Nordic Nibbling Fares Well as Spectator Sport
Between events, Olympic visitors sample `nokkelost' cheese, Prince's Cake, and more
LILLEHAMMER, NORWAY — WITH the possible exception of Nordic skiers, it's the spectators who are expending the most energy here in Lillehammer.
Those of us watching the Olympic games on site have been working up big appetites trudging between venues - and finding a variety of foods when we come in from the cold. There's fish pudding and reindeer steak for bold visitors bent on maximizing their cultural culinary experience; American-style hamburgers and pizza for the less adventurous.
Lillehammer has supplemented its few restaurants with food service under tents and in converted shopping spaces.
Because restaurant meals are expensive, some spectators have found that the best strategy is to eat a hearty breakfast at the generous buffets usually included in hotel prices.
Some hotels offer American-style breakfast fare, but the traditional Norwegian smorgasbord is more unusual and certainly more interesting. It usually consists of a variety of thinly sliced whole-grain hardtack breads with marmalade and jam, cheeses, marinated herring and other fish, thinly sliced summer and salami-type sausages, cold-pressed meats (such as ham and lamb), soft-boiled eggs, and stewed fruits.
Featured cheeses include Jarlsberg and the less familiar but more distinctive Norwegian nokkelost and gjeitost.
Nokkelost is a medium-hard, pale-yellow cheese studded with whole cloves and caraway seeds, and gjeitost literally means ``goat cheese,'' but don't imagine soft white chevre. It is a hard, caramel-brown cheese with a sweet, nutty flavor that takes some getting used to (my teenagers insist they don't want to get used to it). Lately, gjeitost has been made in one-pound blocks stamped with Olympic motifs. Both native cheeses are thinly sliced (a Lillehammer native invented the cheese slicer) and eaten on buttered bread.
Prudent visitors shop for snacks to tote in their backpacks: keks (plain butter cookies), crackers, tubes of caviar paste, fresh fruit, and candy bars.
Most cafes serve smorbrod (open-faced sandwiches) cafeteria style - convenient for those who don't speak Norwegian and can simply select by pointing.
Some tourists take to the Norwegian practice of eating open-faced sandwiches with a knife and fork. Two favorites are karbonade med lok (ground beef or veal patties spiced with nutmeg, fried, topped with sauteed onions and parsley, and served on a slice of paper-thin slice of grain bread) and reke (a mound of tiny shrimp on a slice of thin white bread spread with mayonnaise and garnished with lemon).
A low-budget lunch alternative is varme polser (hot dogs), sold at street stands. This long, skinny Norwegian version is served with sweet brown mustard and chopped raw onions. The hot dogs are wrapped in lefse, a soft unleavened bread made of mashed potatoes and flour.
As a visitor from Minnesota commented after sampling the unusual hot-dog wrap and while watching a hockey game, ``they sure serve a lot of potatoes over here.''
Late-afternoon brings a chance to warm up in a local cafe and sample pastries and Solo, a tart Norwegian citrus soda. Viennerbrod, Danish pastries, Napoleons, and eclairs filled with custard or whipped cream are popular, but Norwegians especially love their vafler (waffles). They are not eaten at breakfast here but rather at teatime or for dessert. They are baked in heart-shaped irons and served cold, spread with butter and jam or a sprinkling of sugar.
Olympic spectators fortunate enough to be invited to a Norwegian home might taste homemade smorbrod, vafler, and an assortment of cookies and cakes, such as blotkake, Norway's traditional birthday sponge cake, cut in multiple layers and spread with a fruit whipped-cream blend or the more subtle Fyrstekake, Prince's Cake, which consists of a rich pastry-like dough filled with ground almonds and topped with a lattice crust.
After watching figure-skating practice, American tourist Mike Hilder, from Washington, D.C., raved about his experience staying in a private home where he was treated to a breakfast of smoked salmon, scrambled eggs, and caviar. He plans to buy several caviar tubes, which are less expensive and more available here than in the states.
He sums up his approach to Norwegian food: ``If it's white, it's right.''
The presentation is almost as enjoyable as the food itself. A host may use sterling silver and porcelain, or pewter and pottery, but both formal and casual tables are decorated with fresh flowers, candles, and colorful paper napkins.
Restaurants uphold this tradition, making dinner at a good restaurant a not-to-be-missed experience, despite the cost (up to $70 per person). Gloved servers bring silver trays of food arranged for eye appeal with colorful, intricate garnishes.
If you'd like to create a traditional Norwegian dinner, try roasting pork loin or baked pork ribs and sausages, adding some parboiled onions and potatoes to the roasting pan during the last half hour of cooking. Present the main course on a platter with tomato wedges and parsley. Norwegians might precede this with soup, and they'd accompany the pork with surkal, a sweet-sour cabbage dish, and lingonberries.