Cuisine of Norway

Norwegian cuisine is in its traditional form largely based on the raw materials readily available in a country dominated by mountains, wilderness and the sea. Hence, it differs in many respects from its continental counterparts with a stronger focus on game and fish.

Modern Norwegian cuisine, although still strongly influenced by its traditional background, now bears the marks of globalization: Pastas, pizzas and the like are as common as meatballs and cod as staple foods, and urban restaurants sport the same selection you would expect to find in any western European city.


The one traditional Norwegian dish with a claim to international popularity is the smoked salmon. It is now a major export, and could be considered the most important Norwegian contribution to modern international cuisine. Smoked salmon exists traditionally in many varieties, and is often served with scrambled eggs, dill, sandwiches or mustard sauce. Close to smoked salmon is "gravlaks", (literally "dug salmon"), which is salt-and-sugar-cured salmon seasoned with dill and (optionally) other herbs and spices. Gravlaks is often sold under more sales-friendly names internationally. A more peculiar Norwegian fish dish is "Rakfisk", which consists of fermented trout, a culinary relation of Swedish "surströmming".

Until the 20th century, shellfish was not eaten to any extent. This partly due to the abundance of fish and the relative high cost of time to catch shellfish over nutritional value, and that such food spoils rather quickly, even in a northern climate. However, prawns, crabs and mussels have become quite popular, especially during summer. Lobster is of course popular, but restrictions on the catch (size and season) limits the consumption, and in addition lobster has become rather rare, and indeed expensive.

People will gather for feasts; "krabbelag - crab-party," either eating ready cooked crabs from a fishmonger, or cooking live crabs in a large pan. This is typically done outdoors, the style being rather rustic with only bread, mayonnaise and wedges of lemon to go with the crab. Crabs are caught in pots by both professionals and amateurs, prawns are caught by small trawlers and sold ready cooked at the quays. It is popular to buy half a kilo of prawns and eat it at the quays, feeding the waste to seagulls. Beer or white wine is the normal accompaniment.

Mussels will normally be bought live from a fishmonger that guaranties them to be free of harmful micro-organisms, few people gather mussels themselves, due to the risk of poisoning. Preparation is simple: steamed with garlic, parsley and perhaps some white wine, and served with bread. The juice can be enriched with double cream to make a soup.

The largest Norwegian food export in the past has been (Tørrfisk, Beef) - stockfish in English, in Portuguese 'bacalhau', - dried codfish. The Atlantic cod variety known as 'skrei' because of its migrating habits, has been a source of wealth for millennia, fished annually in what is known as the 'Lofotfiske' after the island chain of 'Lofoten'. Tørrfisk has been a staple food internationally for centuries, in particular on the Iberian peninsula and the African coast. Both during the age of sail and in the industrial age, tørrfisk played a part in world history as an enabling food for cross-Atlantic trade and the slave trade triangle.

A large number of fish dishes are popular today, based a large variety of species, such as salmon, cod, herring, sardine products and mackerel. Seafood is used fresh, smoked, salted or pickled. Variations on creamed seafood soups are common along the coastline.

Due to its availability, seafood dishes along the coast are usually based on fresh produce, cooked by steaming and very lightly spiced with herbs, pepper and salt. While coastal Norwegians may consider the head, caviar sack and liver an inseparable part of a steamed seafood meal, most inland restaurants will spare diners this part of the experience. A number of the species available have traditionally been avoided or reserved for bait, but most common seafood is part of the modern menu.

Meat and game

High cuisine is very reliant on game, such as moose, reindeer, duck, and fowl. These meats are often hunted and sold or passed around as gifts, but are also available at shops nationwide, and tend to be served at social occasions. Because these meats have a distinct, strong taste, they will often be served with rich sauces spiced with crushed juniper berries, and a sour-sweet jam of lingonberries on the side.

Preserved meat and sausages come in a bewildering variety of regional variations, and are usually accompanied by sour cream dishes and flat bread or wheat/potato wraps. Particularly sought after delicacies include the "fenalår", a slow-cured lamb's leg, and "morr", usually a smoked cured sausage, though the exact definition may vary regionally. Due to a partial survival of an early medieval taboo against touching dead horses, eating horse meat was nearly unheard of until recent decades, though it does find some use in sausages.

