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American Food that's Difficult to get in Norway


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My sister-in-law has been living in Norway for the past 6 months or so, and I want to send her some American food items that might be difficult to find there for her birthday. I already have two bottles of hot sauce, but I'm drawing a blank on what else to send. I'm thinking things that would be light, small, and not too perishable. Any suggestions from any ex-pat Egulleteers out there?

If you ate pasta and antipasto, would you still be hungry? ~Author Unknown

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I would ask her, but I want it to be a surprise. And I'd ask her SO, but he's from Norway, and having not spent much time in the US, I don't think he'd know...

Edited by Genkinaonna (log)

If you ate pasta and antipasto, would you still be hungry? ~Author Unknown

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What sort of tastes does she have, and would things like spices or kitchen utensils be an option?

I spend a lot of time in Denmark, and from what I've heard, things are quite similar in Norway: relatively limited selection when compared to what you'd find in a similarly-sized US city, high prices (incl. 25% tax), and things you take for granted in the US are priced as luxury items (you can pay the equivalent of USD50 for a Microplane grater, and OXO utensils start at about USD20).

If she has favourite herbs, spices, or other seasonings, odds are good she won't find them there. Same holds for many teas, not to mention, grape jam is unheard of, and Heinz's ketchup is much thinner.

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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Aha! Just signed up yesterday and got my account activated today, so what better way to use my first post than (to at least attempt) to help someone out.

Just to give a slight bit of background: I am Norwegian, though I've been growing up in various places, among which 6 of my formative years in New York (Larchmont, Westchester County to be precise). When I returned to Norway in 1997, I was 16 and thoroughly Americanized. However, my relationship with American food was pretty much the standard supermarket mass-produced fare, and I wasn't too interested in food in general (a kid knows what he likes, and it's generally what he's used to and for no other reason than that). However, that might actually be beneficial to the discussion since that's the essence of a care package - comfort and familiarity, and not necessarily the top unique ingredients from their favorite store.

Speaking of care packages, I'm lucky enough to be somewhat experienced on that front as well. My wife is French, and has been living in Norway for the past.. well, 2+ years or so. There are quite a lot of things you simply don't get in Norway. In fact, a recent study (which even more recently has been the cover stories of a few of the major Norwegian newspapers), has stated that Norway has the highest prices and worst selection in Europe when it comes to common supermarket fare (check this out for reference: http://theforeigner.no/pages/news/norwegian-supermarkets-overpriced-and-under-stocked/, and you might actually forward that site to your sister-in-law so she might have some hope of knowing what's going on without having to ask :)).

In any event - when it comes to the content of the care packages from France, it's generally included everything from cheese (comte, chevre, tomme, and the like) - which may not be entirely recommended (though it does guarantee rapid expedition from the local post office), to duck confit, various pate and terrine, to simple things such as cookies, baking chocolate, and even flour (the french are quite particular about their bread..).

Basically the point that I'm making is that what you want to send can be put into three categories (as far as I can think right now that is):

  • Things the recipient has expressed a true desire for
  • Things the recipient would like, regardless of local availability
  • Things the sender would like to communicate to the recipient.

For instance, when seeing Nibor's post, it's fairly clear that the jar of chunky peanut butter would most likely have fit well into the first category, probably into second, and the sender would have the distinct pleasure of the third.

Firstly, what you should be thinking about is - what does she like? What meals have you had with her before she left, and what has she expressed enjoyment over? What things does she have a tendency to 'over-use' (a particular spice mix?). Anything from memory there will help you figure out good potential candidates.

Secondly - you want to fill the local availability gap, and luckily for you, it's not really that hard to do that in Norway :). We do actually have a relatively.. well, I was about to say 'decent', but let's write 'poor' with the intonation of 'decent'.. selection of american goods, or at the very least american-style goods. It may be that the hot sauce you're wanting to send might actually be found in some dark recess of one of our stores, or a small specialty corner store somewhere - but it's highly unlikely.

What's more important than that though, is actually what makes our French care packages so worthwhile. It's not necessarily that we can't actually get the cheese, or especially the duck confit in Norway. It's started to pick up a bit (even though we still can't get the exact quality we want here). The big difference is price. I've seen a bottle of trader joe's barbecue sauce here - but the price.. well. A small bottle (don't know exactly how much was in it, but definitely not something that would 'last a while') cost 330 norwegian kroner. That's $60 USD. For us, comparing to France, we've calculated that 8 tins of Confit de Canard actually compensates the price of a cheap flight to France in savings.

