Norway is a located in northern Europe between Sweden and the North Sea. As of January 2013, the population of Norway reached 5 million inhabitants. Norway is known the world over for its fjords, rugged terrain and unspoiled natural landscape. Oslo is the capital of Norway with Bergen, Trondheim and Stavanger rounding out the four largest cities in the country.
Norwegian is the official written and spoken language of Norway. The Norwegian language exists in two different forms, bokmål and nynorsk. Although these are in fact two different languages, bokmål is the language form used in most (but not all) official documents, mostly spoken on television and predominantly taught to immigrants as a foreign language. Both language forms have several related, although phonetically different dialects, which change region to region. Based on this, one can already begin to see why Norwegian can be a complex second language to master!
Norway is not an EU member country and despite its current economic stability, was for a period of time, one of the poorest countries in Europe. This fact along with the long and dark winters characteristic of Norway as well as the lack for cultivatable land, means that many traditional Norwegian dishes are humble in ingredients and cooking technique. In traditional Norwegian cuisine, focus is placed on quality ingredients as well as preserving techniques such as eating foods when in season, curing meats, pickling vegetables and fish or canning fruits and vegetables.
Norway is governed by a constitutional monarchy, which has been headed by His Majesty King Harald V since 1991. The heir apparent to the Norwegian thrown is Crown Prince Haakon Magnus. Constitution Day in Norway is May 17 and the current Prime minister of Norway is Erna Solberg. Norway as a country ranks second to Luxembourg in terms of gross domestic product per inhabitant and most Norwegians enjoy a very high quality of life in most economic, political and social arenas.
What do people in Norway eat? How can one categorize Norwegian cuisine?
Norway is a very long and quite mountainous country thus transporting food items from coast to coast was a tall order until more recent times. Due to this, and due to the country’s economic past, most of what Norwegians tend to eat nowadays depends on where they live and what their lifestyle happens to be. More traditional Norwegian cuisine focuses on raw ingredients preserved and served in a traditional way, and prepared with traditional flavors.
Norwegian cuisine can be categorized as rustic with a strong focus on good quality raw ingredients. New Nordic cuisine is a more modern spin on traditional ingredients found throughout Scandinavia. Norwegian chefs are some of the best chefs in the world and have been winning the awards to prove it.
Weekday breakfasts tend to be hurried and quick, with heavy emphasis placed on dairy and grains. Weekend breakfasts tend to center around bread or rolls with pålegg (the stuff you put on top of bread-sliced cold cuts, cheese, various types of fish) or jam. Smoked salmon is paired with fluffy scrambled eggs. Gravlax, which is Swedish in origin, is also common. Peanut butter here is rare, but becoming more popular. Museli and cereal are also eaten and served with fermented milk or yogurt. Milk, various juices, coffee-very strong and dark- are common as well. Bacon and eggs are more common on Sundays or for special occasions.
The culturally iconic Norwegian matpakke (two open faced sandwiches, or by U.S. standards, one sandwich, cut in half) is still quite the norm for children and adults alike in modern day Norway. Some adults enjoy a warm canteen lunch during work hours if provided for by their company. In much of the country, eating lunch out in a restaurant is relatively uncommon during work hours but more popular on weekends in a café when meeting friends.
This is the biggest meal of the day and usually consists of boiled potatoes, another vegetable and meat, game or fish. Chicken dishes are not as common but are gaining in popularity. Dinner is nearly always served with saus-a brown or white gravy, especially if potatoes are on the menu. Dark or light lapskaus, a Norwegian potato stew or brennsnut, a stew made from leftover meats, rutabaga, carrot, potato and broth are real treats-especially in winter. Fiskegrateng, poached salmon, meatballs with brown gravy, komle (also called klubb, kumle, and kompe), baked trout, leg of lam, cold smoked mackerel and pan fried cod are all common dinner entrees. Similar to the American tradition, Sunday dinner with extended family hasn’t completely disappeared but has become less common as people have moved further away from each other. Sundays almost always include a trip to Mom and Dad’s (or grandma’s) for cake, or another sweetened bread dish such as boller, cinnamon buns, lefse or waffles, and coffee.
Frozen convenience foods are very popular in Norway and Norwegians buy more frozen pizza than any other country in Europe.
