Norwegian Food

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.

Pinnekjøtt

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.

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Norwegian Salmon

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.

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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.

Alt-om-lutefisk

Rømmegrøt

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.

Rømmegrøt

Kjøttkaker

Beef meatballs that are a typical Norwegian dinner. They are usually served with potatoes, peas, gravy, and lingonberry sauce.

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Pølse i lompe

The Norwegian version of a hot dog. It is a very long and skinny hot dog wrapped in a tortilla.

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Brunost

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.

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Knekkebrød

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.

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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.

New Year’s Eve

So I didn’t bother writing about the 30th since we spent the day going back home to the UK from Salzburg. How did we do that you might ask. By train. I’m currently very happy not to be taking a train anytime in the near future. Though to be somewhat fair this time it took less than 26 hours.

Anyways, on to New Year’s Eve. As much as I enjoy traveling with my Dad and spending time with him, I decided that I would rather spend NYE with friends. It just so happens that I know a few Italian Fulbrighters and we all agreed to meet up in Rome.

So I dutifully packed up my things on NYE and took an afternoon flight out to Rome. When I landed I encountered my first surprise: people in Italy eat late. After I landed I managed to send a message to my friends letting them know that I was 1) alive 2) awaiting transport from the airport into the city. It was then that I was told that we would be eating at 9pm. Now I’m the sort of person who normally starts eating any time between 5 to 6 pm. Even 7 pm on an adventurous day, though I make notable exceptions when visiting the Taylor family (love you guys). So to me a 9 pm dinner seemed like madness. Then again I wasn’t actually due to get into the city until around 8 pm so I figured I’d just roll with it.

As for getting into Rome, I had initially planned on taking the train; however, the man at the ticket office convinced me to take a shuttle since he claimed it would be faster. So I paid the extra euro and hopped onto the shuttle with around seven other people.

Now having heard terrible things about the taxis in Rome, my attitude towards cars in Rome was more or less the same as my attitude towards New York City taxis, which is: pay, buckle up, and pray. Turns out my logic wasn’t totally off. After about 15 minutes of driving, we heard a loud bang and a continuous grinding sound. Our driver appeared completely unconcerned with the state of things. My fellow passengers and I were not in the same mind frame. Once it became clear that our driver had no intention of pulling over, one of the other passengers finally pointed out that we had probably blown a tire. I’m not sure if this speculation  just didn’t phase our driver or if he simply didn’t understand what we were trying to say, but he continued to drive until a few more concerned murmurs got him to pull over at a rest stop. To give him credit, we had not blown a tire, and from the quick way our driver hopped back into the car he didn’t see anything that troubled him. But as soon as the car got going the grinding sound continued. Eventually whatever was causing the noise fell off the car, and I suppose it will simply remain an unsolved mystery. Anyways we made it to Termini Station without any more problems and I made it to my hostel safe and sound.

So I got settled in and then headed out to meet friends for our now 9:30 pm dinner. I’m not going to lie I was pretty hungry at this point. Luckily food was forthcoming and I tried Rome’s specialty, carbonara. So it was over pasta and a bottle of wine that I got to catch up with friends, Gargi, Matt, and Naji, and meet new ones, Dan and Iman. With the exception of Matt, all of them are Italian Fulbrighters, so I had fun learning more about what it’s like to be living in different parts of Italy.

I particularly enjoyed talking to Gargi since she has my same ETA job in Sicily. I found out that our students are pretty different and, from I could tell, this largely seems to be a product of the different cultures that we work in. Here are some of the biggest differences that we talked about:

  1. Italian students apparently chatter all the time. From my very brief experience in Rome, Italians seem to be both social and loud people. In Norway, I often face very silent classrooms and Norwegians (at least from an American perspective) are practically antisocial. I have never had a real problem with my students interrupting me or talking when I’m lecturing, a fact that I am now more grateful for.
  2. Gargi also mentioned that her students don’t always do the best job when it comes to paying attention (see point 1). Most of the time my students at least appear like they are paying attention. Plus I occasionally have them play games based on my lectures, which of course requires them to listen to what I’m saying. Now like most teachers, I am fully aware that my students spend a good portion of their time on Facebook (and don’t think I know), but I prefer this to them talking when I’m lecturing.
  3. Language abilities also seem different. From what Gargi told me it looks like Italian students have a lower level of English than my Norwegian students, or at least the ones that I teach in the college track. Turns out starting a language in preschool and kindergarten really pays off.
  4. Lastly our students also have different vocational tracks. I had a good time talking to Gargi about a tourism track that she works with (obviously reflecting the fact that tourism is one of Italy’s biggest industries). In contrast to this, I’ve worked much more with engineers, people going into alternative energy, and the shipping industry. To be fair, being based at the science and technology university significantly skews my viewpoint.

