etymology would be fascinating. I presume lefse is Norwegian, but why wouldn’t it stay the same? I wonder how the food itself has changed with immigration and how the impact of other culture’s food and preparation methods has changed it.
I think it technically goes by both, but when talking to native Norwegians they always referred to it as lompa. There has in the last 60 years been an influx of immigrants within Norway, so I wouldn’t be surprised that the different cultures play an influence of the food and preparation.
Personally i think that if i was traveling abroad my main concern would be food. Don’t get me wrong, i would love to try new cuisine but i need to know what it is made of first. When it comes to immersing yourself in a new culture i feel like food is the best path. When you talk about junk food and how everyone has those days where you don’t want to cook, i couldn’t agree with you more. Do you think it will be hard to readjust to american cuisine when you come back? What if you can’t find Kabab near you when you get back? Great Article!
Thank you for reading the article! I have unfortunately not found any kebab places near me (though I’m not too surprised…). Adjusting to the food wasn’t exceptionally hard–I came home during the holiday season, so let’s just leave it at that, Plus, all the casseroles are pretty great.
Thanks for the insight Jonia. I’m also a picky eater, so there sometimes can be impolite implications if I do not accept or indulge in a particular food offering. Food, meals, and the traditions tied to meals are such an interesting point of examination when studying another culture. In america, I think overwhelmingly, that’s junk food.
Thank you so much for reading! Yes, since coming back, I have noticed just how much junk food there is and even the amount of options that there are in stores are overwhelming. There was roughly 2 or 3 options (if you are in a big store) in Norway for peanut butter and in the US there are over 6 in an average grocery.
My extended family is from Norway and my siblings and I have always discussed taking a trip out there, but it definitely an expensive trip. I applaud your ability to stay within budget. Grønland sounds like a great place, I wonder if its popularity with the young people will push up the prices. How does the popularity with fast food differ from in the States?
I would definitely recommend a trip to Norway if you get the chance. I can imagine that in the coming years the prices of Grønland will grow, especially with the larger amount of asylum seekers that Norway will be taking in this year. For fast food, I would say that 7-11 is bigger than McDonalds and Burger King from what I have seen and small convenience stores are a more common way to get food (they often have pastries and ready-made foods). Also, TGIFridays is a popular place for college students.
Is the “junk food” in Norway similar to the junk food in the United States? I remember when I traveled to London some of their brands of chips and sodas were completely foreign to me. Although, they were often presented in similar packaging (and every once in a while the same brands too). Are there any sit-down restaurants that you have gone to that you enjoy? How expense are those places in comparison to the markets?
The junk food is fairly similar, but it has a different taste since the government doesn’t permit all the preservatives that the U.S.does. I really enjoyed a Vietnamese restaurant called Lille Saigon #1, a pizza chain called Pepe’s Pizza, and an Italian restaurant within the train Station called Bella Bambina. A meal in the 3 restaurants mentioned cost roughly 180,- + or $20 –not including a drink or appetizers. If I got a kebab, it cost around 55,- or $6 and I usually got groceries once a week for 90,- or $10. Though for groceries I was pretty cheap in comparison to friends… Also, once a month I would buy 2 kilos of chicken for 100,- ($11.50) that would last a whole month.
I love knowing about food from other cultures. I’m just curious, is it mostly the same brands of junk food that you can find here in America there? Are there any brands specifically in Norway? I can also relate to not having that much willpower over food. I’m currently going through that with buying snack food for my room, but at least I don’t have to deal with the prices in Norway :). Also, thanks for the advice about traveling to other places and buying food. I loved this article.
Thank you so much for reading the article! The only brand that I noticed for junk food was pringles but it had different flavours than in America. The most common savoury flavour I see for junk food is paprika. Other than that, I noticed that there are certain brands that are common – unfortunately, I didn’t pay any exceptional attention to what they were called. There are some places that sell American (and other European) brand junk foods for an elevated price, my will power won in not resorting to buying there though.
For me this experience is foreign, I have never left the country so when I travel I don’t think about the food. The food there sounds amazing especially the kebab. I think that food really speaks about the people who live there too so it is cool that you got to experience that. Do you have any idea why junk food such as ice cream was priced so high?
I’m not sure why the ice cream in particular was priced higher; perhaps it’s due to shipping of certain products used with the ice cream (e.g. pistachios are usually fresher in the ice cream there) or it’s an out-of-the-country brand that pushes the price due to the higher economic status of Norway. It would definitely be interesting to look more in-depth at.
Whats the longest you have had to wait in line at Grønland? It is nice to know that you are able to go and get more healthy food easily at a cheap place there. Learning how to cook in another country must be fun. Then being able to go home and show friends and family the new recipes would be a great idea. Your drawings are great to look at. I love your drawings.
The longest I had to wait in line was 35 minutes, which was due to poor planning on my part: Saturday afternoons are exceptionally busy. I’ve been able to make some food for my family and will be putting it to more use when I’m back at college. Thank you so much for your kind words and for the reading the article!
Kebab sounds similar to gyro, as Roman pointed out. That sounds delicious. I’m not a huge fan of lamb/sheep but I love fish. I would think that they have a lot of other sea food based cuisine, is this true (I love clambs)? I think having to commute long distances to get to cheap markets would be a bit exhausting. Hopefully you find the funds to enjoy some delicious ice cream soon!