Desserts and Cakes
The sweet dishes served after dinners normally fall into two categories in Norway – desserts and cakes. Cakes are not exclusive to after dinner, but desserts normally are. At fancy events like weddings and bigger birthday celebrations, both desserts and cakes are normally served. Desserts are usually heavy in dairy-so be aware if you are lactose intolerant. Ice cream is always a winner and summer staple, with vanilla being the most popular flavor. Some great cakes to try are bløtkake (layers of sponge cake, raspberry jam and whipped cream), suksesskake (“success cake”) or verdensbeste (“The Best Cake in the World”).
In Between Meals
Warm waffles served with brown cheese or sour cream and jam are a nice treat and common at family functions, during the skiing season or just about any other time of year. Boller, Norway’s version of sweet buns, are cardamom scented chunks of gluten-filled heaven. They are sold in raisin, chocolate or plain varieties. Slices of bread with various spreads on top are also popular as in between meals as well.
Norwegians drink more coffee than anyone else in the world. They like their coffee very strong by American standards and nearly always black. If you like milk and sugar with your coffee, be sure to ask for it. Tea is normally served along side coffee in most occasions, but not always. Common types are earl gray and darjeeling.
Regional Differences and Specially Protected Foodstuffs
I live on the southwestern coast of Norway, which means locals eat a lot of seafood, lamb and locally grown produce. Stavanger is located just outside of Jæren, the “food basket” of Norway. Jæren is one of the regional districts in Norway responsible for producing a considerable amount of the country’s produce and livestock. Most local supermarkets carry produce grown within the local area and Norwegians are quite good about embracing locally produced goods. Besides Jæren, other regions with a sizable food footprint are Valdres and Røros.
Norway has developed the Beskyttet geografisk betegnelse, a set of agricultural guidelines that protect the economic interests of various foodstuffs. These guidelines make it illegal for products that do not follow the guidelines to be labeled as such products. For example, organic tjukkmjølk from Røros Dairy is the only dairy product that can be called tjukkmjølk anywhere in the world due to the Beskyttet geografisk betegnelse that outline and protect the integrity of the product. Kvitsøy lamb, fenalår, Ringeriks potatoes and Festsodd from Trøndelag are all examples of specially protected foodstuffs.
Beer, Spirits and Other Things Adults Drink
Norwegians (and most Europeans) like to enjoy themselves and when socially appropriate, that includes a good swig of brew. For many here, drinking is done on the weekends only and, by American standards, may be viewed as excessive. That said, because people tend to drink only on Fridays and Saturdays, the total volume drunk in a week(end) is comparable to hitting happy hour 2-3 nights a week. This varies, of course, due to age and lifestyle.
People of drinking age tend to consume first at house gatherings known as a forspill (pre-parties) and then hit the town to keep the vibe going. Beer is common (usually pilsner style beer), as is wine. Spirits are more often consumed at home or during a night on the town for a special event as they are more expensive than bars and pubs. Cognac is common during the colder months and aquavit reigns supreme around Christmas, especially with traditional Norwegian Christmas food. All wine, spirits and beer over 4.5% is sold at state run stores called the Vinmonopolet or “pole” for short.
Snacks and Sweets
Norwegians love chocolate. A lot. They tend to eat most of it during the weekends and during outdoor activities. The iconic Kvikk Lunsj candy bar and pick-n-mix candy sold in bulk are sugary high points for kids and adults. Marzipan is common at Christmas and Easter.
Fårikål and the Search for a New National Dish
Fårikål, a dish made from boiled lamb, cabbage and whole peppercorns, has been the national dish of Norway since 1972. Food and agriculture minister Sylvi Listhaug launched a competition in January 204 to find out what Norwegian populations considers its new national dish. The competition also set out to find which dish each region of Norway celebrates the most.
The contest has its own Facebook page, Norges nasjonalrett 2014, and started no less than a firestorm, with some asking for Listhaug’s resignation for even considering updating Norway’s national dish. While the controversy has died down since the contest was first announced, some have started to wonder if the new national dish will also reflect the more recent immigrant groups in Norway. According to the contest rules, more international submissions would be disqualified, as ingredients in the dish must be sourced from Norway. So far, dishes like Norwegian meatballs in brown sauce, lapskaus, fiskeboller in white sauce and poached salmon among others have been gaining ground as the new national dish in Norway.