Scandic Gastronomy

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In 2014 I was invited to go on a Scandinavian Gourmet Food Tour with my mother (L), Jean Marie (JM) and Sunny (S). As a poor, hungry student, I of course said: YES PLEASE! We went to three restaurants:

Faviken, Sweden

Maaemo, Norway

Noma, Denmark

The entire trip was a dream, aside from the fact that I was also trying to write a 5000 word essay on Banded Iron Formations for my exams (In the end, I did rather well. We can thank the wonderful food I think). I’m going to take you all through the experience of these three restaurants. If you can afford this kind of trip, do it at least once in your life, and do it with wonderful people. You wont regret it.

As a child I was a very picky eater. There were few things that I would knowingly eat. I say knowingly because my mother used to hide the food items I did not like in our food. I still remember the day that I found out that she was hiding onions in our meals by putting them in a food processor until they became mush. The machine was brown, and she was unapologetic. As an adult, I am still rather picky, though not nearly as much. I don’t eat any kind of fish or sea food and I despise onions with a passion. I am not fond of most salamis.

However, within reason, I will eat most things at least once. For this trip, I made the concious decision that I would put aside my usual eating foibles and sensitivities as much as I could (we informed the restaurants that I did not eat fish, so I did not put that foible aside) and I ate what was put in front of me. I tried everything, though I did not like everything. I will say that in general I was delighted with most of the things I ate, and there were some things that I probably would not have eaten if I hadn’t made that concious decision to ignore my squeamish side. I ate things that I never would have thought of eating (yes there really are ants at Noma, yes I ate ants). There is no point going on a trip like this if you are going to be squeamish. You’ll miss out (See dad, I’m not as picky as you seem to think), and I really wanted to get the most out of it.

Faviken:

http://faviken.com/

Faviken used to be a hunting lodge. If you want more details on how it became a restaurant in the middle of nowhere, I suggest buying the book or looking it up. I’m on holiday, so I am not doing any research. Now, it is a restaurant that uses locally sourced food to make unbelievably delicious food. The entire aroma and sense of that place is just wonderful, beautiful and rustic in the best way. It’s such an honest place. To get there, we drove through a snow storm. Mom and I were utterly uninterested. We both enjoyed a rather nice nap together, wrapped up in our fur coats. JM was in charge of all the driving, and S, the Singaporean member of our party was delighted.

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When I was packing for this trip, my mother told me to pack fancy clothes. I had the most impractical suitcase I can think of. I had no clothes prepared for snow weather. Nor shoes. None. As a geologist who prides herself in owning good solid gear that makes relatively extreme weather bearable, I was rather embarrassed. Luckily we spent most of the trip inside this building:

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It even had a Sauna. I huddled next to the open fires outside whilst we figured how to get inside. We then checked in to these small bedrooms with 2 single beds covered in a thick fake fur shrug. I huddled underneath it whilst I wrote a 1000 words for my essay. Whilst I worked away. L, JM and & S all went down to the bar and had a few tipples. I was forlorn, but persistent and reached my goal in time to join them before dinner and have a little snack.

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The room was all wood, comfy chairs and warmth. There was nothing about this place that said ‘poncy’. Everyone was kind. Everyone came up to say hello, shaking our hands. As the other guests filled in to the room, the excitement built up, smiles on every face. None of us knew what we were in for.

Then we all went upstairs to this room:

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Most of the food was fairly simply presented. Big clean plates, your meal the centre piece, and oh what a centre piece. The dishes were all carried up into the room by the chefs on large platters. Imagine a row of chefs all coming up the stairs as one, carrying your food to you. Every meal was served at the same time, like a dance.

The first photo (below) is the most succulent piece of meat I have ever had. Moose steak. It melted on our tongues. I can’t forget it. I dream of it. Somebody go buy me a moose. The other three pictures are of the deserts. I don’t really want to go into too much detail of exactly what  the food we ate was, partly because the menu I have is in the other room and I’m lazy and warm, and partly because if you ever go, the experience is just more if you don’t know the kind of food you are about to get. Every dish is a mystery, a revelation, an experience.

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By the end of the meal we were all happy campers. L had spent some time discussing with the sommelier and had created a fantastic wine & champagne pairing with the entire meal and oh man! People might wonder why I tend to be so snobby with wine. I know that I am. She is why. My mother often utters the phrase: Life is too short for cheap alcohol. She lives by that saying and has passed it on to my brother and I. She has exposed me to these delicious wines that taste like nectar and just blow you away, where every sip is feels life changing. So I hate drinking cheap, bad alcohol. Of any form. Life is too short, and the memory of my taste buds is long. I’m a snob about wine because I know what is out there. I’ve tasted the good stuff and I have been utterly and delightfully ruined by it. I’ve even started my own wine diary, so that I can write down these wines and drink them again in the future (oh please please let me drink them again).

Long before the end of the meal, we had 4 very stuffed but happy campers. Even the French guy (JM) was on cloud 9 (Tee hee).

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Faviken was a wonderful experience. I would jump at the chance to do it again. It is decadence like no other, and it is beautiful. If you ever get the chance to go: go. Just be prepared to be more full than you have ever been before. More full than after a christmas dinner. There were 27 courses, and snacks afterwards.

