In Norway one does not live by salmon alone, although the fish in question represents one of the main items of the thriving economy of this Scandinavian country, immediately behind oil and natural gas. Land of explorers and sailors since the time of the Vikings, who sailed to the Mediterranean, to Greenland and, with all due respect to Christopher Columbus, to the Americas, the Norwegians get a real treasure from the sea. If one were to elect a fish ruler of the tables, however, rather than the salmon it would be fair to attribute the crown to the most “popular” cod. Whose meat in our country is better known as stockfish or cod – Italy has been the main export market for this product for centuries – but here in Oslo it is ennobled in a thousand different ways. Merit of an ancient wisdom certainly, but also of the last generation of young Norwegian chefs who contribute to making their city deserve the palm of gourmet destination.
From king crab to reindeer
Raw materials are not lacking. Molluscs and crustaceans arrive fresh from the sea, with the giant king crab (legs included can reach almost two meters) to dictate the latest trend of the palate. From the hinterland vegetables, wild herbs, farmed meats and game of the highest quality, because “sons and daughters” of an environment that is still unspoiled. With these weapons available, it is easy to understand how it was enough for young Norwegian chefs to travel and experience abroad to be able to turn on the engines and give an exciting acceleration that for too long remained a bit static.
Michelin stars and sustainability
Even the Michelin Guide realized that it granted the third star to Esben Holmboe Bang, not even forty who in 2010 opened his Maaemo, literally “mother earth”, a stone’s throw from the central station of Oslo and the super-photographed tiger statue that greets tourists since 2000, bronze symbol of the “tiger city”, as Oslo a Norwegian poet defined it. Esben Holmboe Bang mixes the Nordic gastronomy tradition with an avant-garde approach seasoned with the most current Norwegian imperative. Which is precisely sustainability. At Maaemo you follow the seasons, experiment on preserving products, resorting to foraging, the practice of collecting wild herbs, and offering delicious and provocative dishes like sour cream porridge with dehydrated reindeer heart. And there is not too much surprise of the reindeer because its meat has always been a custom on Norwegian tables.
Avant-garde and secular bases
Capital of a modern and tolerant country, but also a land of immigration and consequent melting pot, Oslo knows how to be versatile even at the table. At Hos Thea, for example, the chef’s cuisine blends Spanish origins, the culinary journey in France and the love for Norwegian products in a beautiful poutpourri of colors and flavors.
100% Norwegian, so much so as to seem torn from the set of Vikings, is instead the young chef patron of Kontrast. Mikael Svensson, who after having made his bones around Europe, with stops at the Spanish courts of Quique Dacosta and Martin Berasategui, was voted among the best 300 chefs in the world and proposes an innovative but at the same time respectful cuisine of nature. Which is a bit the distinctive trait of the Norwegians who have learned to respect nature, often hostile to them, to be able to live together. And that today therefore, although they can boast a stimulating wave of avant-garde cuisine, they do not forget the secular bases of their diet, from the “pinnekjøtt” (salted and dried lamb chops) to the “brunost”, the strange brown cheese obtained from a partial caramelization of goat’s milk to finish with the salt extracted from algae. But they process them, interpret them and ferry them into the new millennium, giving new emotions to food travelers who go up here not only for the aurora borealis or the midnight sun.
Don’t miss Oslo
The most coveted tables, to be accommodated to which we suggest to book in advance, begin from the first and at the moment the only Michelin-starred Michelin restaurant, the Maaemo (maaemo.no) founded and directed by Esben Holmboe Bang. Second stop is the Hos Thea (hosthea.no) with Spanish chef of French studies but of absolutely local raw materials. The Kontrast (restaurant-kontrast.no) is instead the stage for Mikael Svensson, a Viking face and an up and coming talent that will make food critics talk for a long time.
If you want to “breathe” the sea and appreciate the freshness of the catch of the day there is Tjuvholmen Sjømagasin (sjomagasinet.no): among lobsters, king crabs and molluscs there is plenty of choice but, be careful, the kitchen follows strictly the fishing seasons. Finally, more classical but certainly valuable, the Statholdgaarden (statholdgardeen.no) which offers the best halibut, a flatfish that vaguely resembles a rhombus but can reach the size of a human being, never eaten in life.