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Norwegian cuisine in its traditional form is based largely on the raw materials readily available in Norway and its mountains, wilderness and coast. It differs in many respects from its continental counterparts with a stronger focus on game and fish. Many of the traditional dishes are results of using conserved materials, with respect to the long winters.
Modern Norwegian cuisine, although still strongly influenced by its traditional background, now bears Americanization: pastas, pizzas, and the like are as common as meatballs and cod as staple foods, and urban restaurants sport the same selection one would expect to find in any western European city.
Typical Main Meals
Most Norwegians eat three or four regular meals a day, usually consisting of a cold breakfast with coffee, a cold (usually packed) lunch at work and a hot dinner at home with the family. Depending on the timing of family dinner (and personal habit), some may add a cold meal in the late evening, typically a simple sandwich.
The basic Norwegian breakfast consists of milk or fruit juice, coffee (or more rarely tea), and open sandwiches with meat cuts, spreads, cheese or jam. Cereals such as corn flakes, muesli and oatmeal are also popular, particularly with children, as is yogurt.
A meal that is eaten between 1-7pm. This is the meal that is considered the "warm" meal of the day. The rest of the meals served throughout the day are generally cold. Some foods eaten at this time would be fish with boiled potatoes and vegetables.
Preserved meat and sausages come in a large variety of regional variations, and are usually accompanied by sour cream dishes and flat bread or wheat/potato wraps. Particularly sought after delicacies include the fenalår, a slow-cured lamb's leg, and morr, usually a smoked cured sausage, though the exact definition may vary regionally. Due to a partial survival of an early medieval taboo against touching dead horses, eating horse meat was nearly unheard of until recent decades, though it does find some use in sausages.
Lamb's meat and mutton is very popular in autumn, mainly used in fårikål (mutton stew with cabbage). Pinnekjøtt, cured and sometimes smoked mutton ribs that are steamed for several hours (traditionally on a bed of birch sticks, hence the name, meaning "stick meat"), is traditionally served as Christmas dinner in the western parts of Norway. Another Western specialty is smalahove, a smoked lamb's head.
Other meat dishes include:
Kjøttkaker - meatcakes: rough and large cakes of ground beef, onion and salt and pepper. Roughly the size of a child's fist. Generally served with sauce espagnol. Potatoes, stewed peas or cabbage and carrots are served on the side. Many like to use a jam of lingonberries as a relish. The pork version is called medisterkake.
Kjøttboller - meatballs: A rougher version of the Swedish meatballs. Served with mashed potatoes and cream-sauce or sauce espagnole depending on the locality.
Svinekoteletter - pork chops: simply braised and served with potatoes and fried onions or whatever vegetables are available.
Svinestek - roast pork: a typical Sunday dinner, served with pickled cabbage (a sweeter variety of the German sauerkraut), gravy, vegetables and potatoes.
All good cuts of meat are roasted, as in any cuisine. Side dishes vary with season and what goes with the meat. Roast leg of lamb is an Easter classic, roast beef is not very common and game is often roasted for festive occasions.
Fårikål - mutton stew: the national dish of Norway. Very simple preparation: cabbage and mutton is layered in a big pot along with black peppercorns, salt (and, in some recipes, wheat flour to thicken the sauce), covered with water and simmered until the meat is very tender. Potatoes on the side.
Stekte pølser - fried sausages: fresh sausages are fried and served with vegetables, potatoes, peas and perhaps some gravy.
Syltelabb is usually eaten around and before Christmas time, made from boiled, salt-cured pig's trotter. They are traditionally eaten using one's fingers, and served as a snack and sometimes served with beetroot, mustard and fresh bread or with lefse or flatbread. Historically syltelabb is served with the traditional Norwegian juleøl (English: Christmas Ale), beer and liquor (like aquavit). This is because Syltelabb is very salty food.
Pinnekjøtt is a main course dinner dish of lamb or mutton ribs, and this dish is largely associated with the celebration of Christmas in Western Norway, and is rapidly gaining popularity in other regions as well. 31% of Norwegians say they eat pinnekjøtt for their family Christmas dinner. Pinnekjøtt is often served with puréed swede (rutabaga) and potatoes, beer and akevitt.
Smalahove is a traditional dish, usually eaten around and before Christmas time, made from a sheep's head. The skin and fleece of the head is torched, the brain removed, and the head is salted, sometimes smoked, and dried. The head is boiled for about 3 hours and served with mashed swede (rutabaga) and potatoes.
Sodd is a traditional Norwegian soup-like meal with mutton and meatballs. Usually vegetables such as potatoes or carrots also are included.
