Gastroanthropology – The Norwegian ‘Vaffel’

May 16, 2011 at 6:24 pm Leave a comment

Does anyone know WHY waffles are SO popular in Norway? From a food anthropology kind of angle….

Tweeted by  Scandinavian Kitchen, deli in central London, April 18th 2011.

This was a very interesting question that I am going to elaborate on further but first I’ll explain to you what waffles, or so called vaffler are.

Source: Handelsbanken FK

They are similar to Belgian waffles but softer and thinner, and the texture is rather fluffy as opposed to dense.

A standard recipe will include eggs, milk, flour, sugar, baking powder, vanilla sugar and sometimes sour cream or melted butter. They are fried in a special iron – ‘vaffel jern’ or waffle maker. They come out with a nice pattern and the iron does so that they are divided (still attached) in 4 little squares or heart shaped pieces, easy to split and share. The vaffel-iron can be bought in the UK at Clas Ohlson, see http://www.clasohlson.co.uk/Product/Product.aspx?id=153070034

Source: Get an hour for Cooking

How do you eat vaffler? Vaffler can be eaten with anything you like or plain. It is very common to have them with butter, jam, brunost (brown cheese), sour cream, nugatti (chokolate spread), sugar, ice cream, clothed cream and more jummy stuff I am sure.

Source: tmorkemo’s photostream (Flickr)

Any Norwegian knows their vaffel and they are indeed very popular. Well, actually not popular as such, just compulsory. Vaffler are served for community events, national celebrations (17th of May), sports gatherings, festivals, family gatherings, weddings and similar types of social events.

Scandikitchen’s question is interesting because it made me think about how certain products have sentimental value and will survive merely because of that. That is not to say that vaffles are not tasty or has a gastronomic value, yes they do. They are delicious! But there is a gastro-anthropoligical aspect about vaffler. They are there when people gather and they are related to festivities, fun, enjoyment and celebration. They make you feel good and they bring people together. If you move away from Norway vaffler are one of the ultra-Norwegian things that brings back so many memories. Perhaps a birthday, first day at school, football match and so on.. Vaffler are just a national treasure and special treat.

So are anyone not earning big money off of this unique product? Yes, the people who sell them at events do. But they usually don’t charge much, 10-15 kr a vaffel I think (please correct me if this is incorrect). And, also, of course the super marked chains have seen an opportunity in this product. I was quite upset the first time I saw an ‘ easy to make’ vaffel bag in the shop. They are really easy to make and if you can afford a vaffel jern, you can also afford (time-wise) to make them from scratch. I think people buy them but don’t think it ever became a huge success. Luckily I have not come across ‘ready-made’ vaffles to this date. Has anyone else? (I really hope not). If so, I can’t see how that would be popular, and that’s for a few reasons:

  1. It is very nice to buy a vaffel from an older lady who knows her recipe, fresh from the iron!
  2. You usually support a local community, sports team, charity or similar with your purchase.
  3. If not served straight from the iron, they are made fresh on the day. A dry, stiff vaffel is a ‘no-no’
  4. Vaffle’s are meant to be eaten on a special day, you don’t pick them up from a shelf in the local supermarket to have for lunch.

Reading Scandikitchen’s tweet I felt homesick. I could feel the taste in my mouth. And I promised myself that my next kitchenware purchase will be a vaffel-iron so that I can serve them to my friends, because everyone should try them! Just like crepes, they could be more or less international, no?

But there is one thing that those who haven’t grown up with vaffler can’t taste, that is the taste of nostalgia. And because of this I assume it must be very hard to make success out of products like vaffler, they just don’t work as well on their own, they need to be served within their context. Well, that is, I would pay quite a lot for a vaffel right now, being thousands of miles from home….but it wouldn’t be the same.. (good thing it is May 17th tomorrow and there are celebrations outside Norway too). And some types of food are meant to be seasonal, in this case, occasional. That is what makes them so special.

I came across the picture below at Kristins Reiseblogg,  a blog about Kristin’s travels where she talks about how she spent 17th of May in Brisbane with her friend. They are both enjoying a vaffel and Norwegian-style hot-dog (another food-phenomena).  The picture just speaks for itself…

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