The capital of Norway proves that it too can offer its share of mezze. At the very fringe of Europe lies one of the most sparsely populated and wildest countries on the continent. Far from the baking sun of the Middle East, Norway is the land of glaziers, deep valleys and fjords.
The capital city of Oslo, however, is also a pleasant cosmopolitan and multi-cultural surprise. Over the last two decades in particular, the number of new eateries has doubled countless times over. Nowadays, the variety and quantity of world cuisines on offer are simply endless. In addition, Oslo is a laid-back medium sized city, with a compact town centre that is easy to get around. In terms of Arabian food, the locals have discovered an affinity for the Lebanese.
At Al chouf in Henrik Ibsens gate, right next to the American embassy, you will find a pleasant example. Norwegians are generally not used to a vast multiplication of starters, but in this restaurant, they seem to have taken to the custom with great joy. Oftentimes, visitors never get to the main course due to all the mouth-watering appetizers. Hummus, baba ghanouj and laban (yoghurt) are among the big favourites. All the courses are served with fresh bread rolls on the side. The restaurant also offers Lebanese wine. The name of the restaurant comes from the mountainous area of Lebanon, and was undoubtedly chosen to symbolize the unsuspected commonality between the two countries: snow and high peaks.
Visitors may also recognize the name of the street, in the famous Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. Ibsen lived in an apartment only a few blocks away and was in his day one of the leading proponents of social commentary in art. Ibsen tackled many issues, which are still relevant today, such as the right of the individual to seek out his or her identity in the face of contrary social expectations.
The restaurant is set in the fashionable western district behind the royal palace park. The nearby area is leafy and perfect for a stroll on a summery evening. The stately classical villas are relics of the late 19th century when wealthy shipping barons flaunted the growing wealth of the young nation. Nowadays, the area is mostly taken up by embassies, which leaves it rather quiet and mostly ignored by tourists. Nonetheless, it remains among the capital’s loveliest spots and well worth a visit.
The summer and the fjord
Among alternative Lebanese eateries are Layali, Café Beirut, Sahara Beduin and Café Marhaba. Arab visitors will also recognize in the city a willingness to embrace the super-modern, while at the same time remaining faithful to the traditional. In fact, Oslo has embarked on a full-scale re-development of the formerly industrial port areas along the edges of the fjord. Aker Brygge was converted in the 1980’s and nearby Tjuvholmen is still in the process of conversion. The place is always teeming with life and is particularly popular during the summer with many outdoor bars and restaurants.
A visit to the capital is also an opportunity to visit one of the newest opera halls in Europe. The building, which has won many architectural accolades, seems to float on the water like a sheet of ice. This is perhaps a gentle reminder that though the summer months may offer enticingly pleasant evenings, during the winter months Oslo is still the capital of the land of ice and snow.