Norway is known for its geographical wonders: beautiful deep fjords and jagged coastline, mesmerising Northern lights and majestic glaciers. So often, visitors forget about the fascinating cuisine that has been cultivating for thousands of years in this Nordic country – a cuisine that is intrinsically linked with the beautiful, wild landscape.
The Norwegian coastline is one of the longest in the world at over 25,000 km long, and the Norwegian diet makes the most of this by including plenty of fish – from salmon, to fermented trout, pickled herring and dried cod. Hearty stews and nourishing meaty dishes are made from hunted game and hardy cattle like reindeer, and some foodie traditions have been carried out for centuries.
We’ve compiled a list of foods you should definitely try when you visit. Of course this list isn’t exhaustive, so go with an open mind and ask locals for suggestions. And most of all, enjoy!
Norway’s many rivers and long coastline means that fresh salmon is available in its abundance. The cold waters slow the growth of the fish, so Norwegian salmon develops a beautiful rich flavour over a longer length of time.
Salmon is a staple in the Norwegian diet and is eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It usually comes in the form of smoked salmon (røkt laks) or as Scandi favourite gravlaks – salmon dry-cured in dill, salt and sugar. Gravlaks translates literally as ‘buried salmon’ as it was traditionally buried in the ground to cure in peace.
Wild berries are a delicacy in the Nordic countries, and none more so than the elusive cloudberry. In Norway, cloudberries are hard to find (they only grow in wild swamplands) and highly sought-after; they’ve even be given the nickname viddas gull which means ‘highlands gold’.
Cloudberries are a deep golden-yellow in colour and have a distinctive tart sweet-sour flavour, which works well when made into a jam and spread on toast or waffles, or spooned onto porridge. It’s also put into cakes or tarts, and is made into a delicious liquor. Look out for multekrem (‘cloudberry cream’) – a Norwegian dessert where the cloudberries are mixed with whipped cream and sugar.
Brunost is the quintessentially Norwegian ‘brown cheese’ that locals love and tourists are left bewildered by. It’s basically their Marmite.
Technically, brunost isn’t a cheese: it’s a caramelised whey that has a soft texture and salty-sweet flavour. If you’re new to brunost and you’re expecting something akin to a normal cheese-like cheese like edam or cheddar, this brown fudge-like substance can be a bit of a shocker. Some even compare the flavour to dulce de leche, which is a pretty confusing concept to get your head around for a cheese, and probably why it’s never taken off with the rest of the world; non-Norwegians just don’t get it.
For the more adventurous souls, brunost is best simply sliced on top of bread or waffles – with added jam or juniper berries if you like – and washed down with strong black coffee.
Though we mostly think of them as magical flying creatures with red noses pulling along Santa’s sleigh, the cold hard truth is that reindeer meat has been sustaining the Nordic nations for thousands of years.
Reindeer meat can be found on many a Norwegian restaurant menu or at the family dining table in a variety of forms – from sausages (try a reindeer hotdog), to stews, steaks and meatballs. It’s a lean, gamey meat but still holds plenty of flavour and works beautifully with juniper.
Look out for finnbiff – a flavour-packed reindeer stew which originates from the indigenous Sami people of Northern Norway. The stew is made using thin shavings of reindeer meat, which is browned in a pot with bacon and mushrooms. Water is poured in and the stew left to simmer; lastly, crushed juniper berries, thyme, sour cream, milk and brown cheese are added. This rich, delicious stew is then served with mashed potatoes and tyttebær (lingonberry jam) – the perfect meal on a freezing cold night.
The Danes may have their wienerbrød and the Swedes their cinnamon buns, but Norway has its vafler – heart-shaped waffles. These are beloved by the nation and can be found absolutely everywhere. It is highly likely that every Norwegian family home contains a special heart-shaped waffle iron.
Norwegian vafler are thinner and softer than American or Belgian waffles, and they’re usually eaten as a snack in the afternoon or evening with a cup of black coffee, rather than for breakfast (this is definitely not the done thing in Norway). Standard toppings are simple: butter and jam (sometimes with added sour cream) or slices of brunost. This is perfect if you’ve just been cross-country skiing in minus temperatures and you need something warm and sweet to comfort you – it’s basically the food equivalent of a hug.
As with all of the Nordic nations, meatballs are very popular and Norway has its own take on on this dish. Norwegian kjøttboller are larger and rougher than, say, the small and tidy Swedish meatballs and unlike their Nordic neighbours, Norwegian meatballs are usually made from beef (or sometimes reindeer). The meat is flavoured with nutmeg, ginger and onion and made into rough patties.
In Norway, kjøttboller are traditionally served with potatoes (boiled or mashed), a creamy meaty sauce, and kålstuing (a creamed cabbage side dish) or mashed peas. Comfort food at its finest.
Lefse is a traditional Norwegian flatbread made with potato, flour, milk and butter. The simplicity of lefse means that it’s versatile enough to be used as a snack, dessert or meal: sweet or savoury, big or small.
Lefse is spread with butter and cinnamon sugar and rolled up to accompany a coffee in the morning or as a dessert. Alternatively, lefse can be used as an open sandwich base – spread with butter and sour cream and topped with fermented trout or pickled herring and onions.
Although this isn’t the most exciting of entrants on this list, we’ve included it because it’s the Norwegian national dish. For a country that eats exciting rare berries, Rudolphs and funky-tasting fish every day, how the national dish came to be a boiled mutton stew, I will never know. But the harsh, cold weather in Norway means some comfort food is in order, and this is where fårikål comes in. Fårikål is a hearty mutton stew which is normally eaten in autumn with potatoes. Mutton and cabbage are layered in a large pot along with black peppercorns and salt, and then covered with water and cooked until the meat is so tender it falls off the bone. Sounds quite nice, but give me a reindeer hotdog followed by a cloudberry waffle anyday.