Norway does not (yet) have a reputation as a foodies' destination, but it should, as there is plenty to discover beyond aquavit and smoked salmon. Think fantastic local ingredients such as king crab from the Barents Sea, excellent fish such as cod or halibut, organic Lofoten lamb or the tasty cloudberry for example. Norway also has chefs to rival the best in Europe; a vast array of local specialities; and traditional dishes for all seasons. Some local dishes may test your resolve as well as your tastebuds ('smalahove', salted and smoked head of sheep, has remained a delicacy foreign tourists rarely dare try), but the culinary curious will find plenty of unexpected, pleasant surprises awaiting everywhere.
- Local ingredients and specialities
- Christmas food
- Husmannskost (traditional Norwegian home cooking)
- 10 Norwegian chefs
Local ingredients and specialities
Lamb and fish feature prominently among Norwegian specialities, and there are many regional variations. Lamb-based dishes include fenalår, a cured and seasoned leg of a lamb; fårikål, a popular autumn dish of lamb simmered with cabbage and whole peppercorns; and smalahove, salted (sometimes smoked) sheep’s head, a speciality from Western Norway.
Norwegian salmon is popular and has been used by the best chefs in the world for decades - its distinct and delicate flavor makes it an excellent basis for tasty dishes. But other fish are worth mentioning. Among them are tørrfisk (stockfish), dried cod traditionally produced in the Lofoten Islands in Northern Norway, where the fish is hung to dry in the winter months, and rakfisk, fermented fish eaten raw (a speciality from Valdres in Eastern Norway).
Norway's vast array of traditional dishes and local specialities really comes into its own at Christmas time. A clear favorite is ribbe, roasted pork belly, eaten by six out of 10 households. Coming a close second is pinnekjøtt, a dish of salted and dried (sometimes smoked) lamb ribs, traditionally steamed over birch twigs (“pinne”) – hence the name. Pinnekjøtt is particularly popular on the West Coast. Uniquely Norwegian, and a bit of an acquired taste for many, lutefisk also features on many Christmas tables. It is stockfish softened in water and lye, then cooked and sometimes grilled. Typical accompaniments are potatoes, bacon, mushy peas and mustard. Although the wobbly fish is traditionally the centre of Christmastime feasts, the season is getting longer as lutefisk enjoys greater popularity.
Multekrem (cloudberries and whipped cream) or riskrem (rice porridge mixed with whipped cream and served with a red berry sauce) are often served for dessert, followed by seven different kinds of Christmas biscuits, as the tradition dictates, and more often than not a kransekake (almond ring cake). All of the above are washed down with juleøl (Christmas beer) or aquavit (see below).
Norway's national drink is a potato-based spirit flavored with herbs such as caraway seeds, anise, dill, fennel and coriander. It is the preferred accompaniment to Christmas food, but can be consumed year round. In fact several lighter, summer varieties exist. The most famous Norwegian brand is Linie (literally “the line”), thus named because the barrels have to cross the Equator twice before the aquavit can be bottled and sold (It was discovered many years ago that the constant movement, high humidity and fluctuating temperature cause the spirit to extract more flavor and contributes to accelerated maturation.) You can learn more about aquavit at the Løiten Brænderi, also known as the Aquavit Museum in Løten, Hedmark.
Literally translated as “cotter’s fare”, husmannskost is synonymous with traditional Norwegian home cooking. Many of Norway’s popular dishes fall in that category, like for example meat balls (kjøttkaker), invariably served with brown sauce (brun saus) and potatoes, another staple of the Norwegian cuisine, and fish cakes (fiskekaker). Many soups (among them pea soup, or ertesuppe) and stews such as lapskaus also fall in that category. Porridge (rømmegrøt) made from natural sour cream and served with butter, sugar and cinnamon, and rice pudding (risgrøt) are two other classics.
10 Norwegian chefs
The 10 chefs below would all make interesting interview subjects, or could be quoted in food-related articles.
Arne Brimi: TV chef with strong roots in the mountains of Norway, whose ingredients he has been championing for years. Own open kitchen near Lom in Jotunheimen.
Bent Stiansen: Head chef and owner of Michelin-starred restaurant Statholdergaarden in Oslo. Author of several cookbooks.
Terje Ness: Winner of the Bocuse d’Or 1999, chef at Haga Restaurant in Bærum.
Eyvind Hellstrøm: Head chef at the famous Bagatelle Restaurant until 2009, also celebrity TV presenter.
