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I know I’m not alone in my enjoyment of visiting foreign grocery stores and markets when I travel. Today I thought I’d take you on a little tour of a typical supermarket in Norway, which I visit once a week to buy our groceries. We have several major chains in Norway and they pretty much dominate the food shopping scene for better or worse. In Stavanger I’m familiar with ICA, Co-op, Rimi, Kiwi, Rema 1000 and, my personal favourite, Helgo Meny. Meny has the best selection of international brands and food though the prices can sometimes be a bit higher than the others. Rema 1000 is the bargain store for me, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. These photos are from there and Co-op.
The first thing to remember on a visit to a Norwegian supermarket is to bring along a 10 kr coin because you’ll usually need it to provide a deposit for the shopping trolley if you wish to use one. Otherwise just grab a plastic basket at the front of the store when you enter.
I’ve only photographed the things that I find to be unique to supermarkets in Norway for this post. The rest of the items can usually be found elsewhere in the world. I find the selections in some of the stores to be quite limited, both in the range of brands and also in the availability of sizes. As I mentioned in my last post you don’t find a lot of bulk items in Norway. In some shopping categories, however, the selection is tremendous. Look at the range of fish cakes, fish balls, shrimp, caviar in a tube and other fish products available here, for example.
In this section you’ll also find that mayonnaise in a tube, which is popular in Europe, a variety of prepared cold salads and quite a few varieties of jarred fish. I really need to be more adventurous in my eating habits here in Norway and try some of this stuff. I assume these are Norwegian dietary staples because this section exists in every supermarket. I rarely eat processed foods so this is the main reason I haven’t explored the cold seafood section.
Norwegians love their sausages so there is also always a large sausage and cold meats section of the supermarket. The bacon here is delicious, though I do prefer to buy my sausages and bacon at the butcher in Stavanger town centre.
I am in love with the bread section of the store. We’ve been stupidly buying packaged sliced bread until I recently started exploring the fresh bread loaves and the slicing machine. Just select your loaves from the huge variety, remove from the paper wrapping, place the entire loaf into the automatic slicer and close the lid. The bread is cut automatically and then you simply place it onto the metal rack (see it sitting at an angle there?) and slide the paper wrapper back on. Most shops have plastic bags that you can put the bread in before placing the paper back on (the cashier will need the barcode on the outside so don’t forget) – handy if you want to freeze the bread.
Another must-try for me…sandwich spread in a tube. These are flavoured cheese spreads that come in varieties like ham and bacon. I’m wary of products like this in any country, but should probably give it a go…
If you’re after fresh fish, some of the grocery stores will have a counter where you can ask to have fillets sliced from the large pieces. I serve ørrefillet once a week – it’s trout and it’s delicious, especially when the skin is crisp. Salmon is also available. We’ve only tried another white fish once – because I don’t really know what they are, I just stick to the ones I know are good. Norwegians also eat lutefisk, which you can sometimes find in this section of the supermarket. Sometimes this is translated as ‘rotten fish.’ It’s made using air-dried or salted whitefish and lye, giving it a gelatinous texture. John tried this in a restaurant with his co-workers once but I have not been so adventurous. I also see things like fish organs at the counter. As you would expect, Norwegians enjoy their fish. I recommend Helgo Meny if you want to explore this section of the supermarket – their counters usually have the widest variety and, I think, some of the freshest offerings.
I tried making this the other day – it translates to paella rice but is actually more of a porridge that requires a ton of milk to make. It’s tasty enough but I find it to be more of a meal than a side dish. Perhaps for breakfast on a cold morning?
Most Norwegian supermarkets have large Asian sections, which is wonderful for some variety. If you want to make sushi, Thai or Indian food, you won’t have trouble finding ingredients. Though I prefer the smaller Asian grocery stores for these items. Mexican food is also popular and several brands of Tex-Mex staples may be found.
Apologies for the blur but it wouldn’t be a Norwegian supermarket post if I didn’t show you the famous Norwegian brown cheese. Brunost is a caramelised whey cheese that tastes a little like hardened peanut butter to me. It’s slightly sweet and usually served in thin slices, perhaps on a piece of toast. The Fløtemysost is a variation made from cow’s milk that is more mild, though as you can see from this photo, there are several varieties of Brunost to choose from.
It can be easy to avoid products that are bad for your health in Norway for a couple of reasons. The first is price. Here you can see that a six-pack of Coca-Cola costs around $10. So we don’t drink soda here. Ever. The prices help me avoid the candy aisle as well (John is not so good about this). Another reason I feel I’m eating healthier in Norway is the requirement for labelling of GMO food.
Sometimes you’ll find random things in a supermarket, like this almost entire aisle side devoted to yarn at my local Rema 1000.
Once you’ve finished shopping it’s time to head to the checkout counters. This is my least favourite part of the shopping experience because there is usually a line. Cost-cutting is a must for businesses here so I’ve never seen more than two cashiers working at the same time. Once it’s your turn, prepare for the mad scramble if you buy a lot of stuff at once. Norwegian cashiers must be some of the highest paid in the world but I’m pretty sure they also have the easiest job. They don’t bag anything so you have to hurry to pack all of your things. It’s a race because you only have the one person behind you as a buffer. If they are slow in packing, you have to move faster so the purchases of the person after him don’t start crowding yours on the conveyor belt. Some of the cashiers don’t even have to count change. They simply insert each bill into the correct slot on a large machine and the correct amount of change is spit back out. How’s that for progress?
Do you enjoy exploring foreign supermarkets?