Kvinesdal take two: Not your mormor’s Norway—or is it?
Norwegian Americans often yearn for the Norway of yesteryear. But, as in all places, Norway has changed too. It is nice to visit and write about Norway today, and Kvinesdal is no exception. It’s not your mormor’s Norway and yet it is.
On our second day in Kvinesdal, Liv, another friend Ove, and I met Erling and Thorald for lunch at the Friendship Cafe. Now this is a place that is adding spice to the Norwegian diet. It is located in the Menighetssenter & Kvinesdal Gjestehus (Church Center & Guesthouse), owned by a local church. In prior days the building was known as the Rafoss Hotel, which opened in 1908. It continues to be a destination for travelers, plus a whole lot more.
We descended into the basement area and I immediately had a moment of déjà vu, as a vague memory from decades earlier comes to light. I had been here when this room was in its prior incarnation, when it was a local watering hole and gathering place. There was an impromptu reunion with friends—locals who had been former Brooklynites—and me, a current Brooklynite.
The purpose of the room has changed slightly. Today, it serves lunch several times a week, offering an exotic menu that changes according to the chef in the kitchen. The chefs are refugees who are not permitted to work but are allowed to collect tips. It is a win-win situation as the refugees get to practice their Norwegian language skills, train for a trade, and offer locals a spicy alternative to what is usually prepared for a much milder palate.
When we were there, the cooks and servers were from Somalia. We were greeted, seated in a comfy booth, and offered two choices of main courses. We debated about which to order, but the waiter graciously give us a bit of both. There was rice, chicken, and small filled dumplings that tasted a lot like Indian samosas. They also offered fresh fruit smoothies. I had a refreshing mango one, a good balance with the spicy fare, giving the tongue time to cool.
The bill was a shock—in a good way. After all, Norway is known for producing sticker shock to us poor relatives from across the pond. The charge is more in line with an inexpensive meal back in the states. It was delicious, the service was perfect, and this room has remained a gathering place with a twist. Is there a better way to bring people together than over food? The church that created this restaurant has done a marvelous job, thinking outside the box and as a result given back so much to so many.
Our next stop was to Gjenbruksbutikken, a vintage store. The store was actually scheduled to be closed the day we visited, but fellow Brooklyn Norwegian Aslaug Baroy—who assists in running the shop—opened it for us. A big tusen takk to her for being such a terrific host and to Erling for planning it.
I had already found a wonderful second-hand store in Vanse, but this one in Kvinesdal is like the Home Depot of vintage stores in terms of size and the Rolls Royce in terms of quality. It is amazing: so organized, clean, and well designed. And it is in here that you can certainly find your mormor’s Norway and perhaps even her mormor’s.
Things are organized by type and color, a curatorial touch that offers a delightful display of merchandise: hordes of pewter, piles of Porsgrunn, bundles of handmade wall hangings, heaps of linens, oodles of cooper, scads of jewelry, and shelves brimming with glassware.
The space is so enormous that furniture oozes through the middle: couches and lamps, dining room sets and bureaus, vanities, and coffee tables. There were such unique items, like a modern Scandinavian vanity with clean lines and no flourishes, something I had never seen before.
This second-hand store is sponsored by the Norsk Luthersk Misjonssamband, (Norwegian Lutheran Mission Organization), which operates like the Salvation Army. All funds collected for purchased commodities go to a good cause.
I bought a copper teapot with brass accents and a wooden handle, shaped like Aladdin’s lamp. It is so charming; each day it brightens my kitchen. We headed home with our treasures and bellies full of wonderful delights.
I recently had a chance to speak with Liv about our trip last summer and these were her comments: “I would like to say that I love the international restaurant in Kvinesdal. I do wish that there could be more restaurants like that. The food was delicious and the price was very acceptable. The second-hand store there is my favorite. I very often find things I have been looking for. The staff is also very nice!”
I recommend you check out Kvinesdal the next time you are in that neck of the Norwegian woods, because it’s not your mormor’s Norway, and yet it still is.
This article originally appeared in the Jan. 30, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.