Ingrid Espelid Hovig: Is said to have taught Norwegians how to cook. Had her own cooking show on TV from 1970 to 1996.
Tom Victor Gausdal: Won the Gourmand Award 2005 for his cookbook, "Husmannskost," on traditional Norwegian home cooking.
Geir Skeie: Winner of the Bocuse d’Or 2009. Skeie hails from Sandefjord, where his new restaurant, Brygga 11, opened in 2011.
Andreas Viestad: TV chef representing Norway in the New Scandinavian Cooking series and author of several books and newspaper articles.
Esben Holmboe Bang: Head chef at Maaemo, the 100% organic Oslo restaurant which was awarded two stars in the Michelin Guide in 2012.
The Flying Culinary Circus: Four Norwegian chefs travelling the world on assignment.
Dates for the diary
Skrei season: Arctic cod from the Lofoten Islands. Look out for this much prised delicacy on restaurant menus between January and March.
Cherry Festival: Sweet cherry bonanza in Hardanger, Jun.
Gladmat Festival: Norway’s largest food festival, Stavanger, Jul.
Trøndersk Food Festival, Trondheim, Jul.
Ålesund Food Festival, late Aug.
Mandal Seafood Festival, Aug.
Lofoten International Stockfish Festival, Henningsvær, Sep.
King Crab Festival, Varanger, late Sep-early Oct.
Fårikål Day (last Thursday in Sep): Traditionally the day on which Norway’s famous lamb and cabbage stew is eaten throughout the country.
Matstreif Festival: Big food festival in Oslo, Sep
Rakfisk Festival: The place to try rakfisk, Valdres, Nov
Julebord: Restaurants throughout Norway serve traditional Norwegian Christmas fare (late Nov-Dec)
Did you know?
Brunost (literally “brown cheese”) is a Norwegian cheese that has a sweet, yet somewhat sharp flavor with notes of caramel. It is traditionally cut into wafer thin slices with a cheese slicer and eaten on bread, toast or crisp bread.
Norwegians eat 5,000 tons of pork belly (ribbe) during the Christmas season every year. That’s the equivalent of a whopping 200,000 pigs.
The Bocuse d'Or (World Cooking Contest) is an international championship taking place every other year in Lyon, France, in January. It is one of the world's most prestigious cooking competitions. Four Norwegian chefs have won the Bocuse d’Or since 1987. Only France has had more winners (five). Luxembourg, Sweden and Denmark have each had one.
Hardanger is known for its orchards, and for many visitors to the area it is the spectacular fruit blossom in spring that is the prime attraction. Some 40 per cent of all Norwegian fruit is grown in Hardanger, and the region accounts for approximately 80 per cent of all the Norwegian cherry production.
For centuries fishermen from all over Norway have travelled to the Lofoten Islands between January and March to take part in the big Lofoten cod fisheries. During those winter months the large cod stocks from the Barents Sea swim south to spawn along the coast of the islands, and the sea is swarming with fish. “Skrei”, as the winter Arctic cod is known, is a popular delicacy in Norway.
Held in Stavanger in the summer, Gladmat is the largest food festival in Scandinavia, attracting some 250,000 visitors every year.
In Kirkenes, Finnmark, visitors can join a king crab safari, where they dive to catch the red giants themselves during the day, before having them served at dinner later the same evening.
Mathallen, a brand new complex housing some 30 unique food boutiques and restaurants, opened in a converted factory hall in Vulkan in October 2012. Here Oslo gourmets and food loving visitors can find the city’s largest array of German, Spanish, Italian, French and Asian food, not to mention top quality Norwegian ingredients.
Waffles are a popular Norwegian tradition. Unlike the Belgian version, Norwegian waffles are round in shape, soft and fluffy and fit in the hand when folded. Usually eaten with jam (strawberry, raspberry or blueberry) and cream, or brown cheese.
More and more Norwegian microbreweries have seen the light of day in recent years. Many produce excellent beers that make an exciting alternative to the mass produced beers sold in most supermarkets. Among the most popular are Nøgne Ø in Grimstad and Ægir in Flåm.
Look out for the Norwegian Foodprints sign when eating out in Norway. It signals home-cooked food with Norwegian ingredients and local identity.
Useful links (videos)
Hairy Bikers (BBC) – Norway was the first episode in the new series called Bakeation – below are two links to the stops/people met along the way. (2.6 million Britons saw this when it was first shown).
Watch the Hairy Bikers in action in Oslo and Lom.
Cod dinner and fishing trip in Ålesund, Fjord Norway (Evening Standard).