In recent years, Oslo has been hit by several culinary waves. Some larger than others. Certain ones, more of a hype than a long-lasting trend. If I were to make a prediction, I think ramen could be the next big wave to hit Oslo. I will argue why, but first, let’s have a quick look at some recent trends in Norway, and how well they have succeded.
Authentic Taco and Ceviche
The Latin American wave certainly brought along a bunch of new and interesting eateries to Oslo. Piscoteket and Aymara being the obvious faces of ceviche and the Peruvian cuisine, and Taco Republica and 4 Gringos as good representatives of taco and the Mexican kitchen. We’ve also had offsprings, like the burrito shops popping up all over town, including Freddy Fuego, El Burro, and El Camino (which are all fine) and the horrible, horrible (now-closed, luckily) place called Barrio. However, they all remind me more of the American fast food chain Chipotle (formerly owned by McDonald’s) than any authentic Mexican street food that we found in Tulum. One thing that’s for sure, Tex-Mex-places like Mucho Mas and Habanero are terribly outdated and hopefully, guests will let them know that soon.
The Pizza and Burger Boom
Two food items that appeal to pretty much anyone, anywhere, at any given time, are pizzas and burgers. Constant trends aren’t really trends, but Oslo has experienced a significant increase in the number of good or decent burger and pizza places the last couple of years. First of all, Lofthus Samvirkelag (the best pizzeria in town, in my opinion) now operate no less than five separate locations. Mamma Pizza, which specializes in the Rome-style al taglio pizza – squared, sliced, and with a thick crust – has three permanent spots and seems eager to grow. Even the bakery chain W.B. Samson serves pizza at selected outlets that morph from café to pizzeria in the evening. No pizzeria in Oslo can quite match the authenticity of the Neapolitan pizza at Lilla Napoli in Falkenberg, Sweden, though.
I could list a bunch of bad pizza places too, but to be fair, I haven’t tested them as thoroughly as I have with the burger joints. Because, this is the best burger in Oslo, as selected by the ultimate burger jury put together by me. Burger joints are here to stay, but we have enough now in Oslo, okay? If pizza had a big boom, then burgers have practically flooded the streets. Especially the area around Torggata, which sports more than six burger joints within a distance of less than 500 meters.
Sabi Omakase forever changed the sushi landscape in Norway when they opened their exclusive, ten-seat, Nordic edomae-style sushi bar in Stavanger. Until then, most Norwegians knew only the California-style of sushi. Edomae (meaning close to Tokyo) is the elegant preparation of sushi based on the freshest of seafood and made to perfection by a highly-skilled chef. California-style, on the other hand, is best represented by the fast food maki rolls stuffed with fish and rice of various quality, served with plastic cups of cheap soy sauce that people were wrongly taught to mix a fake wasabi paste into. To be fair, Oslo now has a few good California-style sushi places too, like Alex Sushi, Kamai, and Jonathan Sushi (soon to become Sabi Sushi). However, the vast majority of sushi restaurants are still of poor quality. At least, it’s not as bad as in Trondheim, where I noticed they have sushi buffets! Can you imagine something more appalling than fish left to dry at room temperature for hours, on top of a sad piece of mayonnaise-covered rice ball? Oh, I know! Possibly the pre-made trays of sushi you can now buy at grocery stores. Yuck.
Luckily, the edomae-style is trending now, with places like Babylon Surøl & Sushi, and Sabi opening its Omakase by Alex in Oslo. When Roger Joya, head chef at the original Sabi Omakase in Stavanger, got his first Michelin-star this year, and continued the success by bringing home the Nordic Prize, as well as being listed 12th on the White Guide Nordic Top 30-list, he got a lot of attention. In all fairness, the Swedes were way ahead of us, though. Hoze has been doing edomae-style in Gothenburg since 2010. In Stockholm, the Esperanto restaurant group have done more authentic Japanese-inspired sushi at Råkultur since 2009, and more recently at Shibumi (2014) and Imouti (2015). The latter, as well as Sushi Sho (2014), also has a Michelin-star, but none of them got quite the same level of attention as Sabi Omakase. This brings me to my first point. Usually, you can predict Oslo based on what’s going on in Stockholm and Copenhagen. If that’s true, then we should be able to make a guess about the next trends here.