Lamb's meat and mutton is very popular in autumn, mainly used in fårikål (mutton stew with cabbage). Pinnekjøtt, cured and sometimes smoked mutton ribs that is steamed for several hours, is traditionally served as Christmas dinner in the western parts of Norway. Another Western specialty is smalahove, a smoked lamb's head.

Because of industrial whaling, whale was commonly used as a cheap substitute for beef early in the 20th century. More recently, a combination of rising prices stemming from a quota reduced to ca. 300 animals p.a. and the easily ruined flavour of the meat has made whale a much rarer delicacy. Eating whale meat, although not common, is not controversial in Norway.

Typical main courses

Although Norwegian cuisine has become as international as any other western cuisine, traditional dishes remain popular. As Norwegian cuisine has its roots in a fairly poor society, dishes are simple. 100 years ago potatoes would have been the main part of the dishes, using fish and meat more as a condiment than ingredients in their own right. Salted and dried foods have become less common in favour of fresh or frozen fish and meat.


Torsk - Cod: poached, simply served with boiled potatoes and melted butter. Carrots,friedbacon, roe and cod liver may also accompany the fish.

Lutefisk - lyed fish: a traditional preparation made of stockfish (dried cod or ling) that has been steeped in lye. The dish most likely came about as an accident; stockfish became covered in ashes after a fire, then the rain caused lye from the ashes to seep into the fish. Poverty will have prevented people from throwing it away, and after watering it out the lyed fish was found edible.

Preparation and accompaniment is as for fresh cod, although beer and aquavit is served on the side.

Stekt fisk - braised fish: almost all fish is braised, but as a rule the larger specimen tend to be poached and the smaller braised. The fish is filleted, dusted with flour, salt and pepper and braised in butter. Potatoes are served on the side, and the butter from the pan used as a sauce.

Fatty fish like herring and brisling are given the same treatment. Popular accompaniments are sliced and fresh-pickled cucumbers and sour cream.

Sursild - pickled herring: a variety of pickle-sauces are used, ranging from simple vinegar-sugar based sauces to tomato, mustard and sherry based sauces. Pickled herring is served as an horse d'ouvre or on rye bread as a lunch buffet


Kjøttkaker - meatballs: the Norwegian variety is coarser than the Swedish, and served in abrown sauce (sauce espagnol) rather than a cream-sauce. Potatoes, stewed peas or cabbage and carrots are served on the side. Many like to use a jam of red bilberries as a relish.

Svinekoteletter - pork chops: simply braised and served with whatever vegetables available andgravy.

Svinestek - roasted pork: a typical Sunday dinner, served with pickled cabbage (a sweetervariety of the German sourkraut), gravy, vegetables and potatoes.

All good cuts of meat are roasted, as in any cuisine. Side dishes vary with season and what goes with the meat. Roast leg of lamb is an Easter classic, roast beef is not very common and game is roasted for the bigger occasions.

Lapskaus - stew: resembles Irish stew, but mincemeat, sausages or indeed any meat except fromfresh pork may go into the dish.

Får-i-kål - mutton stew: very simple preparation: cabbage and mutton is layered in a big potalong with black pepper, salt and some wheat flour to thicken the sauce, covered with water and simmered until the meat is very tender. Potatoes on the side.

Stekte pølser - fried sausages: fresh sausages are fried and served with vegetables, potatoes(of course!), peas and perhaps some gravy.

auces and marinades

Along with the rest of Scandinavia, Norway is the only place outside Asia where sweet and sour flavouring is used extensively. The sweet and sour flavour is utilized best with fish. There is also the treatment of "graving," literally burying, a curing method where salt and sugar is used as curing agents. Although salmon or trout are the most used fish for this method, other fish and meat also get a treatment similar to gravlax.

Gravlax - sweet and sour cured salmon: a filleted side of salmon or trout that has been frozen for at least 24 hours to kill off parasites, is cured like this; the fillet is covered in half and half sugar and salt spiced with black pepper, dill and brandy, covered with cling-wrap and cured in the fridge for three days. Remember to turn once a day.