High cuisine is very reliant on game, such as moose, reindeer (strictly speaking not game, as nearly all Norwegian reindeer are semi-domesticated), mountain hare, duck, rock ptarmigan and fowl. These meats are often hunted and sold or passed around as gifts, but are also available at shops nationwide, and tend to be served at social occasions. Because these meats have a distinct, strong taste, they will often be served with rich sauces spiced with crushed juniper berries, and a sour-sweet jam of lingonberries on the side.
The one traditional Norse dish with a claim to international popularity is smoked salmon. It is now a major export, and could be considered the most important Scandinavian contribution to modern international cuisine. Smoked salmon exists traditionally in many varieties, and is often served with scrambled eggs, dill, sandwiches and mustard sauce. Another traditional salmon product is gravlaks, (literally "buried salmon"). Traditionally, gravlaks would be cured for 24 hours in a mix of sugar and salt and herbs (dill). The salmon may then be frozen or kept in a chilled area. Since grav means "buried" it is a common misunderstanding that the salmon is buried into the ground, (similar to how rakfisk is still prepared). This was the case in the medieval ages because the fermenting process was important, however this is not the case today. Gravlaks is often sold under more sales-friendly names internationally. A more peculiar Norwegian fish dish is Rakfisk, which consists of fermented trout, a culinary relation of Swedish surströmming which smells like dead cat in a burning goats head. Until the 20th century, shellfish was not eaten to any extent. This was partly due to the abundance of fish and the relative high expenditure of time involved in catching shellfish when set against its nutritional value, as well as the fact that such food spoils rather quickly, even in a northern climate. However, prawns, crabs and mussels have become quite popular, especially during summer. Lobster is of course popular, but restrictions on the catch (size and season) limit consumption, and in addition lobster has become rather rare, and indeed expensive.
People gather for "krabbefest", which translates to "crab feast" feasts, either eating ready cooked crabs from a fishmonger, or cooking live crabs in a large pan. This is typically done outdoors, the style being rather rustic with only bread, mayonnaise and wedges of lemon to go with the crab. Crabs are caught in pots by both professionals and amateurs, prawns are caught by small trawlers and sold ready cooked at the quays. It is popular to buy half a kilogram of pie prawns and eat it at the quays, feeding the waste to seagulls. Beer or white wine is the normal accompaniment.
Mussels are normally bought live from a fishmonger who can guarantee them to be free of harmful micro-organisms; few people gather mussels themselves, owing to the risk of poisoning. Preparation is simple: steamed with garlic, parsley and perhaps some white wine, and served with bread. The juice can be enriched with double cream to make a soup.
The largest Norwegian food export (in fact the main Norwegian export of any kind for most of the country's history) in the past has been stockfish ("tørrfisk" in Norwegian). The Atlantic cod variety known as 'skrei' because of its migrating habits, has been a source of wealth for millennia, fished annually in what is known as the 'Lofotfiske' after the island chain of 'Lofoten'. Stockfish has been a staple food internationally for centuries, in particular on the Iberian peninsula and the African coast. Both during the age of sail and in the industrial age, stockfish played a part in world history as an enabling food for cross-Atlantic trade and the slave trade triangle.
A large number of fish dishes are popular today, based on such species as salmon, cod, herring, sardine, and mackerel. Seafood is used fresh, smoked, salted or pickled. Variations on creamed seafood soups are common along the coastline.
Due to seafood's availability, seafood dishes along the coast are usually based on fresh produce, typically poached (fish) and very lightly spiced with herbs, pepper and salt. While coastal Norwegians may consider the head, roe and liver an inseparable part of a seafood meal, most inland restaurants do not include these in the meal. In Northern Norway a dish called "mølje", consisting of poached fish, roe and liver, is often considered a "national dish" of the region, and it is common for friends and family to get together at least once during winter for a "møljekalas" (loosely translated, "mølje feast"). A number of the fish species available have traditionally been avoided (especially those perceived as scavengers, due to a fear of indirectly eating friends or family members who had died at sea) or reserved for bait, but most common seafood is part of the modern menu.
Because of industrial whaling, whale meat was commonly used as a cheap substitute for beef early in the 20th century. Consumption has been declining over time, but whale meat is still widely available in all parts of the country and most Norwegians consume whale meat occasionally. Eating whale meat is not considered controversial in Norway.
Other fish dishes include:
Rakfisk - Norwegian fish dish made from trout or sometimes char, salted and fermented for two to three months, or even up to a year, then eaten without further cooking. Rakfisk must be prepared and stored very hygienically, due to the risk of developing Clostridium botulinum (which causes Botulism) if the fish contain certain bacterias during the fermentation process.
