A glorious, comforting, and ridiculously calorific taste of northern Norway
Møsbrømlefse in Oslo
As I dragged my knife through folded flatbread, golden brunost gravy pooled on my plate. On the second cut, a stream of cream gushed out, followed by more oozy brunost, which spilled uncontrollably out of the steaming packet of flatbread. It was my first experience eating møsbrømlefse, a hyper-regional dish from the northern Norway sea-coast district of Salten, just north of the Arctic Circle.
Lefse, a Norwegian, circular flatbread, is filled with a gravy of melted brunost (akin to caramelized goat cheese made from boiling down whey, milk, and cream), syrup, milk, water, and flour for thickening. The mixture (“møsbrøm”) is served with heart-stopping dollops of butter, sour cream, and a snowy dusting of sugar, neatly wrapped into a tidy lefse packet—glorious, comforting, and ridiculously calorific.
My friend, Linda, a Northerner by way of Tverlandet and Lofoten, explained that its richness was intended to sustain people during long hours of physical, outdoor work in the cold. In more modern times, children might get it as an after-school snack. Linda lives in Oslo now, almost 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) from where she grew up eating møsbrømlefse.
Møsbrømlefse is sweet and creamy, but with reserve. The brunost offers a little tanginess. For the people of Salten, storable staples such as lefse, and dairy, which is available when the earth is too cold to farm, along with all that is fished from the sea, become the inspiration for meals.
But I didn’t have to travel to the north to try it: Saltværingen, a volunteer organization of people from Salten, hosts nearly-monthly events serving møsbrømlefse in the cafeteria of a 134-year-old Art deco building—a former kurbadet, or health resort—northeast of the Oslo Sentrum. Linda had invited me along for my møsbrømlefse initiation.
The cafeteria was spartan, with dainty drapes and vases of tulips on long wooden tables. There was a breakfasty smell of butter hitting a hot griddle and the chatter of Norwegian conversation. A music-recital podium held a large open logbook, its pages filled with handwritten names, the majority Scandinavian-sounding, with their towns of origin beside them: Bodø, Fauske, Saltdal—overwhelmingly Nordland. Among the names, a smattering of foreigners had checked in from cities in China and Scotland, and my Chicago entry added an American to the møsbrømlefse-initiated.
After paying our 70 kroner each, Linda and I queued in a line leading to three aproned women. Tone, Solveig, and Brit—volunteers—dished out møsbrømlefse after møsbrømlefse, each prepared according to individual taste: some with more sugar, some without sour cream, some with extra everything. Nordlanders can argue over the proper way to fold the lefse, or whether the application of sour cream should be dolloped or spread evenly. How to eat it can also be debated: with knife and fork, or with bits of lefsa pulled off by hand and dipped into the møsbrøm puddles on one’s plate.
Saltværingen started holding these events around 1981, but moved to this location in Oslo in 2011. The money collected is donated to charity, generally serving places in the North. Over the past few years, Facebook has helped them spread the word. Attendance hovers around 100 each time—and the møsbrømlefse usually sells out within the first hour. Recreating this dish gives the many Northerners who’ve relocated to Oslo a taste of home and rekindles memories of their hometowns, so far from Norway’s largest city.
Akersgata 74, 0180 Oslo, Norway
First Monday evening of most months:
Check Saltværingen Facebook group for upcoming dates and times.