Food Culture and Tradition

Food, People and Culture Resources

Meals and Customs in Norway


So keen on sports and the outdoor life are the Norwegians that it seems they rise deliberately early to have time to fortify themselves with a heroic breakfast selected at will from a koltbord. Typically, this consists of an assortment of cold roasted and cured meats and sausages, eggs, ham, bacon, hot and cold cereals, a selection of mild to strong cheeses, crisp and soft rye and wheat breads, fresh butter and several fruit preserves as well as fruit juices and fruits and coffee.

Then they are off to the day’s activities. School and work begin very early but they also end early in the day, and most people are homeward bound to eat a simple early dinner at around 4:00 p.m. Throughout the day small snacks of coffee, pastries or bread and butter and cheese may suffice to replenish and nourish; sometimes lunch is an abbreviated form of the breakfast koltbord: open-face sandwiches with coffee or beer.

Aside from breakfast, there is little doubt that food and its preparation are never really as important in the Norwegian mind as having time to ski or skate, sail or mountain-climb. The 4:00 p.m. dinner is always a hot though simple meal, sometimes a hearty soup and a filling dessert of waffles or pancakes with fruit, other times a fish soup and poached fish with boiled vegetables. At least once a week, farikal, a simple but substantial casserole of cabbage wedges and mutton, is served.

When the occasion demands a more leisurely and lengthy dinner, whether at home or in a restaurant, the three or four hour meal will be frequently punctuated with skaal as well as convivial conversation and laughter. Later in the evening, a small version of the koltbord will again make an appearance just a “snack” to beckon sleep, or perhaps to signal the end of the evening.

Norwegians are fond of flowers. Even though they may be expensive, flowers always grace a special dinner table, and the best restaurants always have at least one fresh flower in a vase at each table.

Perhaps because of the isolation of many villages or perhaps just because of the Norwegian natural love for people, it is impossible to visit a Norwegian home and leave without at least having had coffee and cookies or cake. Usually a visitor will be expected to partake in the next meal with the family. Traditionally in Norway, wedding or confirmation guests are expected to stay for a few days: they may sleep over at a neighbor’s but they will take all their meals with the host family, the food and drink mingling happily with songs, speeches, and dancing.

Blending with their love for natural flavors and their appreciation of life, Norwegians take more than ordinary delight in seasonal foods. Skipping school and work to pick the ripening berries is enjoyed just as much as gorging oneself on prawns. Spring and summer are so precious and so short that meals of berries or prawns are an unabashed national pastime. Even the fishermen must stagger their summer holidays so that no one will be denied the classic meals of prawns accompanied by crusty fresh bread with sweet butter and homemade mayonnaise with pauses only long enough for swallows of chilled white wine. In fact, bags of cooked prawns are bought from street vendors and munched like peanuts.

Firm about the food traditions of their own land, Norwegians are not much concerned about breaking so-called rules of eating and drinking. The order of courses in a meal is not of great urgency: if the main dish is ready first, it will be eaten first and the fish course may follow later. A fish soup may precede a main course of fish that may be garnished with a shrimp sauce: the duplication matters little. Frequently a robust red wine is served with a main course of poached cod and mustard sauce. Though unorthodox, the combination is delicious!

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