Tis the season of friends! As summer draws near and my Fulbright draws to a close, I’ve had more and more friends decide to come visit. At last count, I’m seeing six groups of friends over seven different weekends, so I’ve been trying to catch up on my blog during the week. So far I’ve seen two groups of friends, and it’s been fun talking about Norway and getting a chance to act as a cultural ambassador. Yay for fulfilling Fulbright goals!
Anyways, one recurring question that I’ve been asked is “What is Norwegian food like?” To be frank, I (as well as most people in Norway) rarely dine out, so my familiarity with traditional Norwegian fare is a bit sparse. That being said, I will do my best to tell you what I know.
One thing to remember about Norway is that it was poor for much of its history.* Because of this, it was necessary for many Norwegians to carefully preserve what food was available. This means that many traditional dishes are things that have been dried and salted. Pinnekjøtt is a traditional Christmas dish composed of salted and dried lamb’s ribs. The ribs are then steamed and served with potatoes and sausages.
Norwegian salmon is world famous for good reason. The fish here is absolutely delicious, and is one of the few things you will find at a reasonable price. Norway is one of the world’s biggest fish exporters, and the cold water apparently helps the fish grow more slowly, helping add flavor and structure to the meat.
Cod (Liver Oil), Tørrfisk, and Lutefisk
Cod is another very popular Norwegian fish. It’s particularly well known around the Lofoten Islands and thousands of cod are still caught and dried in that area.
Tørrfisk, or stock fish, is any sort of salted and dried fish, but it is generally made from cod.
Lutefisk, pictured below, takes tørrfisk a step further since it is tørrfisk in water and lye. Don’t worry though, lutefisk is generally cooked or grilled before being eaten.**
Last but not least, cod liver oil is part of the Norwegian way of life. This general cure all can be found in pretty much every grocery store and Norwegian home.
A porridge made of sour cream with cinnamon, sugar, and butter added in.
A popular Christmas variation is risengrøt, or rice porridge. Grøt, or porridge, is important around Christmas time because it is left out for the nisse, a type of Christmas elf. Feeding the nisse is supposed to provide farmers with good harvests, and risengrøt is eaten on Christmas Eve. An almond is supposed to be hidden in the mixture, and whoever finds it in their porridge wins a marzipan pig.
Beef meatballs that are a typical Norwegian dinner. They are usually served with potatoes, peas, gravy, and lingonberry sauce.
Pølse i lompe
The Norwegian version of a hot dog. It is a very long and skinny hot dog wrapped in a tortilla.
No description of Norwegian food would be complete without brunost, or brown cheese. It is a combination of milk, cream, and whey that is boiled until it caramelizes, giving the cheese a brown color and slightly sweet flavor. People tend to either love or hate it, but it is definitely something worth giving a try. Personally, my favorite way of eating it is to have it with waffles and jam.
Knekkebrød is another Norwegian favorite. I’m even told that Norwegians traveling abroad will take knekkebrød and brown cheese with them, since they know they won’t be able find them outside of the country. Knekkebrød, or crispbread, is a type of very light and dry cracker. It often comes loaded with a bunch of grains and seeds.
Another important thing to know is that Norwegians have their meals on a very different timeline. In America, it’s common to have three meals a day:
- Breakfast at around 7 or 8 am
- Lunch at around 12 or 1 pm
- Dinner around 6 or 7 pm
Norwegians prefer to have four meals a day:
- Frokost/breakfast at around 7 am
- Lunsj/lunch at around 11 am
- Middag/first dinner at around 4 or 5 pm
- Kveldsmat/second dinner at around 9 pm
To this day, I still find it strange to stop for lunch at 11 am.
That’s pretty much all that I can offer on Norwegian cuisine. My only other piece of advice is that if you happen to stay in a Norwegian hotel, I would definitely take advantage of the breakfast buffet, universally some of the best breakfasts that I’ve ever encountered. Happy eating and bon appétit!
*The dramatically simplified version of Norway’s history is: Things went downhill after the Vikings until Norway found oil in the late 1960’s.
**Funnily enough Heather, the Roving Scholar from Minnesota, was visiting one of my classes and asked them if there were any special foods she should try while she was in Norway. One of my students jokingly told her to give lutefisk a try, and, to everyone’s surprise, Heather told the class that she had already tried lutefisk. According to Heather, the large Norwegian-American community in Minnesota is pretty devoted to making traditional Norwegian food. She went on to say that people even have “I Love Lutefisk” t-shirts. Ironically enough, neither Heather nor I has met a single Norwegian who actually likes lutefisk.