Thursday, July 15, 2010

Supermarkets: The Key To The Norwegian Soul

When traveling abroad there are many ways to learn about local culture. Taking a stroll down a local supermarket's aisles can help you understand, just a little, about local tastes and preferences.

In Svolvaer I was a frequent visitor to the Mega Coop, Coop being a chain (I was told government-owned, but I'm not entirely sure about that) with varying size stores depending on the needs of the community. In Svolvaer (as in Rørvik and other towns I visited) it was located within the Amfi indoor shopping mall.

The importance of fish is obvious from that section of the supermarket. According to one of the desk clerks at Svinøya Rorbuer the Mega Coop is the best place to buy seafood, the only better being the fish sold by a vendor who irregularly appears at the town square.  I purchased half a kilo of rekke (shrimp) to cook in our cottage and can vouch for the quality.

While the fish department was staffed for special orders and personal service, all the meats were pre-packaged, including cold cuts. Likewise the potato, shrimp and similar salads came pre-packaged.

Although the depth of selection is limited (you won't find six brands of toilet paper) the breadth was more than adequate, the shelves stocked for every need.

After multiple trips, I wonder how much home cooking Norwegians do. The aisles were filled with convenience foods, including the Toro brand which Sonia Wallace said provides the base for an excellent fish soup. (I'm dubious about that.) Mexican appears to be big.

As in American supermarkets, beverages took up considerable space, especially beer. As previously noted, it's a lot less expensive to buy your beer at a retail store than at a bar or restaurant: you save about 50 percent. All the popular Norwegian and many some international brands were available.

For more interesting beers you have to visit Vinmonopolet, the state wine and liquor monopoly. (Just like Pennsylvania!) On its shelves I spied some great Belgian beers at about the same price I'd pay in Philadelphia (NOK 50, or about $8, for a Westmalle Tripple, as an example). Most of the inventory was devoted to wine, though there were plenty of distilled spirits, especially cognac. Not nearly as extensive was the selection of aquavits: maybe a dozen, just a few more than you'd find at many bars.

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