“We need coffee,” two of the three insisted before perusing the concise menu. The third diner emphatically announced that she did not drink coffee, demanding a comprehensive list of herbal teas. I leaned closer into my French press and ‘full English’ breakfast sans sausage. The grilled tomatoes on my oval porcelain plate shuddered, seeking refuge beneath a sunny-side egg and slice of toast blanketed in orange marmalade.
Agonizing over the menu’s omission of egg white omelettes, the conversation at the next table shifted from fruit to yogurt to porridge. “It’s a totally different experience than Quaker Oats…” the woman seated closest to me insisted. “You have to forget about the oatmeal memories from your childhood. This is more of, more like,” she grasped for the appropriate word while I mumbled “gruel” under my breath. Coffee Drinker #2 agreed, “It’s an English thing, porridge.”
Tea Drinker continued to grill the server, asking how the porridge was prepared. Coffee Drinker #1 drowned out the server, insisting the breakfast cereal was sometimes prepared with milk, sometimes with water, but “thinner than Quaker Oats, nothing like steel cut."
“Oh,” Tea Drinker replied. “I’m a little lactose intolerant. Can you make it with half water and half milk?”
“You don’t want it with water,” Coffee Drinker #1 insisted. “Trust me.”
“I’ll take a check,” I whispered to the server.
Wednesday, October 11th was World Porridge Day in the UK, a fundraising event with the primary focus of providing a daily meal to school age children in the world’s poorest communities. Throughout London and Scotland, proceeds from porridge sales are dedicated to this charitable cause. I was happy to participate, tucking a spoon into a bowl of hot oats dotted with banana slices and sticky Medjool dates. True, the porridge was thinner, silkier than its US counterpart, but enormously satisfying. London was not the only place where I encountered serious porridge-ing; Norway boasts its own version.
Rømmegrøt is a Norwegian cream pudding, more of a celebratory porridge than a morning breakfast cereal. Thickened with flour and packing a cholesterol wallop courtesy of sour cream, whole milk, and butter, the pudding/porridge is served at special occasions such as weddings, christenings, and Norwegian Constitution Day celebrations. Tradition encourages gussying up the white-on-white dessert with generous pinches of cinnamon, sugar, plump raisins, pats of butter and splashes of heavy cream. My Norwegian porridge experience was a far cry from a package filled with instant oats spiked with brown sugar and faux maple flavoring. Also absent from the experience was a smiling Quaker fellow in a black hat.
The Rømmegrøt served at the 19th century lodge Frognersteren Hoved-Restaurant boasts all of the trimmings necessary to fully dress your bowl of porridge. It also includes a drop-dead gorgeous mountaintop view overlooking the city, fjords, and forests of Oslo. Located near Oslo’s famous Holmenkollen ski jump, it is well worth the journey, unless of course, you traveled all the way to Europe in search of herbal tea and an egg white omelette.