Norwegian cuisine in its traditional form is based largely on the raw materials readily available in Norway and its mountains, wilderness and coast. 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 and Americanization: pastas, pizzas and the like are as common as meatballs and cod as staple foods, and urban restaurants sport the same selection one would expect to find in any western European city.
The one traditional Norwegian dish with a claim to international popularity is 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 was partly due to the abundance of fish and the relative high expenditure of time involved in catching shellfish when set against its nutritional value, as well as the fact 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) limit consumption, and in addition lobster has become rather rare, and indeed expensive.
People gather for "krabbelag" ("crab party") feasts, 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 are normally bought live from a fishmonger who can guarantee them to be free of harmful micro-organisms; few people gather mussels themselves, owing 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" - 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 on such species as salmon, cod, herring, sardine, 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 meat was commonly used as a cheap substitute for beef early in the 20th century. Recently prices have risen due to the reduction in the whale quota to approximately 300 per year. The price increases, together with the fact that whale meat's flavor is easily ruined, have made whale a much rarer delicacy. While not common, eating whale meat is not controversial in Norway.
Typical main courses
Although Norwegian cuisine has become as international as any other western cuisine, traditional dishes remain popular.
Torsk - Cod: poached, simply served with boiled potatoes and melted butter. Carrots,fried bacon, roe and cod liver may also accompany the fish. A delicacy which is somewhat popular in Norway is torsketunger; cod's tongue.
Lutefisk - lyed fish: a traditional preparation made of stockfish (dried cod or ling) or klippfisk (dried and salted cod) that has been steeped in lye. It was prepared this way because refrigeration was nonexistant, and they needed a way to preserve the fish for longer periods. It is somewhat popular in the United States as a heritage food. It retains a place in Norwian cuisine (especially on the west coast) as a traditional food around christmas time.
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 specimens 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.
Fiskesuppe - fish soup: A white, milk-based soup with vegetables, usually carrots, onions, potato and various kinds of fish.
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 hors d'oeuvre or on rye bread as a lunch buffet.
Kjøttkaker - meatballs: the Norwegian variety is simpler than the Swedish, and served in a brown 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 lingonberries as a relish.
Svinekoteletter - pork chops: simply braised and served with potatoes and fried onions or whatever vegetables are available.
Svinestek - roasted pork: a typical Sunday dinner, served with pickled cabbage (a sweeter variety of the German sauerkraut), 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 from fresh pork may go into the dish.
Fårikål - mutton stew: very simple preparation: cabbage and mutton is layered in a big pot along with black pepper, salt (and, in some recipes, 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, peas and perhaps some gravy.
Syltelabb is usually eaten around and before Christmas time, made from boiled, salt-cured pig's trotter. They are traditionally eaten using one's fingers, and served as a snack and sometimes served with beetroot, mustard and fresh bread or with lefse or flatbread. Historically syltelabb is served with the traditional Norwegian juleøl (English: Christmas Ale), beer and liquor (like aquavit). This is because Syltelabb is very salty food.
Smalahove is a traditional dish, usually eaten around and before Christmas time, made from a sheep's head. The skin and fleece of the head is torched, the brain removed, and the head is salted, sometimes smoked, and dried. The head is boiled for about 3 hours and served with mashed rutabaga and potatoes.
Sodd is a traditional Norwegian soup-like meal with mutton and meatballs. Usually vegetables such as potatoes and/or carrots also are included.
Sauces and marinades
Along with the rest of Scandinavia, Norway is one of the few places outside Asia where sweet and sour flavouring is used extensively. The sweet and sour flavour is utilized best with fish. There is also a treatment called "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 gravlaks.
Gravlaks - sweet and salty cured salmon: a filleted side of salmon or trout that has been frozen for at least 24 hours to kill off parasites, is cured with the fillet is covered with a mixture that is half salt and half sugar, spiced with black pepper, dill and brandy, covered with cling-wrap, and cured in the refrigerator for three days, turned 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. It is the same procedure as for gravlaks, but brandy is often substituted with aquavit, and dill with juniper berries.
Pickled herring: a pickle is made with vinegar, sugar, herbs and spices like dill, mustard seed, black peppercorns, onion and so on. The pickle must be acidic enough to prevent bacterial growth. Rinse, salt-cured herring is added and allowed to stand for at least 24 hours.
Tomato pickled herring: this pickle in a thick sauce: 4 Tablespoons tomato paste, 3 Tablespoons sugar, and 3 Tablespoons vinegar are mixed and thinned with about 4 Tablespoons water, flavoured with black pepper and bay leaf. Salt-cured herring is rinsed, cut in 1 cm (1/3in) thick slices and a raw, sliced onion added. 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 a variety of home made cakes, waffles and biscuits. Cardamom is a common flavouring. Another Norwegian cake is Krumkake, a paper- thin rolled cake filled with whipped cream. (Krumkake means 'Curved Cake' or 'Crooked Cake'). Baked meringues are known as "pikekyss", literally translated as "girl's kiss".
Bread is an important staple of the Norwegian diet. The most popular variety is grovbrød, or coarse bread (whole grain). 80% of Norwegians regularly eat bread for breakfast and lunch., the bread in Norway is normally topped with something: butter, peanut butter etc.
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 / or cow milk) is very popular in cooking and with bread. More sophisticated or extreme cheeses include the gammalost (lit. "old cheese"), an over-matured, highly pungent cheese made from sour milk, and Pultost, made from sour milk and caraway seeds.
Norway has a particularly strong affinity for coffee, and is according to Nationmaster the world's leading coffee consumer, with the average Norwegian drinking 160 liters, or 10.7 kg of coffee each year. Coffee plays a large role in Norwegian culture, and it is common to invite people over for coffee and cakes, and to enjoy cups of coffee with dessert after the main courses in get-togethers. The traditional way of serving coffee in Norway is plain black, usually in a mug, rather than a cup. 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. Coffee is included in one of the most traditional alcoholic beverages in Norway, the "kaffedoktor", or most commonly known as karsk, from Trøndelag.
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 (Christmas 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, Norse and medieval historical reenactors, 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 akevittar. Norway also produces some vodkas, bottled water and fruit juices.
In rural Norway, it is still common to find hjemmebrent (moonshine). It is, however, illegal by Norwegian law to produce beverage with more than 22% alcohol by volume, and this only for personal consumption.
- 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
- ^  SIFO (National Institute for Consumer Research) Nordmenns brød- og kornvaner -i stabilitet og endring. Page 3, 2008
- ^ http://lovdata.no/all/tl-19890602-027-010.html#6-1
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