Gravet elg - sweet and salt cured moose: this treatment may be used for all red meat, but game and beef work best. Same procedure as for gravlax, but brandy is often substituted with aquavit and dill with junipers.

Pickled herring: a pickle is made with vinegar, sugar, herbs/spices like dill, mustard seed, black peppercorns, onion and so on. Remember that the pickle must be sour enough to prevent growth of bacteria. Watered out salt-cured herring is put in, let stand for at least 24 hours.

Tomato pickled herring: the pickle is more like a thick sauce; four tbsp of tomato paste, three tbsp of sugar and three tbsp vinegar are mixed and thinned with about four tbsp of water, flavoured with black pepper and bay leaf. Salt-cured herring is watered out, cut in 1 cm (1/3in) slices and put in along with a raw, sliced onion.. Let stand for at least 24 hours.

Fruit and desserts

Fruits and berries mature slowly in the cold climate. This makes for a tendency to smaller volume with a more intense taste. Strawberries, blueberries, lingonberries, raspberries and apples are popular and are part of a variety of desserts, and cherries in the parts of the country where those are grown. The wild growing cloudberry is regarded as a delicacy. A typical Norwegian dessert on special occasions is cloudberries with whipped or plain cream. Also Norwegians eat a lot of apple desserts with biscuits.

German and Nordic-style cakes and pastries, such as sponge cakes and Danish pastry (known as "wienerbrød", literal translation: "Viennese bread") share the table with sweet breads - "kaffebrød" (literally: "coffee bread", named for its accompaniment, not ingredients), waffles and biscuits. Cardamom is a common flavouring. Common cookies are krumkake, sandkaker and fattigmann. Another Norwegian cake is Eplekake or apple cake.

Coffee is an extremely common part of social life, enjoyed both before and after dinner, with bread, desserts and liquor. The average Norwegian consumes 160 litres of coffee p.a, or ten kilogrammes per person. 80% of the population drinks coffee. As in the rest of the west, recent years have seen a shift from coffee made by boiling ground beans to Italian-style coffee bars, tended by professional baristas.

Dairy products

Dairy is still extremely popular in Norway, though the variety of traditional products available and commonly in use is severely reduced. Cheese is an export, in particular the plain-brand favourite Jarlsberg cheese. The sweet "geitost" or brown/red cheese (not a true cheese, but rather caramelized lactose from goat milk or a mix of goat and cow milk) is very popular in cooking and with bread. More sophisticated or extreme cheeses include the "gammelost" (lit. "old cheese"), an over-matured, highly pungent brown cheese.


Both industrial and small-scale brewing have long traditions in Norway. Restrictive alcohol policies have encouraged a rich community of brewers, and a colourful variety of beverages both legal and illegal. The most popular industrial beers are usually pilsners and red beers ("bayer"), while traditional beer is much richer, with a high alcohol and malt content. The ancient practice of brewing "Juleøl" (yule beer) persists even today, and imitations of these are available before Christmas, in shops and, for the more potent versions, at state monopoly outlets. Cider brewing has faced tough barriers to commercial production due to alcohol regulations, and the famous honey wine, "mjød" (mead), is mostly a drink for connoisseurs and practitioners of åsatru and other Norse neopagan religions. The climate has not been hospitable to grapes for millennia, and wines and more potent drinks are available only from the wine monopolies.

Distilled beverages include "akevitt", a yellow-tinged liquor spiced with caraway seeds, also known as akvavit or other variations on the Latin "aqua vitae" - water of life. The Norwegian "linie" style is distinctive for its maturing process, crossing the equator in sherry casks stored the hull of a ship, giving it more taste and character than the rawer styles of other Scandinavian "akevitter". Norway also produces some vodkas, bottled water and fruit juices.

External links

* [ Seafood from Norway] (Norwegian Seafood Export Council)
* [ Norse Food in historical sources ] - From the Society for Creative Anachronism
* [ - 10 Best recommendations for restaurants serving traditional food in Oslo]
*"Taste and Tales of Norway" by Siri Lise Doub

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