When we got back from Norway several people asked me “How was the food?” and I answered “I don’t know.” That’s because, instead of seeking out local specialties and eating in restaurants, we just bought basic groceries from supermarkets and prepared the food ourselves. That’s not a romantic way to eat and it doesn’t make for good travel stories. But you know what is a good travel story? HOB and I bought round-trip tickets for $333 each from Chicago and traveled around one of the most expensive countries in the world on a modest budget. And we didn’t have to compromise on any sites or experiences.
In anticipation of picnics, we packed a set of collapsible interlocking bowls and reusable plastic cutlery. Since Norway’s tap water is lovely (it tastes like water I’ve run through a new filter at home) all we needed was a water bottle to stay hydrated. Staying caffeinated was easy too. After arriving we bought a drink in a glass bottle and for the rest of the trip we reused that bottle for a kind of scrappy cold brew. Before bed we would boil water, prepare instant espresso, add milk, and refrigerate the concoction in the bottle overnight and take it with us the next day for on-the-go energy.
Groceries from Norwegian supermarkets cost about the same as those in other European countries, except for the alcohol, which is quite pricey. The names of the supermarkets we shopped in were: Meny, Kiwi, Coop, and Rema 1000 and there was always a market readily available wherever we were and it was generally open long hours. (A funny thing about the hours: we arrived in one town on a Saturday night and I was concerned that the supermarket would be closed on Sunday, like in most European cities. But when we checked out the hours we saw the market by our airbnb was indeed open on Sundays. The next day we went to the supermarket only to find that the spacious market was closed and just a small, bodega-sized room was open with a greatly reduced selection. Oops—beware of Sundays.)
Every place we stayed in had a kitchen, except for our hotel in Olso, which had a microwave and refrigerator in the lounge for all guests. For breakfast we would have yogurt and muesli with fruit. Lunch was a picnic—either a sandwich or a salad. Naturally, we carried around lots of snacks, like boiled eggs or cut up veggies or fruit and those yummy Norwegian chocolate bars called Freia.
At night we cooked dinner, never a dull experience considering the randomly stocked kitchens in a typical rental apartment. Why do so many apartments have 20 wineglasses, but no colander to drain pasta? Or dusty, expired spices but no salt and pepper?
What worked out well for us was making a pot of whole wheat pasta and eating half of it for dinner. The other half of the pasta we’d use for a pasta salad for our next day’s picnic lunch. Below is HOB eating his pasta salad on the train.
A combination of smoked salmon and Snøfrisk (spreadable goat cheese with the consistency of cream cheese) made for scrumptious and filling sandwiches.
I constantly crave hot food when traveling, particularly when spending a lot of time outside in cold weather. Even just taking 30 seconds to melt cheese on sandwich had an enormous payoff and kept HOB and I away from more expensive and less healthy options. (Except for that one afternoon, following hours of walking, when we sat on a bench in front of a shopping mall and ripped apart a rotisserie chicken with our bare hands in a Dionysian frenzy. Let’s pretend that didn’t happen, okay?)
No, I didn’t feel the least bit deprived from our Norwegian budget-eating plan. In fact, as is often the case, I was enormously pleased with my own ingenuity. Why blow our travel budget on restaurants, anyway, when we could be munching on Snøfrisk sandwiches while looking out a bus window at this?