So don't worry too much about what you might possibly find over here, focus more on what she might actually be craving for (first point), what she might actually appreciate (second point), and what memories you might have shared together that you want to bring up (third point).

For the third point, simple suggestions like kool-aid, graham crackers, hershey's chocolate, are bang on. It's amazing what makes your eyes well up when you haven't been exposed to it for a while, regardless of your perceived devotion to it under normal circumstances.

In any event - I've overdone this reply, so I'll end off with a simple question to get some ideas as to what might be available around her: Does she live in/near Oslo, or not. Accessibility to 'exotic' foods (like, you know, pop tarts) is almost non-existent outside our capital. In general, we have some things, but we never have extremes - we don't get the absolute low-end of anything, but we rarely have a selection in the specialties or peculiar variations on the theme. For instance, if you consider mustard, we do actually have some few stores which carry typical american yellow mustard (of the French's variety), in addition to 4-5 types of dijon, and 5 or 6 locally produced variants, but you don't get any of the variations in there. Same things with pop-tarts: I've seen them, but I've only ever seen the strawberry pop-tarts. So if you're planning on sending something, try to send something ever so slightly different than the best-selling variant - that will secure you a guaranteed 'can not find'.

Right, for the third time - end of post. Sorry for making you read all this :)

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Welcome to the fold, Headconnect! Thanks so much for such a thorough and well reasoned post. I don't think she lives near Oslo (she's in Trondheim, no car)...the poptarts might be a good idea. She's not much of a cook, I'm thinking that ready to eat convenience foods would be the best for her. If she cooked, I'd totally get her a microplane, but she doesn't, very much at least. Maybe I'll send her stuff she can sell to other expats that actually CAN cook and she can resell it to buy what she wants :wink:

Thanks for the help, guys, I really appreciate it!

If you ate pasta and antipasto, would you still be hungry? ~Author Unknown

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One thing I often bring back with me is Ghirardelli hot chocolate mix, since it's almost guaranteed that what she'll be able to find in this category will be a bit dismal (she could make a mix herself from available ingredients, but if she's not much of a cook, she probably won't want to go there).

BTW, write something like 'Happy birthday' all over the box; some friends of mine advised me to do this, since otherwise, there is the chance that she'll be required to pay an import tax, if the authorities decide that what you've sent is 'merchandise', even if it should be pretty evident that it's a care package.

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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Thanks Mjx! I totally wouldn't have known that. And she has no money, so that tax wouldn't have been a good thing! I might even have some ghirardelli hot chocolate mix too...

If you ate pasta and antipasto, would you still be hungry? ~Author Unknown

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I'm not an expat of anywhere (other than maybe Michigan), but I do have a Norwegian side to my family and something potentially fun idea leapt to mind when I saw this topic again. Go to the grocery, grab a cart and methodically traverse the aisles thinking "Americana, Americana, ....". Grab the blue box of Mac 'n Cheese, Tuna Helper, Brownie Mix, Brand Name Ketchup, breakfast cereal, canned soups, Charlie's tuna, etc. Everything that isn't perishable and that screams Americana. Pack it all in a box and apply a USAID seal (http://www.caadp.net/news/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/usaid1.jpg) - or maybe the American Red Cross.

Sure, you might find that some items are available in Norway, but not the entire collection.

Edited by IndyRob (log)
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One thing I often bring back with me is Ghirardelli hot chocolate mix, since it's almost guaranteed that what she'll be able to find in this category will be a bit dismal (she could make a mix herself from available ingredients, but if she's not much of a cook, she probably won't want to go there).

I can personally attest to this - what we've got is bland, boring, and tasteless. Again, making something from available ingredients won't be the same either - chocolate is not 'chocolate' (hence the hershey bar suggestion from my previous post).

Everything that isn't perishable and that screams Americana.

Exactly the idea - anything that you identify with 'home', she will as well.

A little note on the 'avoiding customs' bit - the only thing you should avoid when sending care packages to norway is Wine, or any alcoholic beverage of any sort (yes, budweiser costs $6.50 per can here, but you can expect twice as much in tax on collection if you put a can of bud in the package). Aside from that, if you do decide to include some utensils - save yourself some precious space and potential customs hassle by removing any hardware from its original packaging (i.e, make it look like it's not brand spanking new).

