Food-wise, growing up in Norway in the 1970s and 80s was somewhat depressing. The same few dishes were on the menu virtually every day (at least, that’s how we remember it) – relieved only by pizzas, taco and other imported dishes on weekends and special occasions.
In the last few years, however, a culinary revolution has quietly taken place, both in restaurants and the ordinary Norwegian kitchens, notably with a rise in local and organic produce. A lot of it has to do with the general increase in prosperity and the willingness to spend more money on high quality products, but a new-found pride in Norwegian food traditions and ingredients has certainly helped as well.
Norwegians have gone on holiday to Italy and France to enjoy their fantastic, tasty traditions. The Norwegian kitchen is different, but could we achieve the same sense of self-worth?
The first thing we had to do, was to identify what really characterized Norwegian cooking. The answer was to a large degree found in the rather unique Norwegian agricultural customs: Lambs and goats that graze in outlying pastures along the coast and in the mountains. A cold and largely unpolluted climate that is ideal for growing fruits, berries and vegetables without extensive use of pesticides.
Modest farms and smallholdings producing milk, cheese and beef in healthy environments, virtually disease-free and subjected to strict laws and regulations when it comes to animal welfare. And last, but definitely not least, the extensive coastline with long and rich traditions in seafood.
The hard work to instill pride in all the levels of the food chain has given immediate results. Local produce are seeing increased market-shares in supermarkets, while new, small-scale producers of commodities such as cheese, honey, pastries and ecologically produced meats are popping up all over the country. Not to mention the hundreds of microbreweries experimenting with different styles and recipes for beer.
The variety of tastes and traditions can be experienced at one of the many local food festivals, such as Gladmat in Stavanger, Smak in Tromsø and Trøndersk matfestival in Trondheim.
At the same time, Norwegian chefs have obtained a reputation worldwide, with several wins and podium finishes in the international cooking competition, Bocuse d’Or. In 2012, Maaemo became the first Norwegian restaurant to get two stars in the Michelin guide at first try.
Proper dinner is finally served. You are more than welcome to join.
Norwegian lamb meat have a reputation for being among the best in the world, and quite frankly that’s not undeserved.
The meat is especially tender and juicy, due to the fact that most of the lamb graze in outlying pastures, with vast expanses of untouched nature and protein-rich vegetation consisting of different herbs, as well as clean running water.
In addition, the lamb and sheep make an invaluable contribution to the Norwegian cultural landscape when grazing, as they keep the vegetation in check and thereby maintain natural diversity.
An important principle for sustainable meat production is that the whole animal should be exploited after being slaughtered, and a lot of Norwegian lamb and sheep delicacies are made from more peculiar parts of the animal.
The fenalår from Norway is now a geographically protected name for the slow-cured lamb's leg, based on Norway’s long history of hanging mutton legs to dry in mountain air to preserve meat for use during the winter.
Pinnekjøtt, racks of lamb or mutton cured in brine or sea salt, is popular during Christmas in Western Norway, and if you’re really lucky (and have a bit of courage), you will be offered a sheep’s head. The dish is called “smalahove” in Norwegian, and is actually very tasty.
Autumn is hunting season in Norway, and game meats are often served in restaurants and in ordinary Norwegian kitchens. Here are four Norwegian specialities you should try:
1. MOOSE. Moose meat is a delicacy when prepared correctly, and its taste is often compared to venison or elk.
2. REINDEER. Located in the far north, there are over 250 000 reindeer in Norway, and the indigenous Sami people are especially known for reindeer herding. The meat is lean and delicious.
3. DEER. The last few years the deer population have outgrown the moose in Norwegian forests. Often served as steak, but can also be smoked, dried or cured.
4. GROUSE. The grouse is the most sought-after bird for hunters in Norway. The breast of young grouse is tender, with a mild gamey taste. The legs and the rest of the bird have a more intense gamey flavour.
Norwegian fishermen have sold seafood to other nations since the 12th century, and today Norway is the second largest exporter in the world. Icy and clean waters and the cold air has made Norwegian seafood a sellable asset.
However, to experience our seafood at its finest and freshest, you should visit a Norwegian fish market or a restaurant in one of the coastal towns. Or, even better, catch your own meal. The arctic cod, for instance, is at its best, taste-wise, during winter, when many travellers go to the north to experience the northern lights.
Traditional seafood meals include the famous smoked salmon, while the stockfish («tørrfisk» in Norwegian) was Norway’s largest export for many years, and is still a source of pride in the Northern areas, especially Lofoten.
Rakfisk, fermented trout, is another traditional dish for the brave, as is mølje in Northern Norway. Other kinds of seafood are more closely associated with the south of Norway, such as prawns from the Barents sea, crabs and mussels.
Norway has a select few inventions we are famous for, and the ostehøvel, meaning cheese slicer, is among the most prominent. It was invented by Thor Bjørklund in the 1920s, in case you wondered.
Will Norwegian cheese ever achieve the same fame? We certainly hope so, and a variety of local cheesemakers are now doing their best to satisfy even the most demanding cheese connoisseurs.
Again, the clean and cold Norwegian surroundings provide the perfect platform for producing goat and cow milk of high quality.
The most famous cheese in Norway has traditionally been the brunost, the brown cheese - caramelised whey cheese, quite similar to fudge. It’s not for everyone, however, and many foreigners try it once, and never again (our tip: eat it with something sweet, such as Norwegian waffles).
But the last few years, the most interesting Norwegian cheesemongers have made a much greater variety of products - everything from camembert, blue cheese, chevre and brie to traditional products such as gamalost and pultost. Today, you can find over 150 small-scale cheesemakers, spread from the south of Norway to Finnmark in the north.
Several of them are run by young and ambitious cheesemakers, eager to experiment with techniques, spices and ripening.
The rise in use of organic food has been an important political target in Norway, and in the last few years sustainable food consumption has gotten a big breakthrough.
In addition, the word "kortreist" (literally "short-travelled") has found its way into Norwegian cooking dictionaries. The word implies producing and consuming more local foods that don’t rely heavily on emission-inducing transport. Many of the local producers combine ancient Norwegian food traditions with new scientific methods for developing the products in a safe environment.
The products can be bought locally, or through the large supermarket chains that are focusing more and more on higher quality products from local producers.
Many Norwegians also take pride in cooking from what they harvest themselves. During summer and autumn, the forests are brimming with fresh, wild berries and tasty mushrooms, and harvesting them is seen as a recreational activity.
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