But back to NYE. In classic European style it took us about two hours before we managed to leave our restaurant. So it wasn’t until around 11:3o pm that we finally managed to extricate ourselves and walk towards the Roman Forum. It was here that I learned my second major Italian lesson: in Italy rules are really just suggestions. Both low and high grade fireworks were being set off sporadically, and many them were clearly being set off by amateurs in the middle of the street. There were even a few times that we were concerned for the surrounding trees since they were being peppered by fireworks. Despite the madness around us, we managed to buy a bottle of champagne and get a good fireworks watching position by the Colosseum. This means we managed to ring in the New Year in some sort of style, though unfortunately we did not manage to find glasses for our bottle of champagne. Oh and of course the fireworks went off late. But hey, as one of my new friends succinctly said “It’s Italy…what did you expect?”

From there we wandered to one of Rome’s many piazzas where we bar hopped into the wee hours of the morning.

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Christmas Eve

To our very great surprise, Vienna doesn’t totally shut down during the Christmas holidays. So, even though it was Christmas Eve we were still able to get in some sightseeing. Our first stop of the day was Stephansdom, or St. Steven’s Cathedral.

IMG_6632  IMG_6635  IMG_6660IMG_6646  IMG_6649  IMG_6648 IMG_6650  IMG_6669 IMG_6759According to their website, Stephansdom is the number one attraction in the city and attracts just under 3 million people every year. It is clearly the star church in the city and is something that can be seen from most places within central Vienna. I really wanted to take an English tour of the church, since after a certain point European churches all tend to blur together, but the only English tour the church offered was an English audioguide that only addressed the inside of the church. My dad and I decided to pass on this in favor of buying all inclusive tickets. These tickets gave us access to the South Tower, North Tower, church, catacombs, and treasury (which was closed for the day).

We quickly wandered through the main cathedral before heading to the North Tower. The thing that struck me the most about the interior was the almost complete lack of stain glass windows. My initial guess was that the church had been bombed. Sure enough, we spotted some pictures of the church and the work that had to be done on it after World War II. We could see that the roof had completely collapsed so it was hardly a surprise that the windows hadn’t lasted either.

IMG_6641  IMG_6642  IMG_6645Afterwards, we made our way to the North Tower. Thankfully the tower had an elevator that we could ride up. Once at the top it provided us with a truly wonderful view of Vienna and the church’s unique roof.

IMG_6683  IMG_6701  IMG_6711IMG_6714  IMG_6688  IMG_6716After that we made our way down to the catacombs. Unfortunately you aren’t allowed to take pictures there so you’ll have to either use Google or your imagination. The catacombs contain some Hapsburg remains and those of senior clergy and cardinals, but they weren’t solely reserved for the upper class. Mass burials occurred in the catacombs, especially when it came to burying victims of the Black Death, and you can still see the bones in the pits that they used for these burials. Additionally, prisoners were once forced to clean and stack some of the bones in the catacombs so there are literally hundreds of bones on display underneath the church.

Once we had finished there, we made our way to the South Tower. You can’t actually get to the very top of the South Tower, but you can get to about the halfway point (67 meters up). Once you climb the requisite 343 steps you get an even better view of Vienna than at the North Tower. Because there are so many steps however they do tell you that you shouldn’t drink beforehand. So no glühwein (mulled wine) for us.

IMG_6768  IMG_6770  IMG_6788IMG_6780  IMG_6783  IMG_6786When we finished, we stopped for coffee and lunch at the famous café Demel and then crossed the city to go to the Prater Ferris Wheel. Now for those of you who are:

  • From my parent’s generation
  • Into old movies
  • Watched post-World War II movies for class

you may recognize the ferris wheel from The Third Man. I of course recognized the ferris wheel from James Bond but sooner or later hazy memories from the class “The European Postwar: Literature, Film, Politics” reminded me that I had also watched The Third Man my senior year in college. Clearly I considered pursuing all things James Bond related (allegedly for my senior thesis) more interesting that paying attention to my postwar class. Oh well.

Because we went to the ferris wheel on Christmas Eve, the amusement park that houses it was pretty deserted (in fact it was very similar to the ferris wheel scene in the Third Man), but that also meant that the lines were short. Without too much of a delay my Dad and I were able to get on board and enjoy the view from the top.

IMG_6826  IMG_6845  IMG_6849IMG_6867  IMG_6869  IMG_6878IMG_6919  IMG_6928  IMG_6920The ferris wheel only takes about 20 minutes so before we knew it we were back on the ground. While things had been open towards the beginning of the day, things started closing soon after we got off the ferris wheel. Our attempts to go to the Bank Austria Kunstforum Wien and the Hofburg Palace were in vain so we ended up settling with the Christmas market in the Museum Quarter and drinking Christmas punch. I decided to try something that roughly translated to “Mozart’s punch,” and I have to say that if Mozart was drinking that I have no idea how he managed to get anything done since it had a very generous amount of alcohol poured in.

IMG_6957  IMG_6950  IMG_6966Everything more or less shut down at 3 pm, so after that my Dad and I just relaxed around the hotel until our Christmas dinner reservations. Thanks to a random recommendation from Travel and Leisure we decided to try our luck at a restaurant called At Eight. Even though the restaurant started out pretty sparsely populated, it filled up towards 7 pm and for good reason. The food was some of the best that I’ve ever had. Not a bad way to spend Christmas Eve at all.