Norway’s a good place for eating. Hilly enough, and – in winter – cold enough to justify scoffing almost anything, at any moment. If you’re a ‘true’ choco-phile who never lets anything with less than 70% cocoa content pass your lips, you can just get back in your intensely dark (with gold writing) wrapper. For a start, nobody cares, and besides, when you’re trying to cross country ski your way round a lake and over a mountain, you need the bucket loads of sugar contained in creamy milk chocolate, as well as its smooth velvety melting quality in your mouth. The fact is that truly dark chocolate just doesn’t work in quite the same way when it’s minus-degrees on the outside of your face.
Since the end of the 19th century Norway has had its very own supply of the right stuff in the form of Freia chocolate. And since 1937 the Freia brand has had the answer to KitKat (which appeared as Rowntree’s Chocolate Crisp a couple of years earlier) in the form of Kvikk Lunsj, which you don’t need to be fluent in Norwegian to understand. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Kvikk Lunsj is obsequious in its fawning reverence for the original. Or it’s just a rip-off – almost identical, with four chocolate-coated wafer fingers; from the outside only the addition of yellow and green on the packet tells you it’s not Rowntree’s own. On the inside some people really can’t tell the difference in terms of taste and texture, though anyone with proper taste buds wouldn’t be fooled for a minute. That’s not to say it’s better or worse, it’s just different. Ever so slightly.
On the public information/health and safety front it leaves KitKat scrabbling in the dust: Kvikk Lunsj has enjoyed deals with the Norwegian Trekking Association (the DNT), with route info and mountain safety tips printed on wrappers. To any proper Norwegian the snack is clearly as essential to a day up a hill as storm-proof clothing. But as with KitKat, the modern plastic packaging would be next to useless if you were trying to light a fire in a snowstorm – the old-style paper was perfect for the job, and the foil would have been ideal for – say – baking a chicken breast in Marsala wine with Porcini and thyme, with maybe some pomme purée on the side. Though by the time you’d eaten enough bars to supply enough foil for that, you wouldn’t have room for the main course.
To avoid overdosing on all the chocolatey stuff, Norwegian tradition is to make up sandwiches – a ‘lunch packet’ – at the breakfast bar, whether you’re heading off to ski for the day or to undergo a round of business meetings. If it’s the former, then it’s calories and tastiness you’re interested in, with ease and graciousness of eating running low down the list. Given the huge range of typical Norwegian breakfast food and the general availability of some good dense bread, the Scooby-snack is the preferred approach, piling implausible amounts ever higher onto your base before trapping and compressing it under more bread, and binding it up in grease proof paper. However carefully you wrap things, if you’re going big with your sandwiches, your rucksack will be liberally coated with squeezed out, slightly fishy gloop by the end of your week and you should expect close attention from the drug-sniffing spaniel at the airport on your way back home, and quite possibly a wide berth from everyone else. But don’t for a moment think it’s just about piling whatever you fancy onto your bread in random fashion. Basic principles must be followed: butter or mayonnaise is needed to waterproof the surface of the bread before wetter items are applied (there’s a lot of marinated fish on the average Scandinavian breakfast buffet). They in turn must be layered with more structural ingredients such as sliced vegetables, both for the architectural integrity of the sandwich as well as for crunch and to temper the salty, vinegar-y tang of rollmops or one of the pokier iterations of salmon you might choose (there will typically be many variations of a morning, some of them quite strongly spiced). A very useful and uniquely Norwegian element to include is thin-sliced brown cheese, whose caramel flavour works weirdly well with everything, while its consistency means it performs a gluing and waterproofing function to boot. Remember, effort equals results, both in terms of the size and quality of your lunch packet and of your progress uphill, since the two are not just intricately related but will in combination have a direct bearing on the enjoyment of your day. God appetitt!