Whenever I visit a new country or a new town in another country the first place I have on my list to visit is a supermarket. Not from a consumerist point of view, but because supermarkets offer a slice of everyday life that you will never find at a museum or in a hotel. They give us a chance to see how everyone in that location lives, what they eat, the things that are bring them joy and the cost of living. And there are treasures to be found in every supermarket from handmade regional products to unusual food and exciting gadgets. Then there are the everyday products that can be so exciting if they differ from what we have at home, or maybe something that we've been looking forward to trying and not been able to get hold of at home.
Would you like a glimpse into a Norwegian supermarket? Join me on a trip to my favourite supermarkets in southern Norway and I'll show you some of the everyday products and some of the more unusual that you will find in most supermarkets here.
Pant (not the kind you wear, but the deposit on plastic bottles)
Almost every trip to the supermarket starts with a stop at the plastic bottle and can recycling unit. In Norway we pay a deposit on every plastic drinks bottle and every metal drinks can that we buy. It's a a small amount but it gives everyone an incentive to recycle them. Most shops and supermarkets have an integrated recycling unit. Once the bottles have been put into the automatic unit and registered you can either take a voucher against your shopping or donate the amount to charity.
The first thing many people around the world think of when they consider Norwegian food is seafood. Admittedly there is a huge amount of fish eaten here and it's available in a wide range of products, many of which are quick and easy to eat but don't contain a lot of additives. One of things I love about Norwegian supermarkets is the prawns. Every single supermarket stocks fresh and frozen North Sea prawns and they are wonderfully affordable. But fresh fish, smoked salmon, fishcakes and fish spreads are all something that you will find on the shelves.
Flours and grains
There is an eye-popping range of flours and grains in even the smallest of supermarkets in Norway. Products like spelt flour and rye flour are everyday items which I would have had to hunt for in the UK. Many traditional breads contain ancient grains so they need to be available for people to buy for their baking.
Chocolate and candies
Despite there being a sugar tax in Norway (not so the rest of Scandinavia) chocolate and candy is still incredibly popular. I've travelled all over the world and eaten chocolate almost everywhere I've visited, but Norwegian chocolate is by far my favourite. It's creamy, not too sweet and usually full of exciting flavours like popcorn and crispy maize, sea-salt and orange, and Daim.
I was surprised when I first visit Norway at just how many pølse (hotdogs) are eaten ere. I remember telling a friend that it's more American than America! And it's true, pølse are a staple in Norway and something you will find in even the tiniest little shops. They come in a bewildering variety of types and sizes from the grillpølse that is normally grilled and served in a bun, to the large julepølse that see around Christmas time and is flavoured with cardamom and other seasonal spices.
It's true that Scandinavians love berries and it's also true that you will find them even out of season on the fresh produce stand. When the Innocent Smoothie company expanded into Scandinavia they had to add berries to their smoothie blends because the Scandinavians were not at all interested in the ones without and those without made very few sales. So many of the berries that are eaten here are considered to be superfoods and even though they might be out of season are on the shelves year round. If you prefer frozen you will find everything from raspberries to the delicate cloudberry in the freezer sections and in every type of jam imaginable.
Any Scandinavian supermarket boasts a bewildering array of knekkebrød. From the basic knekkebrød to fancy artisans types with added nuts and seeds, there is something to please all palates. Watch your teeth though, because some of them can be a bit challenging on the jaws!!
Brunost & prim
We can't possibly walk through a Norwegian food shop without stopping at the brunost aisle!! Whole sections of the cheese refrigeration area are devoted to brunost, that iconic brown Norwegian cheese. There is the more traditional and slightly stronger brunost right through to the creamier and lighter tasting version that is more popular with kids to seasonal favourites like julebrunost (Christmas brunost). Another product that you may not have seen is prim. Prim is a kind of spreadable version of brunost with a rich taste something like dulce de leche. It's a very old and traditional product that takes a great deal of time to make. Its delicious on a knekkebrød or slice of bread, and is high in calcium and iron.
Things in tubes
I'm being a bit tongue in cheek with this one and I know my Scandinavian friends and family will laugh, but there is a long standing love affair between Scandinavians and things in tubes. One of my first visits to a Norwegian supermarket found me standing and staring at all the things in tubes in the chiller. Mackerel in tomato sauce in a tube! I'd never seen the like. But since then I've come to appreciate them too. There is a lot of convenience of having something in tubes and especially if you are going to grab it with some bread for your "matpakke" (lunch box).
A typical shopping visit in Norway sees small amounts bought. I usually find that I am the person in the supermarket with the most in their trolley. British habits die hard and we love to shop for a siege!
Once you get to the till don't expect to have any help packing your shopping or even to get a bag. Plastic bags are something we pay for in Norway and the cashier will ask if you want one or if you are going to use your own. The Norwegian government has been very active in tryig to get the country cashless and most transactions are by card and often contactless (you simply hold your card against the machine and it registers, usually without even typing in your PIN). If you do pay cash, the cashier will take your notes, but coins are inserted into a coin machine on the customers' side of the till. You take your change from there too. You have to be fairly quick to pack your shopping as the next person's will be coming down the conveyer and your's will be squashed at the end! That's still something I am getting used to.
So that's the end of our little trip to a Norwegian supermarket. I hope you've enjoyed your virtual retail therapy Nordic style.
Do you find of these items in supermarkets where you live? Let me know in the comments or join our community in the Living a Nordic Life Facebook group.