Torsk - Cod: poached, simply served with boiled potatoes and melted butter. Carrots,fried bacon, roe and cod liver may also accompany the fish. A delicacy which is somewhat popular in Norway is torsketunger; cod's tongue.
Lutefisk - lyed fish: a modern preparation made of stockfish (dried cod or ling) or klippfisk (dried and salted cod) that has been steeped in lye. It was prepared this way because refrigeration was nonexistent and they needed a way to preserve the fish for longer periods. It is somewhat popular in the United States as a heritage food. It retains a place in Norwegian cuisine (especially on the coast) as a traditional food around Christmas time.
Preparation and accompaniment is as for fresh cod, although beer and aquavit is served on the side.
Stekt fisk - braised fish: almost all fish is braised, but as a rule the larger specimens tend to be poached and the smaller braised. The fish is filleted, dusted with flour, salt and pepper and braised in butter. Potatoes are served on the side, and the butter from the pan used as a sauce.
Fatty fish like herring and brisling are given the same treatment. Popular accompaniments are sliced and fresh-pickled cucumbers and sour cream.
Fiskesuppe - fish soup: A white, milk-based soup with vegetables, usually carrots, onions, potato and various kinds of fish.
Sursild - pickled herring: a variety of pickle-sauces are used, ranging from simple vinegar- sugar-based sauces to tomato, mustard and sherry based sauces. Pickled herring is served as an hors d'oeuvre or on rye bread as a lunch buffet.
The basic methods of curing are used: drying, salting, smoking and fermenting. Stockfish is fish (mainly cod) dried on racks, meats are dried, salt curing is common for both meats and fish. Fermenting (like sauer-kraut) is used for trout. Smoking is mainly used on the west coast as an addition to drying and salting, maybe because of the wet climate
Sauces and marinades
Along with the rest of Scandinavia, Norway is one of the few places outside Asia where sweet and sour flavouring is used extensively. The sweet and sour flavour is utilized best with fish. There is also a treatment called "graving," literally burying, a curing method where salt and sugar is used as curing agents. Although salmon or trout are the most used fish for this method, other fish and meat also get a treatment similar to gravlaks.
Gravlaks - sweet and salty cured salmon: a filleted side of salmon or trout that has been frozen for at least 24 hours to kill off parasites, is cured with the fillet is covered with a mixture that is half salt and half sugar, spiced with black pepper, dill and brandy, covered with cling-wrap, and cured in the refrigerator for three days, turned once a day.
Gravet elg - sweet and salt cured moose: this treatment may be used for all red meat, but game and beef work best. It is the same procedure as for gravlaks, but brandy is often substituted with aquavit, and dill with juniper berries.
Pickled herring: a pickle is made with vinegar, sugar, herbs and spices like dill, mustard seed, black peppercorns, onion and so on. The pickle must be acidic enough to prevent bacterial growth. Rinse, salt-cured herring is added and allowed to stand for at least 24 hours and will smell like your old gym socks.
Tomato pickled herring: this pickle in a thick sauce: 4 Tablespoons tomato paste, 3 Tablespoons sugar, and 3 Tablespoons vinegar are mixed and thinned with about 4 Tablespoons water, flavoured with black pepper and bay leaf. Salt-cured herring is rinsed, cut in 1 cm (1/3in) thick slices and a raw, sliced onion added. Let stand for at least 24 hours.
Fruit and desserts
Fruits and berries mature slowly in the cold climate. This makes for a tendency to smaller volume with a more intense taste. Strawberries, bilberries, lingonberries, raspberries and apples are popular and are part of a variety of desserts, and cherries in the parts of the country where those are grown. The wild growing cloudberry is regarded as a delicacy. A typical Norwegian dessert on special occasions is cloudberries with whipped or plain cream. Strawberry-Apple pie is also popular because of its rich flavor of strawberries and apples.
German and Nordic-style cakes and pastries, such as sponge cakes and Danish pastry (known as "wienerbrød", literal translation: "Viennese bread") share the table with a variety of home made cakes, waffles and cookies. Cardamom is a common flavouring. Another Norwegian cake is Krumkake, a paper- thin rolled cake filled with whipped cream. (Krumkake means 'Curved Cake' or 'Crooked Cake'). Baked meringues are known as "pikekyss", literally translated as "girl's kiss".
During Christmas (jul), the traditional Norwegian Holiday season, many different dessert dishes are served including Julekake, a heavily spiced leavened loaf often coated with sugar and cinnamon, and Multekrem (whipped cream with cloudberries).
