Saturday, January 05, 2008

Bacalao - the New Year dinner

Bacalao (or Portuguese bacalhau) means codfish. It is also the name of Mediterranean dish made with the Norwegian salted and dried codfish that has been exported to Europe for hundred of years. There are many recipes from different regions in Southern Europe and even South America. Bacalao is also a favourite for many a household on the western coast of Norway. I made the Norwegian variety for the Trysil New Year celebration. Great stuff for the dark and cold season.

If you would like to try, here is how to do it.

Soak the salted and dried codfish in water for 24 hours and cut into large chunks.

Slice 3-4 large onions, roughly, and mince 4 cloves of garlic. Add as much chili as you like (As I was out of chili peppers I took out a jar of Santa Maria jalapeno slices and minced a few. I found that I could have added even more after my taste.) Then slice waxy potatoes in 1 centimeter thickness.

And add much olive oil! 20 cl in the bottom of a large pan, and add onions, garlic, and chilies, and fry until golden. Then put onions, fish, and potatoes in layers until pan is full. Then add canned tomatoes, tomato puree, and water. Allow to simmer for 2 hours.

This is approximate quantities, if you would like to find a recipe, you may find one in English here.

And this is what you may plate up. Bacalao is true fusion cooking - a passionate date between the fish from the cold Norwegian waters and the oil, garlic, and tomato from the Mediterranean.

Bacalao is a dish that can take a good and rich red wine, or as we did, a cold beer and a glass of akevitt.

Friday, January 04, 2008

2008? Allons boire Champagne!!

I admire clever people, and some of the most clever people are the population around Reims and Épernay. They make us feel special when we pay two to three times more for the sparkling wine produced in their region than similar wines produced elsewhere in Europe or the world. Why? Parce-que on boit Champagne, pas du vin mousseux. Because you are drinking Champagne!

I get no kick from Champagne
Mere alcohol doesn't thrill me at all
so tell me why should it be true
that I get a kick
out of you...

(Cole Porter)

Clever, as Champagne is not that much better than many other sparkling wines. You may drink a Spanish Cava or an Italian Prosecco, and they are equally refreshing. Well I do not know whether we were easily fooled but we opened a bottle of Champagne as we entered the new year, and it tasted great.

It was not a bottle of Krug, Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Lanson, Taittinger, Bollinger or another high class champagne. This was Bonnet Grand Réserve, brut, a low class variety for sale at around €25.

Well that did not worry Stian that eagerly started to perform, not the Japanese tea ceremony, but rather the Trysils Champagne Ceremony. The nectar was slowly poured into tall white wine glasses. Formally the ceremony would have required the coupe, the shallow and wide glasses to be authentic. And where was the Beluga Caviar? No caviar! Well, we still waited in suspense.

The nectar sparkles in the tall glass. Ready for a photo shoot!! And then the first sip.....

A fresh blend of 60% pinot noir, 30% chardonnay, and 10% pinot meunier. A distinct bouquet of citrus and green apples.

A taste of fresh fruit with some mineral. As good as some of the more expensive varieties I have enjoyed in my time. So if you would like the real McCoy, without paying too much Bonnet Grand Réserve, brut is a good alternative.

So the farmers from Épernay managed to fool us once more.

By the rivers of Babylon

Being in Berlin for just three days means that you have to consider what to see. I was determined before I left to visit the Pergamon museum and see the remains of the Pergamon altar and the Ishtar Gate from old Babylon. You can easily walk around in the museums on the Museums Insel for a week. I do recommend that you browse around the net and decide what you would like to see. I decided to go back to the Mesopotamia, the land between the rivers Euphrates and Tigris.

The Pergamon Museum

The Museum Island is located in the old East Berlin, on an island in the river Spree that runs through the German capital. Here you find a great number of museums, among them the Pergamon Museum, that is one of the newest museum on the Island, completed in 1930.

The Pergamon Museum is named after one of the treasures, the Pergamon Altar. In the other wing of the building you find the treasures from Old Babylon, the Ishtar Gate and the Procession Road constructed in 575 BC by king
Nebuchadrezzar II.

The Seventh Wonder of the Old World

The Darwaza D'Ishtar, بوابة عشتار was the eighth gate to the inner city of Babylon and was considered as one of the seven wonders of the antiquity.

The exhibition of the Pergamon Museum is partly a new reconstruction and partly made up of fragments found by the German archaeologist Robert Koldewey. Here you may walk through the famous walkway up to the old gate. The gate and the walkway are covered by the most brightest blue glaze and depicts images of amazing quality.

The Ishtar Gate was decorated with bright blue tiles and images of real and imaginary wild animals as bulls, dragons, and lions.

