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Taste Norway’s weird and wonderful cuisine at Smalahovetunet in Voss
Smalahovetunet, Voss.
Photo: Thomas Rasmus Skaug /

Do you dare to try the diehard culinary traditions that match Norway’s raw nature? National treasures like smalahove (sheep’s head), lutefisk (cod treated with lye) and gamalost (old cheese) might both sound and taste a bit strange. But maybe you’ll come to like it?

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“You won’t find the products and history anywhere else in the world, chef Esben Holmboe Bang adds. He runs the Oslo based restaurant Maaemo, awarded three stars in the 2019 Michelin Guide.

The recipe? Norway’s food heritage goes all the way back to the Viking age and is often based on creative methods of preserving food, such as salting, drying, fermenting, pickling, and smoking.

Helped by an enthusiastic renewal, Nordic cuisine is now a lauded culinary movement on the global food scene. All over Norway, you’ll get to taste a profound pride in local food and drink.

“You won’t find the products and history anywhere else in the world.” – Esben Holmboe Bang

Photo: Fridhjof Fure /

Dried and fermented fish

First, say hello to “tørrfisk”, or stockfish, unsalted cod dried by the wind and the sun on giant wooden racks in Lofoten and other areas of Northern Norway. It has played an important role in our history for more than a thousand years, providing our Viking ancestors with much-needed sustenance during their epic voyages. Today, you can enjoy it grilled, cooked, baked or as a delicious plate of bacalao. Small, dry slices of tørrfisk is also a healthy and popular snack.

The bravest can try it prepared as “lutefisk” – “lye fish”, another archetypal Norwegian tradition. The stockfish is treated with water and lye, which give the cod an almost jelly-like consistency. The taste is gentle, however, with homely elements like butter, potatoes, peas and bacon on the side.

Underrated delights such as sea urchin and seaweed have also made their way not only back to the menus, but all the way to Michelin-starred restaurants. And while you’re at it, don’t miss fried cod tongues, king crab, and “rakfisk” (fermented trout). Norsk Rakfiskfestival (the Norwegian Rakfisk Festival) is among Norway’s most popular food festivals and takes place in Valdres in late October every year.

Steigen, Nordland
Steigen, Nordland.
Photo: Christian Roth Christensen /

Try a smoked sheep’s head

Your new Norwegian friends will also love to share another of their most popular “national” dishes, which consists of lamb, cabbage and whole peppercorns.

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Your toughest challenge, however, might be smalahove. Mainly a sheep’s head that’s been torched, smoked, salted and boiled, this tradition dates back to the times when scarce resources forced people to use all parts of their animals. The stranger the meal, the greater the joy – mention the word Smalahove to Norwegians, and many will instantly get into a party mood.

Two men under rows of smalahove sheep heads at Smalahovetunet in Voss, Fjord Norway
Smalahovetunet in Voss.
Photo: Thomas Rasmus Skaug /
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Chefs all over the country pay attention to the global nose-to-tail movement, where all the parts of the animal are cleverly used for different dishes. Even though this is a modern revival of an old tradition, several communities have kept it alive all along – not least in the Sami culture up north, where they eat almost all parts of the reindeer, including the heart.

Brown cheese
Brown cheese.
Photo: cabday / Foap /

And don’t forget that Norway officially makes the worlds’ best cheese. A typical everyday pleasure is the sweet tasting brunost (brown cheese made with cow’s or goat’s milk) on a slice of freshly baked bread or a delicious heart-shaped waffle. For a real cheese challenge, go for the even more particular gamalost (“old cheese”, a very pungent, mature cheese) that was once eaten by the Vikings.

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Local drink to match

All these weird foods will make you thirsty, and in Norway, three kinds of beverages have a particularly long and fascinating history.

Aquavit (“akevitt” in Norwegian) is derived from the Latin phrase aqua vitae meaning “water of life”, and this spirit distilled from potato and aged in oak casks or barrels is something of a national drink, especially around Christmas and at other festive gatherings. A special type of aquavit is linjeakevitt, which is stored in barrels and sent by ship from Norway to Australia and back again, passing the Equator (“linje”) twice.

Ægir, Flåm
Ægir, Flåm.
Photo: Flåmsbrygga / Thor Brødreskift

Norwegians are also, understandably, proud of their handcrafted beers. The brewing tradition has been alive for at least 1,000 years, and for a long time, farms were required by law to brew their own “bjor”. Today, microbreweries have taken the place of the farmers, and some rate among the world’s best beers.

You should also try Norway’s golden happy bubbles. Handcrafted Norwegian ciders have become super trendy, and they also come out on top in international championships. Taste the golden trends and traditions by visiting the idyllic fruit farms along the fjords and in the valleys.

Coffee and mushrooms in Oslo

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