4 March 2012

Mathallen, Oslo – A Taste of Things to Come?

It's finally happening! In just a few months' time Oslo will boast its very own permanent food hall. Norway's capital has lagged behind its Nordic neighbours when it comes to indoor food markets. Stockholm has the wonderful Östermalms and Hötorgshallen food halls, Helsinki boasts the Kauppahalli food market, and Copenhagen now has the new gleaming Torvehallerne food hall. But until recently (and for a few more months yet) Oslo had nowhere permanent to buy speciality produce from local producers.

So it was that I found myself on one of the first bright sunny days of the year at Oslo's new Mathallen, located in the new Vulkan development between the St. Hanshaugen and Grünerløkka neighbourhoods. Mathallen won't open properly until October, but the official opening (heralded rather appropriately by the cutting of a link of sausages, rather than a ribbon) occurred at the beginning of March, and I was here on one of two preview days designed to give the public a taste of what's to come in the autumn.

My first impressions were that at over 3,500 square metres this is a big space to have a dedicated food hall in Oslo, which is great news. At one end of the large central hall, enticing aromas were wafting from an area cooking and selling gatemat (street food). There were areas set up for food demos and presentations. There's also an upper mezzanine level that looks out over the central hall, which I gather will eventually play host to bars and restaurants. Most of the main floor space, though, was dedicated to the roving Bondens Marked (Farmers’ Market), but hopefully this isn't totally representative of what the food hall will be like when it opens properly in October.
Lots of preserved/long-life food on offer, not so much the fresh stuff
The Bondens Marked is a great place to find speciality produce made by small-scale producers in Norway, but by its nature these transient farmers’ markets make it tricky to sell fresh produce, and as such they are dominated by long-life products such as cured meats, jams, honey and smoked fish. Delicious as these products may be, I really hope the new Mathallen will offer plenty of fresh meat, fish, game and vegetables – that is the sort of place Oslo is sorely lacking.

I've written about the Bondens Marked before (here and here), so I won't dwell on it too much. Suffice it to say there were 47 producers represented at the Mathallen preview, of which 15 were certified organic, which is really heartening to see. There's certainly some sticker shock when you look at some of the prices of these products, but I guess that's to be expected when you have labour intensive artisanal produce being sold to such a small market. However, if it serves to increase the overall level and appreciation of food in this country then, in my book at least, it's a price worth paying.

The 'street food' counter
The street food counter was a nice addition with various casual eateries having set up shop there. However, service was bit chaotic and no one seemed to be able to tell me anything about the food on offer. A question about a pork bun they were selling was met with an indifferent shrug and a half-hearted, but unsuccessful, attempt to find out. I hope the service aspect of this section gets sorted before the official opening, as it was virtually non-existent.

In the end, the pork bun in question (from Oslo blues bistro, The Crossroad Club) was really rather good. Big tender pieces of pork (no idea which cut) had been marinated (no idea in what) and cooked (no idea how) and served in a soft steamed bun, wrapped in lettuce and slicked with a coriander sauce. At Nkr 30 (€4) apiece, they also seemed like great value.
The mysterious, yet delicious, pork bun
Organic honey from Røisilien Bigård near lake Mjøsa
Cured meat from Norwegian chef, Arne Brimi, in Gudbrandsdalen

One of the few stands selling fresh produce was this fishmonger selling live langoustines from the island of Frøya. They were beautiful and were some of the largest specimens I've seen! Fortunately this fishmonger will have a permanent shop when the food hall opens properly and I hear he has plans to install a large boiling pot to cook crabs on site. Fantastic!
Stunning Norwegian seafood

An aquavit bar

Lots of demos and presentations were lined up over the two-day preview, including a huge coffee cupping session by Norwegian coffee suppliers Solberg & Hansen.
World's longest coffee cupping table

Newcomers to a culture often have the unique benefit of not being encumbered with that culture's dogmas, and can see things with a fresh perspective. In the food world this translates to new ideas that are not beholden to tradition. I found the stall of Swedish physiotherapist turned chocolatier, Bengt Dahlberg, who is making some rather unusual and uniquely Norwegian chocolates in his small workshop overlooking the famous Geiranger Fjord.
Bengt Dahlberg from Fjordnær Geiranger Sjokolade
Two particular chocolates really got my attention. One was made with brunost, the traditional Norwegian brown cheese, while the other was made with the gorgeous Kraftkar blue cheese, honey from Norddal, and aquavit. It sounds like a really odd combination that shouldn't work, but it was utterly delicious and is a great and innovative use of these Norwegian ingredients.
Blue cheese chocolate. Delicious!

Of course, no visit to a Norwegian farmers' market is complete without some of these wonderful sveler – thick, fluffy pancakes that originate from the West Coast of Norway. Hot off the griddle and served with lingonberry jam and sour cream they are so moreish.

Overall, I think the little preview of Mathallen was a success. It may not have featured much in the way of fresh produce, but it certainly got people talking about Norwegian food and that in itself is great. I gather by the official opening in October a total of 25 shops will be permanently based in Mathallen. Although the nature of most of these shops is yet to be determined I have heard that a baker, fishmonger, greengrocer, beer shop, and poultry shop are already signed up. And the really great news is that Mathallen should be open on Sundays too, which will surely turn it into a popular destination on a day when everything else is closed.

For now I'm cautiously optimistic, and I'll be keeping my fingers crossed that when Mathallen eventually opens in October, Oslo will finally get a permanent food market that can fully showcase and do justice to the wonderful produce this country can offer.


  1. Divine! Looks amazing - especially the seafood stand, the unique chocolates and of course the street food place. Goes on that ever growing lists of places you will have to take me to when I visit!

  2. Judging by the crowd the interest certainly is there. But if people are willing to pay up for niche/quality products and ingredients on a regular basis I’m not so sure about. Lets hope so! I'm really looking foreward to the opening, but I hope "Bondens Marked" won't dominate the scene as much as they did during this event.

  3. oh how marvellous! I totally agree with you, Oslo needs it! And being open on sundays is an excellent idea too!

  4. Hi Meeta – I like the sound of that list :-)

    Hi John Erik – I share your concerns; pricing was on the high side and it's always going to be more challenging to get people interested in buying quality produce when prices are so high. I also hope the Bondens Marked doesn't dominate – the last thing Oslo needs is more spekemat and solbærsaft!

    Hi Tora – Yes, Sunday opening would be awesome. Fingers crossed that it all goes according to plan.

  5. Hi, I loved it - and wrote something about it in my blog, though in German - thought you may be curious and take a look at


    Cheers, Hilke