It is truly amazing to walk along these remains from what once used to be of one of the most amazing and remarkable cities in the old world. I was thrilled by the images on the old tiles animals as this lion. So graceful and realistic, as the once I had seen just a month ago in South Africa.

Remains of the gate are found in other museums in the world, in Turkey, Sweden, and in several museums in the United States. If you consider going to the Pergamon Museum, do so. The reconstructions and remains that survived the Second World War is one of the highlights of my stay in Berlin, with the other monument in the museum - the Pergamon Altar, that I will return to later.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Some recent culinary experiences

Here are some culinary experiences from the last week. In short - rediscovering Olympen, pasta at Alanya Restaurant at Hamar, and artisan bread at United Bakeries in downtown Oslo.

Rediscovering Lompa

When Olympen Bar or "Lompa" was closed for renovation last fall, I was highly angered that the renovation hell would start to destroy one of the last and most traditional beer halls in Oslo. This was the place completely free of the hip food and trendy crowd that have made this city so boring.

I was determined to maintain a boycott of the new Olympen, and this reaction was strengthened by the fact that the new restaurant was lit by the largest crystal chandeliers I have ever seen. This was seriously so far away from the original that you could ever get.

I broke my self imposed boycott last Friday as we entered the old hall. I was pleased to see that the old paintings had been restored / cleaned, and that the dark wood still provided some of the old atmosphere. But I have serious doubts on the chandeliers. They look like something you would expect to find in one of Saddam Husseins old palaces or in a luxurious brothel.

The reviews of the food had been favourable. I ordered a sandwich with Skagen Salad and my friend Terje ordered a beer plate with paté, cheese, ham and cured meat. My sandwich was decent, a large pile of prawns, onion, mayonnaise and fish roe on salad. Always safe with a cold glass of lager. Terje was however not so satisfied with his beer plate. Good paté and cheese, very (too) crisp cold bacon, salty and tough cured meats. The beer was the best experience for his part.

And the crowd. Sadly - the old crowd would not blend in here. The working class guest with his pint had been swapped for a politically correct crowd on my age. Even if the interior had managed to provide some of the old times, so much had been lost.

Olympen - RIP, rest in peace!!

Olympen Mat & Vinhus
Grønlandsleiret 15, 0190 Oslo
Phone: +47 24 10 19 99
The official website
Alanya, an Italian-Turkish blend at Hamar

The first day of 2008 I retreated with my friends Stian and Øyvind to their beautiful home in Løten. I decided to take them out to dinner, and they recommended Alanya Restaurant in downtown Hamar. It offers "Turkish dishes and international a la carte", with all rights, meaning wine, beer, and hard liquor. We were joined by two of their friends.

Alanya serves good decent food. I was warned no to choose the pasta dishes as they tended to be overcooked, according to Øyvind.

I did order the pasta carbonara (€12), and was very pleased by the result. I could have been seasoned slightly more, but it was very good. Two of the guests chose the Adana Kebab, marinated ground beef skewer with tomato, red pepper, garlic and salad(€23). The red pepper was not the traditional bell pepper, but a hotter red variety. Øyvind ordered a Scallopina Fiorentina, pork tenderloin with fresh mushrooms, red wine sauce and dauphinoise potatoes (€28). He was happy, as he had eaten this before, and was as pleased as the last time he had eaten there. The last guest ordered a medium pizza (10 varieties priced from €8-16), Italian style, delicious and crisp.

At we were also served a delicious entrée, crisp flat bread with a mixed salad.

My conclusion: Alanya is a decent place to eat, that offers quality food at a very favourable price. So if you should be in that neck of the woods, try it!

Alanya Restaurant
Vangsveien 23, 2317 Hamar
Phone: +47 62 52 90 31

Rustic bread at United Bakeries

Do you love the feeling found in a French boulangerie? Then you should visit United Bakeries, located by Karl Johans gate, in the heart of Oslo. On my day off yesterday, I went in to buy a rustic bread, and I love just to stay there and watch all the baked delicacies under offer.

This is hand made rustic breads with a thin coating of flour and there are so much to try. Traditional baguettes like the ones you buy in Paris, Mediterranean olive bread, rye breads and seriously brown loaves. Most are priced at around €5, and I was certainly willing to pay that price for the 85% spelt bread. When I came home I could not wait to cut a few very thick slices, spread on some pesto and cheese.

Bread is life!!

United Bakeries
, Karl Johans gt. 37-43, 0162 Oslo
Phone: +47 22 41 27 53
Fax: +47 22 41 27 54
Official website

Pilanesberg National Park

The last days of our vacation in South Africa, were spent at Pilanesberg National Park, located in the North West Province of this country west of the capital, Pretoria. I had great expectation to these last days, and I am very pleased to say that they were all met. Staying in this dry landscape we really got the feeling that we were indeed in the Africa we had seen so many times on films and photos.