Bread is an important staple of the Norwegian diet. Breads containing a large proportion of whole grain flour (grovbrød, or "coarse bread") are popular, likely because bread makes up such a substantial part of the Norwegian diet and are therefore expected to be nutritious. 80% of Norwegians regularly eat bread, in the form of open-top sandwiches with butter for breakfast and lunch. A soft flat bread called lefse made out of potato, milk or lemonade (or sometimes lard) and flour is also very popular.
The variety of bread available in a common supermarket is rather large: wittenberger (crisp-crusted wheatbread), grovbrød (whole-wheat bread, often with syrup), loff (soft wheatbread), sour-dough bread and other German style breads. Baguettes, ciabatta, bagels and so on are also popular. During the Hanseatic era, cereals were imported in exchange for fish by the Hanseatic Legue. The German Hanseatic League and the Danish colonial masters obviously influenced the Norwegian cuisine, bringing continental habits, taste and produce. Norwegians are particularly fond of a crisp crust, regarding a soft crust as a sign of the bread being stale. Oat is used in addition to wheat and rye, and is perhaps the most unusual cereal in bread-making as compared to continental Europe and the UK. Seeds and nuts (like sunflower seeds and walnuts)are rather common ingredients, along with olives and sun-dried pickles, to improve the texture of the bread.
Cheese is still extremely popular in Norway, though the variety of traditional products available and commonly in use is severely reduced. Norvegia is a common yellow cheese (produced since the 1890s) as is Jarlsberg cheese which is also known as a Norwegian export (produced since the 1850s). The sweet geitost or brown/red cheese (not a true cheese, but rather caramelized lactose from goat milk or a mix of goat and / or cow milk) is very popular in cooking and with bread. More sophisticated, traditional, or extreme cheeses include the gammalost (lit. "old cheese"), an over-matured, highly pungent cheese made from sour milk, Pultost, made from sour milk and caraway seeds, and Nøkkelost flavored with cumin and cloves.
Norway has a particularly strong affinity for coffee and is the second highest consumer of coffee in the world, with the average Norwegian drinking 142 liters, or 9.5 kg of coffee in 2011. Coffee plays a large role in Norwegian culture, and it is common to invite people over for coffee and cakes,(and sometimes candies or icecream for the children, this isn't an old tradition but has become commonplace) and to enjoy cups of coffee with dessert after the main courses in get-togethers. The traditional way of serving coffee in Norway is plain black, usually in a mug, rather than a cup. As in the rest of the west, recent years have seen a shift from coffee made by boiling ground beans to Italian-style coffee bars, tended by professional baristas. Coffee is included in one of the most traditional alcoholic beverages in Norway, commonly known as karsk, from Trøndelag.
Both industrial and small-scale brewing have long traditions in Norway. Despite restrictive alcohol policies there's a rich community of brewers, and a colourful variety of beverages both legal and illegal. The most popular industrial beers are usually pilsners and red beers (bayer), while traditional beer is much richer, with a high alcohol and malt content. The ancient practice of brewing Juleøl (Christmas beer) persists even today, and imitations of these are available before Christmas, in shops and, for the more potent versions, at state monopoly outlets. Cider brewing has faced tough barriers to commercial production due to alcohol regulations, and the famous honey wine, mjød (mead), is mostly a drink for connoisseurs, Norse and medieval historical reenactors, and practitioners of åsatru and other Norse neopagan religions. The climate has not been hospitable to grapes for millennia, and wines and more potent drinks are available only from the wine monopolies.
Distilled beverages include akevitt, a yellow-tinged liquor spiced with caraway seeds, also known as akvavit or other variations on the Latin aqua vitae - water of life. The Norwegian "linie" style is distinctive for its maturing process, crossing the equator in sherry casks stored in the hull of a ship, giving it more taste and character than the rawer styles of other Scandinavian akevittar. Norway also produces some vodkas, bottled water and fruit juices.
In Norway beer is available in stores from 9 am to 8 pm during weekdays and from 9 am to 6 pm on Saturdays. Moreover, you can buy wine and spirits until 6 pm during weekdays and 3 pm on Saturdays in government owned and run liquor shops (Vinmonopolet). Only "true" grocery stores are allowed to sell beer; gas stations and so-called "Fruit&Tobacco" marts ("Frukt og Tobakk" or "kiosk" in Norwegian) are not.
- SIFO (National Institute for Consumer Research) Nordmenns brød- og kornvaner -i stabilitet og endring. Page 3, 2008
- "Lovdata - Sender deg til riktig side" (in Norwegian). Lovdata.no. 1989-06-02. Retrieved 2013-11-14.
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