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The Dreaded Lutefisk

One of the most common questions we get asked about living in Norway is, “What is the weirdest thing you’ve eaten there?” I think there’s just something about foreign countries that invokes images of strange and exotic foods and people have some strange desire to hear about it and get grossed out.

Norway definitely has some pretty strange foods compared to the US. A lot of it’s weirdness stems from the bygone necessity of preservation back in the old days. I tell you, Norwegians came up with the most creative ways to preserve and reconstitute food I have ever seen. There’s this salmon called “gravlaks” which literally translates to “grave salmon”. Traditionally, it was salted, buried in the ground, and left to ferment until it became super pungent and strong tasting. Yum.

Another one that is pretty common here in Southwestern Norway is lutefisk. Lutefisk is cod that has been hung out in the open air and dried for months like so:

Photograph by Peter Prokosch
The dried fish is then soaked in water and then in lye for a week until its structural proteins dissolve and it becomes a sort of fish-jelly (lutefisk directly translates to “lye fish”). Since now the fish is caustic from soaking in the lye, it is soaked again for another week in cold water to make it edible. THEN it is boiled or pan-fried until translucent and served with mustard, potatoes, and mushy peas. Seriously, who comes up with this stuff?? I want to go back in time to meet the first guy who thought, “Hey, what if I soaked my dried cod in toxic lye? Think it would be delicious?”

 

For some reason, lutefisk is a pretty traditional Christmas dish in this part of Norway. We’ve been hearing about it for years so we decided that this year was the year we were going to give it a try. Some good friends of ours really like it and eat it every Christmas, so we went with them to City Bistro which supposedly serves the best-prepared lutefisk in town. We figured if we were going to try reconstituted fish jelly, we might as well do it right. Apparently, it’s reputation is sound because you have to reserve a table for lutefisk in advance and when we tried a few weeks before Christmas they were fully booked until January! So we had a post-Christmas lutefisk celebration this year.

We were too apprehensive to order the full main-course lutefisk so we split the appetizer version. Our friends thought it was hilarious to watch “the Americans” try it for the first time.
But you know what? We actually really liked it! We were very surprised based on the horror stories we’ve heard, and we can only attribute it to the fact that we supposedly had the best-prepared lutefisk in town. But it was seriously enjoyable to eat and when we were served our main courses (catch-of-the-day and reindeer) we regretted that we only ordered the lutefisk appetizer. I think we’ll definitely be making this an annual Hill Christmas tradition!
And now we have a really good answer to the “what’s the weirdest thing you’ve eated in Norway” question :) Next on our list is smalahove (Google image it if you dare!)

 

 

This – right here, right now – is Norway.

This hike to Månafossen and the Mån Farm with the Hoegers and our church is going in the C2 record books as one of the most Norwegian things we've ever experienced.
 
First, there was the hike to the falls. In the drizzling rain. Rain doesn't slow the Norwegians down one bit.
 
We continued up through the mossy, mysterious forests to Mån Farm.

 

Then we grilled pølse on the bank of the river for lunch. Because of course it's not a true Norwegian outing unless hot dogs are consumed.
 
We cheered on Crister as he tried to rock-hop across the river (wearing his parka in August).
 
He almost made it, but then had to wade the rest of the way barefoot through the glacial river.
 
And that glacial river? The kids were playing in it in their swimsuits. It doesn't matter that the water is frigid….it's summer!
 
THEN the sheep showed up. Just sauntered through the group with their bells jingling like it was totally normal. Which…because it's Norway…it was.
 
And then, you guys, the children started RIDING THE SHEEP!
 
And the grandpas too. In Norwegian sweaters. I mean…. FOR REAL???
 
It was like everything we ever imagined/hoped/dreamed Norway to be came to life right before our eyes in a beautiful, surreal still-life of Norwegian culture.
“'Sup?”
 
 
It could only possibly have been more Norwegian if everyone did the hike wearing cross country skis.
 
But I guess that's what winter is for :)

 

This Is Norway

Yep….this video pretty much sums it up!

Eating Rudolph

A little while ago, I was over at my friend Jen’s house (an expat with the oil industry) and she introduced me to her friend Vanessa.  Vanessa is a French-Canadian who married a Norwegian and is now expecting her first little viking baby! The three of us were cooking dinner together for a little ‘girl’s night in’ and Vanessa mentioned that her husband LOVES to cook.

A Norwegian that likes cooking? I thought, Whoah Norwegians aren’t typically known for their love of the culinary arts. Jen and I were clearly doubting her, so to show us how into cooking Eirik really was, Vanessa invited Chris, Jen and I over for a dinner party at their house on Saturday night along with 4 of their (hilarious) Norwegian friends. And what a dinner it was! Vanessa wasn’t messing around. Eirik served up a 5 course Norwegian meal of some of best food we’ve had since we got to Norway!

Course 1: Bruschetta with liver pate from Spain

Course 2: Scallops and lobster with a vanilla bean cauliflower pureé

Course 3: Lobster-seafood soup

Course 4: Reindeer with winter vegetables and red wine reduction sauce

That’s right. Reindeer. And you know what…it was delicious!

A fun factoid about Norway we learned that night: Norwegians don’t raise beef cattle. All the beef here comes from dairy cows that are past their milky prime, and because of that the beef is…well…quite sad :'(

So when Americans eat big juicy steaks, Norwegians eat big juicy reindeer. And as long as you think about it like THIS:

 

and not THIS:

 

it really is as delicious as steak! Chris and I both loved it!

 

The final course of the meal was the BEST creme brulée I have ever tasted. Absolutely amazing!

 

Thank you again for a wonderful night Vanessa and Eirik!

 

In Cod We Trust

Anna showed me this book when we were over at their house for a Wine and Cheese night and she insisted that I borrow it. She said it would give me a whole new appreciation for Norwegian culture and my experience here. It’s a pretty quick read (I finished it in an afternoon/evening) and seriously…it was hilarious. I loved every bit of it! In fact, as soon as I finished it I popped onto Amazon.com and ordered one for Chris and I. We need it in our house.

The book is written by Eric Dregni, a great-grandson of Norwegian immigrants who receives a grant to live in Norway for a year with his pregnant wife to rediscover his roots and write about his experiences. His adventures echoed our experiences so far almost perfectly! I’d read excerpts to Chris and we’d both think “Hahaha! That happened to us!” or “Oh! That totally explains _____!” It really did help me understand the cultural differences between Norwegians and Americans and Eric’s light and comedic way of writing about difficult situations made me appreciate that these differences are an adventure and not something to stress over.

I’m guessing that this book won’t really be relevant to most of you, but for a few of you (I’m specifically talking to you: Mom, Dad, Jon, Tamara, anybody planning to visit, and any of you expats living in Norway), you will seriously love this book. It’ll help you appreciate what life is like for Chris and I here in Norway in a much funnier and cohesive way than this blog does (and if you are an expat, you’ll totally relate!). In fact… I wish Eric Dregni could write this blog for me. It would be much more awesome :)