Why Pilanesberg?

There are a great number of National Park or wildlife reserves in South Africa. There were several reasons why we ended up in Pilanesberg.

We considered traveling to Kruger National Park. This park is however very large, and it may be difficult to actually spot most of the wild animals there. Another, not so important factor, is that Kruger is in one of the few areas in South Africa where there are malaria. This were however on of several factors that did influence our choice.

The main reasons why we chose Pilanesberg are that it is a small park, with a larger density of animals. It is also located closer to Johannesburg and this made it possible for us to postpone our safari activities to the last days of our journey.

Whatever park you choose, remember that staying in a cabin or hotel within the boundaries of the park will cost several times the amount that you pay for accommodation outside. Three of us had ordered a cabin, and I stayed in a hotel in the same complex. For the cabin you paid around €60 per night, and I paid approximately the same for a comfortable room, breakfast included.

Be aware that the standard of some of the cabins may be below what you would have been accustomed to on your stay in South Africa.

Pilanesberg - getting there

We left Johannesburg, unaware of how difficult it would be to get to Pilanesberg. We traveled for several hours and had to stop many times in order to get on the right way. However, after we had spotted the first sign to the National Park, many more would guide us on our way to our destination.

We traveled through an increasingly dry and arid scenery, highly varied, with cliffs, hills, and flat savannas. On our way we saw much more of the poverty that tempt many South Africans to leave for the cities. This short film may give you an impression of the scenery we passed on our way.

As you get closer, do not turn at the first sign pointing at Pilanesberg. This leads to an airport servicing the Pilanesberg area and Sun City. We were to to stay at Sundown Ranch, and we passed the gates of Sun City and drove for another ten minutes.

Be aware that you have to register to enter the Sundown Ranch and other hotels as you arrive. As I have mentioned already, most hotels are gated in order to protect the guests from much of the violence and crime that plagues this country.

We arrived our hotel close to dusk, and I was pleased to see that the hotel where I would stay was an excellent choice at a very reasonable price. I will return to the Sundown Ranch Hotel a little later.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Good Morning Vietnam!!

Rarely have I eaten better food at a lower price. Good Morning Vietnam in Berlin is the ultimate place to have a meal, and they could easily have doubled the price and it still would have been a bargain. Good Morning Vietnam is highly recommendable, good location, stylish interior, good service, excellent food and wine, and inexpensive. Who could ask for more. I could not!!

Location: BBBB

Good Morning Vietnam is located in the heart of old East Berlin, in Alte Schönhauser Strasse, close to the Rose Luxemburg Platz subway station.

Atmosphere: BBBBB

Bright red and beige walls, rustic wooden tables and chairs, gives the interior a very oriental look: I have no specific idea on what a genuin Vietnamese interior would look like. To me the interior at at Good Morning Vietnam looked more Japanese than Vietnamese. What ever - in spite of the bright colors it feels light, intimate and classy.

Price: BBBBB

€34 for one entree to share, two main courses, one glass of red and one of white wine each, and one bottle of sparkling mineral wine. In Scandinavia you would hardly get a main course for the same price. This may be one of the best bargains I have had - ever!

Service: BBBBB

Excellent service from the Asian staff, both kind and polite, and the food came quickly to the table. And what food!!!


Ketil and I were both hungry, hungry enough to order an entree a New Ha Long to share. This is a deliciously crisp spring roll filled with prawns, crunchy vegetables and with a hot dipping sauce. For this delicious treat we paid €2,50 and two generous glasses (20 cl) of dry pinot grigio (€3,80) was the best company you could think of.

I ordered the most exquisite Asian duck! Crispy tender duck meat with a sauce made from coconut milk flavored with ginger and lemon grass. This is certainly food that everyone would like, as this had none of the hot spices found in many Thai dishes. Extremely well balanced, mild but still with a distinct taste of Asia. I have rarely tasted anything as good as this, and paid so little. We paid €6,50 for this exquisite treat.

And we ordered one good glass of a rich red wine (based on the syrah grape) each to follow our main course at the same low price as the pinot grigio. We were both baffled by the price and the quality. This is definitely a place I will return to when I revisit Berlin.

Rating the Good Morning Vietnam experience: BBBBB (4,8 points)

It does not getter and more inexpensive than this - visit, and enjoy!!!


Good Morning Vietnam
Alte Schönhauser Strasse 60, 10019 Berlin
Phone: 030-30-88-29-73