Maaemo:

http://maaemo.no/

Maaemo is a two star restaurant in a very fancy building.

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The room is beautiful and elegant, the service is as perfect and prompt as one would hope in a 2 start restaurant. Once again the concept is of locally sourced Nordic cuisine. I found that in comparison to Faviken, Maaemo did not have the same oomph. However there were some dishes that I would do exercise to get my hands on again. Below is blue cheese that was treated frozen. It melted on the tongue like ice cream. We all wanted more. The other is shaved reindeer heart, flavour that kicked you in the teeth. Yummy as can be. These two stood out the most for me, though several others were really delicious.

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By the end of the meal, once again we were 4 very happy and very full people. Nothing quite like good food and good company. We had an in depth conversation about how Faviken and Maaemo compared, and I will say that Maaemo did not compare to Faviken, but that it did not compare because they were such different eating experiences. If you ever go to either of them, allow more than a day of time between your visits so you can get the most out of each experience.

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This one was only 14 courses, so we were not quite as full as we were at Faviken. In Faviken the people who worked there were just so great and welcoming, and they really made the experience. We had that to a lesser degree at Maaemo, I think largely because our sommelier this time had some rather odd notions about wine that did not match L’s standards. A French man who hated burgundy, and described a sweet wine we had as ‘spring in a bottle’, when the wine tasted like an alcoholic version of the Ikea elderflower cordial. However, we had a wonderful polish waitress who admitted to us that her and her boyfriend who worked in the kitchens tended to eat eggs on toast and noodles more than anything. These people who live around these delicacies on a daily basis were inured to them, and noodles are just so much quicker and easier to make.

Noma:

http://noma.dk/

Noma Noma Noma, you are a thing of dreams

This restaurant deserves every single one of it’s awards and reviews. By the time we got to Noma we all felt so full of luxury, our expectations were high, amped up by our previous experiences. We were snobs with experience under our belts, and we knew what was out there. By the end of that meal we were worshippers at the alter of Noma. I could never put into words how much I loved every aspect of that experience. I didn’t think I could ever get more blown away by food than I had been at Faviken. We were all saying, nothing might ever compare to it. We were right. Noma didn’t compare. It transcended.

I could write poetry about that restaurant. I could wax lyrical for an age. It took one of my favourite things in the world (food) and turned it into magic.

First: the excitement

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We stood outside and got a photo taken. Several of them in fact. Unbeknownst to us, inside all the chefs who would be preparing our meals were waiting inside to greet us. It was terrifying. We walked in and over a dozen chefs stood at the door and welcomed us to Noma. Noma for all its glory, is not pretentious. I was woefully overdressed (Once again, that overly fancy wardrobe I packed thanks to mom). They watched us posing through the window. They probably saw that all the time though.

We sat down, we were welcomed again and the concept of Noma was described to us. People around us were being served and we were all so excited. The sommelier came and had a serious chit chat with L over the wine menu (This guy held his own – he knew what he was talking about).

Then the food came.

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All of the above meals were some of the most delicious things I have ever eaten. The bone marrow melted me. Those three innocuous looking blobs? Changed the way I saw marzipan. The eggs? I did not know that eggs could taste like that, I don’t know if I will ever think of eggs the same way, JM cheekily managed to get an extra basket. The second time round of eating them did not diminish the taste. The moss made we want to go out and gather my own moss.

Some of the courses were for sharing. I grew up with a very large and very hungry older brother. I honestly don’t know how L managed to keep us afloat financially with that stomach. It was bottomless. This meant that any time there was a food in the kitchen that I really liked, it never stayed there for very long. John sneezed, and he would be hungry again. He always got to eat all of the pop tarts, because he could inhale an entire box like breathing. Getting the good things was a war that I lost at constantly. Writing my name on things did no good. John was hungry, John would eat. Add this to 9 years of boarding school, where a tuck box (snacks, sweets, etc) was your treasure chest. You locked that up. It was MY candy and only I was going to eat it. All of this together means that I have a slight problem with sharing food. I am very possessive. I can count on one hand the people that I would allow to take food from my plate without asking. I wouldn’t use all my fingers in the counting either. You come near my creme brulee and I will hit you. I once hit my dad with my spoon because he tried to steal a strawberry. The people that I allow to do this, know who they are and how I feel, and sometimes do it just to remind me that they have that kind of power. It still hurts every time though. It’s mine. Unless I offer it to you first, you are not getting any of my food.

So, as JM is allergic to fish, and I do not eat fish it was natural that we were given the non fish sharing dishes. JM was a little nervous, so he let me sort out how much we each got. It was a very wise decision.

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If you ever get the chance to go to Noma, do it. Do it. It is worth every penny. The staff are kind. They know that many of the people who go are those that have saved up for the experience, and they make sure that every customer feels like kings and queens, that that appreciate how much it costs to eat there and that they want everyone who comes to feel the full experience of what they are doing, to join in their love of food and everything it can be. It’s not just the food that makes Noma special. It’s the people who work there, who run it. The entire thing is a labour of love.

I want to go back: Can we do it all over again?

A final note: I did not take any of the photos. JM and S were in charge of that, and they were kind enough to let me use all their photos so I could show off what a wonderful time we all had!

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