Let's face it. You can't get an amazing bowl of ramen in Oslo (except for home-made). It's a sad fact, compounded by the eating habits of a nation that enjoy putting canned corn on everything. From the foetal days when Sapporo and Tanpopo Ramen (of which I was a co-founder/creator) were the only two options to try, apart from certain "specials" at Hitchiker or Kamai (to generally disastrous results), to present day, a lot has changed. Tanpopo went from a pop-up to a semi-permanent location, to a complete shedding of past skins and inheriting new directions in the foundations that became Koie. Sapporo continued to slog out questionably insincere portions, and amidst it all, Hrimnir opened up to much spectacle and suspicion.
In an ideal world, competition causes everyone to raise their game. In Oslo it seems the heights have been reached, as pushing further would begin to dip into the terrain of "local taste vs authenticity". There may very well be a chef gifted enough to produce a truly mesmerising bowl of Tonkotsu Ramen in Oslo, but the question is would anyone buy it? The answer, in short, is no. At least not enough to survive.
Raised on a diet consisting of "enter protein" and potatoes, the culinary scene in Norway had been stagnant for centuries. Only in the last decade have large steps been taken in exploring the wonders of spices other than black pepper. Slowly but surely a smattering of Asian and Mexican restaurants have popped up with wildly varying degrees of success. It seemed apt that with the worldwide fandom of the Ramen wave, Oslo would try to cough up a few examples. The danger when providing food to a culture largely ignorant of the basics of Ramen (at least in its infantcy) was that you could throw anything in a bowl and claim it was ramen. Emphasising the notion of it rather than the execution of something edible.
2020 finds us at a crossroads in the Norwegian ramen landscape. Has anyone made a decent bowl of ramen? Yes. How about a great bowl of ramen? The answer sadly, is no. Though it has been attempted, there always feels an underlying aspect of driving with the handbrake on, not daring to push the envelope, and given the circumstances of dining out in the big city, I understand their apprehension. There isn't enough clientele to keep a place open based on rolling out delicious, authentic bowls of ramen in all it's forms.
And thus we have arrived at the part where a list of best and worst is submitted in aching photographic glory. As mentioned a hundred times over on this blog, this is all based on personal experience, tastes and opinions, so don't get your knickers in a twist.
The worst, first
A sister franchise to Sapporo nearby at Mathallen, and a definite example of one sibling getting the better genes. Though housed in an imposing building, slickly decored and situated in the middle of hip-dom, this place is a charlatan, a jester, a fake. Nothing and I mean nothing at all, was redeeming about this experience. Perhaps the only thing to mention in any positive light were the prices. The food, however, was bordering on the inedible. Bland, utterly characterless broth, unpalatable texture on the noodles, dry meat and the cataclysmic disaster of an egg so bad it's almost impossible to replicate.
The spring onions were good, that's how bad this ramen was.
For all intents and purposes we make a considerable leap now from the last place finisher. Koie, despite having the worst acoustics this side of a 1940's British swimming hall, the food is generally alright. I must mention, having tasted two of their ramen's, the Tonkotsu left much to be desired. Washed in complete thinning disregard and lack of umami. Everything a Tonkotsu ramen should not be.
The Nagoya ramen was decently flavourful, though veering on the greasy. The positives include a pretty good noodle (home-made in house), and a decent egg. With each bowl hitting close to the 200 NOK mark, this is definitely not a weekly indulgence for the scant of wealth.
It may come as a shock to many, that this is placed (though with the same score) higher than Koie. It comes back to that old question "Which one would you eat again".
Just shy of 4 years after trying (and hating) Sapporo, on a befittingly miserable, rainy day, I walked down Telthusbakken to drop off some bottles at the Rema 1000. On the escalators up, I saw a virtually empty restaurant, and decided to tempt fate one more time, and see if improvements had been made. They had.
The spicy bowl was sufficiently red, potentially because the Thai woman was working and they love to kick up the spice a notch. I still needed to add a good few shakes of Togarashi to pep up the pleasantries. Sadly, they use the same noodles as their incomparably disastrous sister-branch at Ezo; the curly yellow noodles that lack pleasing texture. The egg was eons better than Ezo, but still bang on average. This time around the pork had been taken further in its cuisson, and shone a golder brown. Parts of it were dry, parts of it were tasty. Menma was menma-ish, spring onions don't need more than a mention, the most important thing in ramen is the broth. Ultimately, the broth had some umami, balance and depth to it. It was far, far better than the first visit when literally everything was unworthy of digestion.
This ramen would get lost around half-way up to the summit of Broth Mountain, but taking into account we are in a nation raised on taco-fredag, this was a pleasing attribute to the Asian food proliferation in Oslo. As is the case here, not one place does it perfectly, but if you combine the strongest elements of each you could come up with a pretty damn good bowl.
the summit of broth mountain
With trepidation colouring my optimism, I stood outside Hrimnir Ramen waiting for my friends to turn up. Bicycles dismounted, we stood in line, placed our weary bodies at an outdoor table, perused the menu, ordered and sat waiting for the hype-ship to approach, dock, and spill it's wares.
My main sticking point with previously avoiding Hrimnir was the notion of "Nordic Ramen". Whilst not adverse to evolution, ramen is something I tend to prefer in traditional constructs. However, after the overall disappointment of Oslo's other noodle-shelters, I decided it time to brave the waters. On recommendation from a few people I trusted, I opted for the Spicy Miso Ramen and a side of Chilli-oil. The service was polite and observant, the outside seating soaked up the dying rays of Oslo's translucent summer, the prices a little on the steep side considering Ezo (in all it's diabolical atrophy) was a full 60 Kr cheaper.
Thoughts of the budget conscious were cast aside upon closer inspection of the arrived bowl. It shone with care and contemplation. No short cuts here, no fooling the customer. What we ate was a bowl of Nordic Ramen which if slightly edited could be on the way to glory. To fully explain this I would have to wade into the waters of personal preferences, and honestly nobody cares to hear that. I shall therefore just critique what was in my vessel.
The soup (with the addition of the chilli oil) was quite rich, flavoursome and had a mild hit of heat. The pork neck, tho not my favourite cut since it tends to resemble boiled ham as opposed to the luxurious texture of pork belly, delivered on flavour and was sufficiently tender. The noodles were straight, still retaining some bite. The only slight diversion was the egg, which, tho perfectly cooked, was aggressively salty even for a salt-fornicater. The addition of the charred cabbage neither added nor subtracted anything from the meal, but was highly preferred to tinned sweetcorn (satan). The "famous" Jerusalem Artichokes, tho not my personal OMG moment, served their purpose in cutting through the richness of the soup with pops of acidity. I just feel they could have used half the amount.
Overall, a much better experience than I (needlessly) feared, and most definitely the best bowl of "Ramen" you can hope to find in Oslo. At least this place is staying true to their philosophy, and making a bowl that they are proud of (not cutting corners on ingredients either), and whether you think Ramen can be bastardised is your own moral dilemma (it can if it tastes good), i'll happily eat this over anything else in town for the time being.
All these recommendations are just personal opinions based on my palate, things change, chefs get fired or replaced, places open-close, relocate, so take it all with a pinch of MSG and discover your own gems too. But please do try a few of these, they have been researched exhaustively