International media interest in Scandinavian culture has exploded in the last couple of years and a growing appreciation of Norwegian cuisine has been a part of that. With an emphasis on fresh local fish, meat and game served with sweet and sour flavours, the Norwegian kitchen today is a mix of traditional and global influences. Fish can be prepared using almost every known cooking method; frying, dry-curing, brining, grilling and smoking. Meat dishes tend to be roasted, braised, stewed or fried, depending on the cut and recipe. Vegetables are usually boiled or braised. Root vegetable, fish and meat soups and stews are a link to Norway´s agricultural past but which remain popular today.
Norwegian and Swedish chefs have long been exported to some of the world´s leading restaurants, but now many internationally trained Norwegian chefs have returned to open successful restaurants and cafes in their home market. Three Norwegian restaurants now have a total of six Michelin stars awarded in 2014. Five restaurants have one star whilst Maaemo, the innovative Oslo restaurant has retained its two stars. Bagatelle, Statholdergaarden, Ylajali and Fauna have single stars.
Norwegian cuisine is all about 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, is considered a delicacy, but one few foreign visitors dare try), but curious foodies will find plenty of unexpected, pleasant surprises awaiting everywhere.
- Local ingredients and specialities
- Christmas food
- Husmannskost (traditional Norwegian home cooking)
- Norwegian chefs
- New food neighbourhoods
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 flavour 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).
Arctic cod, also known as Skrei from the waters around Lofoten has always been popular with Norwegians but is now a sought after delicacy in many international markets. A lean, tender and flaky fish, Skrei's premium quality is sustainably managed through strict grading guidelines on size, maturity, location and appearance. It is packaged within 12 hours of being caught, and branded with the SKREI® logo to guarantee authenticity and quality. Skrei in old Norwegian means "the wanderer", referring to the long migratory voyage from the Barents Sea.
Norway and sustainable fishing practices
Since 1987, Norway has operated a total ban on fishing discards in Norwegian waters. Rather than throwing fish back into the sea, any fish caught over quota are still brought to land, but are only valued at 25% of the usual rate to discourage repeat overfishing offenders. A strong emphasis on marine research, tight restrictions on trawlers and equipment and seasonal controls enforced by the Coast Guard and Directorate of Fisheries all contribute to Norwegian fishing industries being amongst the most sustainable. This policy also results in a higher quality product, with for example the minimum size for cod in Norway being 17 inches long (compared to an EU standard of 14.5 inches).
Norway's vast array of traditional dishes and local specialities really comes into its own at Christmas time. A clear favourite 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 flavoured 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 flavour 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, 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.
New food neighbourhoods
Oslo´s food reputation has been boosted by the creation of the neighbourhood known as Vulkan. This central location offers hotels, bars, shops, theatres and an electic modern indoor food market where an amazing variety of choice ingredients and gourmet food from small Norwegian and European producers can be bought over the counter, or savored at one of the integrated cafes inside and surrounding the food hall.
The former shipyard Aker Brygge was renovated thirty years ago and is well known as a meeting point for many different types of restaurant, but the neighbourhood was extended in 2010 by the Tjuvholmen extension. This concentrated seafront area is especially popular in spring and summer with 5,000 restaurant seats of which 2,500 are al fresco. Many top quality restaurants serve local and international menus, surrounded by impressive modern architecture, museums, galleries and boats moored in the harbour.
Norway is a nation of coffee drinkers and afficianados, and currently ranks #2 in the world for coffee intake per capita. Its no coincidence that Norwegians have won the World Barista Championship twice in recent years. Ex World Champion Tim Wendelboe has parlayed his coffee expertise into a popular espresso bar in Grunerløkka, as well as a roastery, an import company and a coffee consultancy business.
Most Norwegians like their coffee strong and usually served without milk. While strong coffee has its place, for example the Norwegian kruttkaffe or gunpowder coffee, balance is an important criteria in coffee brewing. However weak or thin coffee is generally regarded as a bad brew, and to be avoided.
The 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.
Even Ramsvik: runs Ylajali and Tekehtopa in St Olavs Plass, Oslo, both of which made a splash in in 2013, contributing to a stylish reinvention of city centre neighbourhoods.
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 2014.
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.
Stavanger Wine Festival: Now in its 16th year, this festival brings international wine and food experts to Stavanger's Jæren district for 3 days of events. Stavanger Wine Festival takes place 2-5 April (in Norwegin Norwegian only).
Cherry Festival: Sweet cherry bonanza in Hardanger, Jun.
Codstock 2014: Blues festival against the backdrop of a picturesque fishing village with some great seafood restaurants. Codstock takes place in Henningsvær, Lofoten on 6 & 7 June. (in Norwegian only).
Gladmat Festival: Norway’s largest food festival, with over 250,000 visitors each year celebrating local and international food cultures. Gladmat takes place in Stavanger, 23-26 Jul. (in Norwegian only).
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 flavour 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 ribs (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 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.
The famous fish market in Bergen is a part of «Torget i Bergen» (Market in Bergen). Here you will also find fruit, vegetables, flowers, handicrafts, and souvenirs. The Fish Market in Bergen is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Bergen.
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).