The Rise and Fall of Poké and Bánh Mì
Both poké and bánh mì were predicted to be big hits in 2016 and 2017. In Oslo, thus far, there’s only one place that specializes in poké. Pacific Poké has had success with their food truck that started out at Aker Brygge, moved to Majorstua, and is currently parked outside Mathallen. According to rumors, they are opening a store at Bislett in August this year. That’s it, though, apart from a few other restaurants featuring poké on their menus from time to time. I’m guessing Stockholm and Copenhagen have a few places that sell poké as well, but I haven’t seen the major trend alarm go off.
I have, however, checked out a few decent bánh mì-places in Copenhagen (District Tonkin and Bánh Mì). They were good, but the venues were almost deserted. In Oslo, some half-decent restaurants like Miss Gin and Bánh Mì Mot opened last year. I found that Xích Lô Asian Bakery & Tapas made a better version of the Vietnamese sandwich, but I am not sure where it’s headed now since head chef Pierre Xavier Chinniah quit. For all I know, poké and bánh mì might still become big hits, but personally, I find them less interesting. I’m much more intrigued by ramen.
Why Ramen Could be the Next Big Wave to Hit Oslo
If you look at current success stories from Copenhagen, both bao (also known as steam bun, gua bao, and Taiwanese burger) and ramen have done well. You’ll find my favorite bao in the Danish capital at Mao Bao, and I can’t wait to check out the new Kiin Kiin Bao Bao on my next trip in a few weeks. In Oslo, we don’t have any specialized bao shops yet, but you can find good versions at Hitchhiker, Kamai (where I have even helped develop one), and Pjoltergeist. Out of the two trends, I would argue that ramen has had the biggest success. Slurp Ramen is just the latest addition to a growing ramen scene in Copenhagen, which includes, among other places, Ramen to Bíiru, Papa Ramen, and Ferment. Ramen succeeds because ramen is awesome. When done right, a good ramen is steaming hot, spicy, rich in flavor, filling, and oh so slurp-o-liciously satisfying.
The Oslo Ramen Scene in a Not So Distant Future
In Oslo thus far, we only have one ramen restaurant. While I’ve only been to Sapporo Ramen Bar at Vulkan once, their philosophy of using mainly imported products from Japan did not impress me. The noodles had a cheap, plastic-like texture, and the broth was not as rich and flavorful as I prefer. I would take the ramen you occasionally find on the lunch menu at Hitchhiker in Mathallen any day over that. At least, they make their own noodles and cook decent broths.
If you check my restaurant rumors, you currently find that one new ramen place is soon-to-open in Oslo. I have previously checked out their pop-up at Teaterkjeller’n, where I found their noodle soup quite tasty, but less authentically Japanese. Obviously, I have no idea in which direction their new place is aiming to go, so I am very eager to see how it turns out. Apparently, the name won’t be Tanpopo Oslo Ramen anymore, though, when it opens at Osterhaus gate in September.
The most dedicated ramen cooking I have witnessed in Oslo, by far, is that of David Quist and his Nordic ramen concept, Hrímnir Ramen, recently demonstrated at a Hitchhiker pop-up. Imagine, authentic Japanse ramen translated into a Scandinavian edition, where everything is made from scratch, with organic and seasonal ingredients. The first time I tasted Quist’s ramen was at another pop-up at Spisehuset in Copenhagen, so I always figured he would open something more permanent in Denmark. Now, it turns out he has his eyes set on Norway and Oslo in stead. When I asked David about it recently, he cited a number of reasons: “amazing water, seafood and produce, and a growing producer-consumer network focused on sustainable food systems that we hope to be a part of.” That is exciting news for Oslo!
Are you spotting any trends that I’ve missed? Leave a comment and let me know.
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