17 September 2012

Waffles Vs. Pancakes

The waffles were left to the professionals.  Here we have "Vaffelbui," one of the lower key food tents at Seljord's Dyrsku'n festival.  With no olfactory input, one would think it was some sort of sewing group.  Three ancient women and one man, seated at a long table, each hard at work behind a white machine. All wore colorful floral aprons and made no small talk, focusing on their equipment: a waffle iron, bowl of batter and ladle.  Sweetshop workers.
Waffles are a tradition in Norway, eaten most often as an afternoon snack with a dollop of jam or sour cream and a cup of coffee or tea.  Norwegian waffles have a very specific, very pretty, shape - like a paper snowflake cut to resembles a series of hearts.  Or a five leaf clover, if there was such a thing.  They are light and thin, without the deep ditches of the Belgium variety.  Norway's waffles are foldable, stackable and pretty much uniformly delicious.
As for the pancakes.  Pannekaker are most certainly a traditional food... except, these aren't them.  Don't be fooled by the folk costumes!  Norwegian pancakes look and taste almost identical to crepes and Swedish pancakes.  These fluffy bad boys are much more IHOP than IKEA.  At both the Dyrsku'n fair and the harbor market in Oslo, festively dressed flippers were enlisted to give an extra edge in the great Waffle vs Pancake battle.  Let's call them Flapjack Jills, shall we?  Pretty in their bunads, they poured, flipped and plated the pancakes with smiles.  While the waffles piled up, the American-style pancakes were gone as soon as they were ready.  Pancakes 1, Waffles 0.
The thing about Norwegian waffles is that they're not as time sensitive. The appeal of pancakes is their freshness, the way butter absolutely vanishes into one when its warm. When I was a child, I would go ahead and apply another pat. If I don't see it, I may not taste it! (I went through a chubby phase). Waffles, particularly Norwegian ones, are great at any temperature. Case in point: our first taste of Norwegian vafler was on the ferry from Bergen to Stavanger, a pair of them, folded in half and plastic wrapped. It was around 1pm and everyone was having them. The limp package, plastic wrap and all, was thrown into a microwave before we could shout Holy carcinogen emission, Batman! and served with a tub of bringebær (raspberry) jam.  It hit the spot.   Pancakes 1, Waffles 1.
Testament to the To Go nature of the Norwegian waffle, folding them in half appears to be the favored method of both carrying and eating them.  An afternoon waffle with jam and tea is probably still the ideal waffle eating scenario.  But this is the 21st century and a big wad of folded ones consumed greedily on the go with a cup of coffee somehow balanced on top or below is modern waffling in practice.
Which is maybe why these non-traditional pancake stations are pushing hard for the 'traditional' angle. Perhaps waffles have gotten too commoditized, have been pushed too far from their cast iron origins. The pancakes wind up being a slow food version of the same thing, eaten just about the same way, with the same accoutrements, but on a plate with a knife and fork. Homemade, hand-flipped, fresh off the griddle.
Like the waffles, these flapjacks weren't very sweet, but the toppings on hand were.  Lumpy, sweetened apple sauce, jam, pink strawberry cream and a big bowl of sugar.  Also available for smothering were big, yellow blocks of butter in varying states of decimation.  Again, a hot pancake is pretty much the best thing ever for butter slathering.  The going's always a little bumpier with waffles.  Waffles 1, Pancakes 2.
I was a little surprised by the lack of variation from station to station.  No blueberries thrown into the batter.  No cornmeal or whole grain.  No chocolate chips or chocolate syrup (both blasphemous in my book).   There was an unwritten rule about what these pancakes should be, even if not "Norwegian." Maybe this is the beginning of a new tradition - maybe some people made the switch because it's a lot easier to keep re-using and/or clean a griddle than it is a series of waffle irons.  There's something to be said about the experts chosen to man the Vaffelbui.  We saw many catastrophic gos at our hotel's buffet-breakfast waffle iron.  Style and skill points go to Waffles (and the Vaffelbui crew), for sure.  But you've always got to leave room for new traditions.

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