It is natural for most Americans to associate Norway with clean, pristine waters. Many Norwegians themselves take pride in how well the country controls pollution and preserves its fjords and glaciers. Ferry service connecting two sides of the same major highway is considered a normal form of transportation (though I was captivated by the views along the way!).
For the OU, Norway’s beauty extends past the shorelines, though sometimes not that far! Norway is the home of many fish and fish oil suppliers, and this past March, I got the chance to break in my new digital camera on the sights of Norway, accompanied by the head of the Jewish community in Oslo, Rabbi Joav Melchior.
My flight into the country on Icelandair from New York to Oslo (with a stopover in Reykjavik) made clear the strong relationship between Iceland and Norway. Having been to Iceland a few years back, for me a certain similarity between the two was immediately striking. While many people note the closeness in sound between the languages, the political systems and even the history shared by the two from the time of the Vikings, my first observation of both was the tremendous physical shape the vast majority of the population apparently enjoys. I even asked Rabbi Melchior if there is any obesity in his country at all! Apparently, the abundance of water sports, forests through which to hike and play, and the easy access to quality fresh fish are just what the doctor ordered!
Spending a night on an airplane flying to Europe might not be the best way to prepare for a day’s work, but when you have a limited amount of time on the ground, every second counts. With Rabbi Melchior behind the wheel, it seemed like our first stops (Denomega’s pilot plants in Fredrikstadt and Sarpsborg) were right next door!
The next day, we flew out to Kristiansund (not to be confused with Kristiansand, though if you accidentally confuse the two, the difference between the cities is a mere 900 km) where Norway exhibits some of its most panoramic views. Here we dropped by GC Rieber, one of Norway’s finest refineries of fish oils.
Following our visit, we were treated to a two-and-a-half hour drive to Alesund through what has to be one of the longest Kodak moments anywhere. From snow-crested mountains in the background to Rockwell-esque fishing villages in the foreground, whatever I was able to catch between naps was quite the treat! Here in Alesund, we were introduced to one of the finest fish oil extraction facilities to be found anywhere in Fjordlaks, as well as the most state-of-the-art refinery at Denomega’s plant just across the parking lot.
With our work day finished, what better way to relax than a midnight flight to frozen (and difficult to find a hotel room in because of a government conference the same day) Bodø? We thought so too!
Figuring that the good folks at Bodø Sildoliiefabrik probably were not available at 1:00 a.m. when we made it into town, we decided to come back in the morning to see their brand new kosher-dedicated herring silage manufacturing plant. (Silage is fermented, high-moisture fodder that can be fed to cud-chewing animals like cattle and sheep, or used as a biofuel feedstock for anaerobic digesters.)
Next it was time to drive back to the airport for a trip to Stokmarknes (at 68° 34’ 51” North of the Equator – more than four degrees farther north than Reykjavik). It was here that we took a 40-minute cab ride to Maritex, home to some of the highest quality cod liver oil in Norway.
After our visit, the next stop was…the airport, of course! Arriving at Oslo in the early evening, the chance to eat dinner at the usual time was a treat indeed (and the salami I brought from New York had been waiting for me for days!)
The next morning before my flight home, Rabbi Melchior took me to see the beautiful main synagogue in Oslo, which was visited the past June for the first time in the more than 100 years of the community’s history by Norway’s King, Harald V. Here the community presented the king with a framed Hebrew and Norwegian print of the blessing recited every week during Sabbath services for the well-being of the country and the royal family.
Our last stop was the one to which I was most looking forward, a trip to a local supermarket before my flight home. (Did you think I would leave such beautiful fish behind?) The size of the seafood section was astounding. Though kosher supervision clearly has room to expand here in Norway, the offerings to be found in the seafood section would leave any pescetarian with a lifetime of viable options. The average American supermarket might have a door or two in the freezer section devoted to seafood and maybe a small fresh case. In the supermarket I visited in Oslo, there were thousands of square feet in the corner of the store covering everything which could possibly emerge from the depths.
After filling my cart with a full checked bag worth of frozen trout and smoked salmon (I brought along an extra suitcase just for such an emergency), it was time to head back to New York and start my (now well-stocked) seafood diet.
For a fish fancier, a fish beats a fjord anytime. Norway has plenty of both.
Rabbi Chaim Goldberg has been chasing both wild and farmed fish around the globe while managing the OU Fish Desk for the past seven years. A fan of thrills and adventure, Rabbi Goldberg frequently educates and amuses kosher fish customers from ages 6-99 both in scheduled lectures and through viewings of his critically acclaimed OU educational video, “The Kosher Fish Primer.” Rabbi Goldberg lives with his wife and three children in Brooklyn, NY.