They do have a lot of sea food based options; even in the grocery! If I ate that type of food, it would have been much cheaper to eat larger meals every so often. If you travel to Bergen, they have fish markets and even a Norwegian fast food establishment. Thank you for reading and yes, I was able to buy all the ice cream my last week there!
For myself food is actually one of the reasons I travel. I love trying new dishes and learning where they came from. Norway seems to be an interesting place to explore in this aspect. I also understand your struggle with cooking, until we are totally dependent on our skills to feed ourselves we do not explore as much. It is a wonderful thing to push yourself and discover what you can accomplish.
Thank you for your kind words and for reading the article! I hope you will also continue to travel and try new foods.
Whenever I travel, before I even book my flight I’m always checking to see what food is popular in the area. Personally, I have a large amount of food allergies so my experience is a little different, but it goes beyond that as well. I don’t think many people know how much different the food will be when abroad than it is here. You have to mentally prepare to step out of your comfort zone and experiment! That also goes for cooking. You definitely are put to the test when you’re forced to cook for yourself in a country that doesn’t always have what you’re used to!
Thank you for reading! I’ll definitely look forward to following your example and looking for information about food ahead of time–instead of just hoping for the best–and trying different things.
Food is such an important part of the traveling experience. When I travel I always make a point to try the local street foods or the food from the local migrant communities. Even though I love trying all sorts of food, I often restrict my purchases depending on the price. I really appreciated the tidbit of the exchange rate you mentioned, because when I’m in a different country I always think about how much USD I’m spending rather than how much of the local currency. It’s very interesting to see how you rationalized the chip purchase over the ice-cream!
Thank you for reading! I think the exchange rate is really important to keep in mind. When my mother came, she was more of the mindset that she had exchanged an amount of money and received a “larger amount” back (e.g. give 5 get 200). Due to that she was willing to spend more easily as she didn’t think of it in terms of US dollars.
Food is my favorite part of traveling, it is great to experience a culture through its difference tastes! I ran into a similar problem of exchange value, although not quite as bad, while in New Zealand. I didn’t budget very well the first month, and so the rest of the time I was forced to be frugal. I also tried lamb there, not for me! It is such an odd texture.
I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy the lamb–hopefully you found something even more enjoyable to eat! I’m curious about your food experience in New Zealand – what was the most delicious food you had? Thank you for reading!
I love the growth that is exhibited in this piece 🙂 I too struggled with food when I traveled to Mexico. When I wanted a snack post dinner, I went to the OXXO only to find that nacho cheese Doritos were spicy (and I am no connoisseur of spice let me tell you… ) and even the Lays had a strange taste. Almost all chocolate had some kind of chili powder in it, and every “normal USA” snack had a Mexican spin. Because of that, I learned to love other snacks, and most importantly a lot of Mexican meals. Food is so important. It is quite literally the spice of life. I love that going overseas has helped your cooking skills as well. It’s so awesome when we can bring back more things than just knowledge and memories; these are lifelong skills you’ll get to say you owe to Oslo !
Thank you so much for reading and your kind words! Also, thank you for the enjoyable read that was your commentary. In particular, “Food is so important. It is quite literally the spice of life.” I think it would be lovely to try the food you mentioned. Your chili powder is most applicable to the paprika in Norway.
I need to take your advice on trying to make delicious foods. More often then not, it seems I would rather take the easy route of throwing it in the microwave and done! Ready to eat and going down the hatch, If I ever get a chance to visit Norway I will take your advice for the less expensive markets to go to save some money. Great post and you provided great first-hand knowledge.
Thank you for your kind words and reading it! I think making food together with friends is definitely a good way to start, since coming home I haven’t had any microwavable food and hope to continue diverting from it as long as I can, though with college starting again soon…I’m not sure how long that will last.
Thanks so much for writing this! I am a very picky eater do traveling abroad has always been a bit of a struggle for me. On top of my food allergies I have a hard time eating while traveling. Thank you so much for sharing!
This was a great trip into Norway’s cuisine! The experience that I have with Scandinavian foods and the people who share them, is that of their seafood. I would attribute this to the fact that fresh seafood is not readily available in the landlocked state of Minnesota. Yes, we have lake fish, however I can only imagine what fresh, never frozen, seafood tastes like.
A bucket list item of mine is traveling to Norway and your introduction to the foods that are available is stress relieving. I could survive on the stereotype of fish for every meal, but having the availability of junk food from home would keep me from becoming homesick.
This article was really helpful to put things into perspective as I prepare to study abroad in Norway. I’m glad the grocery stipend is reasonable, but I have a feeling I will have to be extra resourceful to find things to make and eat. I often don’t have the energy to cook, so it will be a challenge to find fresh produce and things to just eat without effort. Also, I’m not sure if Norway is also like this, but in Germany, they do not have ranch dressing. And while I could get by easily for a month without it (I also ate almost every meal out on that trip) I think I might need it in order to have a quick go-to snack (ex. veggies and ranch). But what else do they do for snacks if not junk food? Are there other fruits or veggies with dips that are common there? I am very tempted to pack a couple bottles of ranch in my checked bag….. but I will also feel guilty for bringing more “disposable” plastic products with me. The challenge of balancing a cultural experience and enough comfort to grow and thrive will be interesting to say the least.