Additionally - unless it's blatantly humorous (i.e. ensure that it's not going to be easily misinterpreted for something official), try to avoid using the official emblem of the red cross or other NGO's. Firstly, if you send a package that looks like food-aid (though humerous), it will definetely catch the attention of customs agents ("isn't this going in the wrong direction?"). Secondly, the Red Cross especially has a pretty clear policy on misuse of its emblem, and while I sincerely doubt any harm will come of it, it's better to 'make up your own' than to use something existing.

How about something like "[yourFirstName]CARES" with the subtitle "expat survival kit"?

None of our packages (except the one where my great-grandmother-in-law decided to add a bottle of local table wine) have ever been applied any additional tax to, even though they've contained clearly labeled valuable foodstuffs and some cooking equipment. Same goes for a package we received from some Canadian friends in January - filled with clothing and candies (<3 candies). In fact, the canadian package was clearly marked with value (over 100 canadian dollars), and went through customs inspection (opened and resealed), without any penalties applied.

In other words - I would honestly not worry too much about that. Customs officials are people too, and they know the difference between a care package and resale imports.

Additionally, I'm hoping to find a course in eGCI relating to 'how to express yourself in response to others in such a manner as not to force the consumers of said response to have to read through walls of text which reiterate the same message'. Perhaps it's called 'short reply' or something :)

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Here's what I ended up sending:

Kraft mac and cheese

Salsa

Taco Seasoning Mix

Flour tortillas

Refried beans

Tortilla Chips

A bar of Scharffenberger chocolate

Nutrigrain bars (she loves them)

Goldfish crackers

Chocolate chips

Emergen-C packets (gotta fight off those subarctic germs!)

Two different kinds of hot sauce

Maple syrup (even though I'm not Canadian :biggrin: )

A couple of t-shirts from local food places

And the total to ship all said merch? $126.00. She'd better appreciate it! That's a quarter of the way to my copy of Modernist Cuisine :rolleyes:

Thanks everyone for all your input! If she was on Egullet, I'm sure she'd say thank you too!

If you ate pasta and antipasto, would you still be hungry? ~Author Unknown

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That sounds perfect! I'm sure she'll appreciate it :). On another related note, just received a package (opened by customs here) from my grandmother-in-law, couldn't be happier - and considering the freshness of the 12 'illegally produced' chevres, it seems the postal speed in Norway has picked up a bit since the winter (which bodes well for your shipment).

Shipping costs are always a bit of a burden, though considering the availability of Modernist Cuisine, I'm betting the investment made on this will give you more pleasure than refreshing amazon ;)

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A note to future readers: cream cheese is indispensable for cheesecake in the american sense, and is hard to source in Europe.

But it would never survive the trip! Besides, although I don't know about Norwegian supermarkets, those in Denmark (e.g. Fakta, Superbest, Føtex) have their dairy shelves fairly bristling with various Philadelphia cream cheese products (at least in the major towns)... if it can't be found in Norway, it would be easier to just take the ferry over to DK.

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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A note to future readers: cream cheese is indispensable for cheesecake in the american sense, and is hard to source in Europe.

Not hard to source in Norway - even low-price supermarkets usually stock both regular and low-fat Philadelphia cream cheese.

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A note to future readers: cream cheese is indispensable for cheesecake in the american sense, and is hard to source in Europe.

Not hard to source in Norway - even low-price supermarkets usually stock both regular and low-fat Philadelphia cream cheese.

Yup, gotten quite popular too - however that wasn't the case only ten years ago.. Still, there are components to traditionally american dishes that are hard to source, especially if you aren't able cook from scratch. A good example of this is pumpkin pie, this is still completely foreign to the average norwegian.

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When I send stuff to American friends and relatives overseas, I think it makes a pretty big difference what part of the US they're from, and what they're accustomed to, and what they might be missing. I note you're in Oregon, but that much of what you sent is US Mex/Southwestern.

As that's our heritage, what I usually send is a lot of cans of Herdez salsa, both the casera and the green (Herdez is a great product; to my mind the best by far of the jarred, bottled salsas, convenient for shipping as the cans are small and unbreakable), La Sierra Charro Beans (the best canned Mexican-style beans I've found; and you can either eat the beans whole, or mash them for the tastiest refried beans you'll ever get from a can), several cans of escabeche, and a packet of jalapeno seeds.

My dear friend that lived in Germany for several years somehow managed to grow jalapenos in a pot on her back patio; bringing it inside when Germany's brutal winter got too cold.

She had no trouble getting canned tomatoes there, so she used those jalapenos to, among other things, make my recipe for a quick cooked salsa (which I've posted elsewhere on eG).

_______________

Edited by Jaymes (log)

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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