Christmas Overdose: Chapter 1

Friday 21 December

For the next few days, I’ll be spending Christmas in Oslo. One of my friends, whom I met at university, was kind enough to invite me back to his home for Christmas to spend time with both him and his family.

After a short flight to a snowy Oslo yesterday, I caught a train to Lillestrøm. When I arrived at the family’s house, I was greeted by his parents, who very warm and welcoming Norwegians. I was shown my room and only had a few minutes to take in my surroundings when I was whisked away to the aunt’s place.

When I arrived at the house, everything around reminded me of a Norwegian Christmas. A Christmas tree with vertical hanging tinsel and Norwegian flags, a small pot containing some warm gløgg, little santa dolls sitting on shelves, bundles of wrapped presents in the hallway and the smell of Norwegian food. I felt a little out of place to begin with, but different family members came up and spoke with me, after which I felt a little more welcome.

After we took seats around the table, we were served lutefisk. My initial impressions of this dish were not good. Normally lutefiskis prepared by fermenting cod in a tub of water and lye until it becomes caustic and jelly-like in consistency. After being watered out, it is ready to cook but it at this stage, it reeks of nothing but trouble. However, last night’s serving of the dish was far different from my expectations. This version was soft, a little chewy and had the mild flavour of cod. To go with it were boiled potatoes, mushy peas and a dash of bacon—a side that makes everything taste better!

The drinks served during the dinner were juleøl and akvavit. The first is a Christmas beer (which tasted a bit like lager) and the second is aquavit, a drink typically drunk around Christmas time. It’s a difficult flavour to describe, and reminds me something in between absinthe and scotch. Although nowhere near as strong, it has an initial numbing sensation around the lips and tongue at the start and a musty aftertaste, and tastes best when taken in sips with your meal. With four different bottles of the liquor at the table, there was plenty to go around! I had already tried this drink at a dinner a week before; with pinnekjøtt and ribbe (I shall come back to these in a later post). Contrary to Norwegian’s expectations, I actually didn’t mind it! I was able to take a few servings of it until my throat felt quite warm.

There are many different varieties of aquavit in Norway

There are many different varieties of aquavit in Norway

Next a jug of black coffee went around, along with various cookies (or cakes, as they’re called in Norwegian). One of these was a kransekake, which I had been lucky enough to taste in Australia before moving here. It’s an almond based caked, and is made by preparing circular rings in a tower fashion, and contains bonbons and flags which decorate it. You take off rings from the bottom and work your way up, until you normally reach a special treat in the centre. It was sweet, yet soft and chewy.

After chatting a little more with some of the family members, my friend’s parents decided to call it a night. Instead of driving, we decided to walk home. For me this was good, as I have to admit to I may have had one too many servings of aquavit at that dinner. The cold air and leg stretching did me plenty of good.

On the way home, we stopped by a cemetery, where we payed visit to one of the grandparent’s tombstones. I looked around and noticed that some of the stones had been cleared of snow and had a few candle lanterns set up and lit next to them. It was a real tranquil feeling, and seeing the snowy area lit up under a dark sky made me feel a little more at peace.

We continued to walk home and stopped by a supermarket, where a man dressed in thick winter clothes was standing by a small fire with a whole line of Christmas trees. The father stopped and started inspecting a few of them. Before we knew it, he bought one and my friend carried it home. They also took with them a bundle of wheat, or julenek as it’s called in Norwegian, which you hang up near your front door. It apparently attracts a lot of birds, especially early in the morning.

Some julenek hung near the front door

Some julenek hanging near the front door

When we returned home, my friend’s father introduced me to his quick and easy way of drinking scotch:

1) Take some snow from outside if you don’t have ice in the fridge.
2) Pour in a glass some Schweppes Canada Dry ginger ale
3) Add some tripled distilled Auchentoshan Scotch whisky (Scottish)
4) Enjoy!

Overall I had a really nice evening, and my first white Christmas night has been really something. I look forward to seeing what the rest of the week has in store for me! Has anyone else had lutefisk before? What are your impressions of it?

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