Food Culture and Tradition

Food, People and Culture Resources

Norwegian Foods



Glasses of cold milk, sour milk, and buttermilk are enjoyed by all ages at all meals and often as a refreshment. Many varieties of cheeses, mostly made from sheep’s and goats milk, range from creamy and sweet to the powerful gammel ost, a cheese so aged and odiferous that it is always kept on its own covered plate.

Most commonly used is the caramel-colored sweetish goat cheese appearing at almost every meal and often blended with a roux, and smoothed with currant jelly to make a sauce for meats. A Norwegian kitchen is never without a supply of sour cream, for this is used in fruits, vegetables, stews, soups, and in pancakes, waffles, and baked goods. Even rommegrot, the traditional ending to a meal and an indispensable dish at country weddings, is made basically from flour-thickened sour cream and served with a dribble of clear melted butter and a drift of cinnamon and crunchy brown sugar.


Apples, pears, and plums are the staple fruits, with some apricots and peaches being grown at Sjoholt. But when the wild berries ripen, almost half the population declares a holiday from work to attend to the urgent business of picking berries: lingonberries, cloudberries, blueberries, cranberries, and tiny wild strawberries. What cannot be eaten in short order is preserved in freezers or packed in jars as sweet preserves or sauces to be enjoyed all winter. Fruits, especially the variety of sweet and tart berries, are enjoyed sometimes slightly thickened and sweetened into puddings, enfolded into pancakes, layered in cakes, sprinkled into waffle batter, and frequently eaten as a side dish with roasted meats and game.
Norwegians enjoy all the commonly stored winter vegetables such as cabbages and potatoes, beets and carrots. But they especially savor young fresh vegetables in season, serving them simply boiled and lightly glazed with fresh butter, sour cream, and fresh dill sprigs. Freshly made sauerkraut still crisp and crunchy with caraway seeds, wilted cucumber salads, and bright tart pickled beets are year-round favorites.


Norwegians enjoy many meats, especially lamb and mutton either fresh or salted, dried, smoked, and eaten hot or cold. Pork (mainly in the form of ham, bacon, salted pork, and sausages), beef, veal, goose and duck appear less often on the menu.

Even more than lamb and mutton, Norwegians love fish. The almost endless varieties of fresh fish – salmon, trout, mackerel, flounder, herring, eel, turbot, halibut, and cod as well as shrimp and crayfish – are matched by the almost endless methods of preparation – salting, smoking, drying, marinating, poaching. The early dinner, simple but hot, is most likely to be poached fresh fish with a mustard or horse radish sauce accompanied by boiled vegetables, or a simple mutton and vegetable stew like faar I kaal. There is surely no shortage of protein, for meats and fish may be consumed not only for dinner but often at lunch, as part of a sandwich, and frequently, together with cereals and eggs, as part of frokost, the ample Norwegian breakfast. Legumes are not widely used, except the dried peas so popular for soup. Almonds and almond paste are usual bakery ingredients.


A great variety of breads and rolls – crisp, dried, chewy crusty even soft and light – make their appearance at almost every meal. Most popular is the crisp dimpled circle of rye bread called flatbrod which is still made in huge quantities, often as a communal effort. Norwegian women take great pride in their baking and even though guests may drop in unexpectedly, there will always be crispy cookies and at least one cake to accompany the inevitable good strong coffee. Cooked and cold cereals are also very much a part of the popular frokost which also includes cheeses, meats, and fish. The Norwegians are firm believers in a hearty breakfast.


Butter is not only a cooking fat and a spread, it is also used as a flavoring and an ingredient in almost every dish. Cheeses, milks, cream, and sour cream are all rich in butterfat and skimmed milk is considered suitable for anything but humans. Smaller amounts of other fats such as rendered duck or goose fat, salt pork and lard are also used in cooking.


The Norwegian preference is not for sweets, but an undeniable sweet tooth does exist. Although candies are eaten as well as cakes and pastries, they are seldom richly iced or syrupy. Most baked goods are only slightly sweet and coffee is usually preferred strong and black.


Natural tastes predominate in Norwegian cuisine, but there is a definite predilection for salted foods. Salty cheeses, salted and pickled vegetables, salt-cured meats and fish are a daily part of the diet. Only moderate amounts of other seasonings are used: bay leaves, peppercorns, caraway seeds, mustard, horse radish, dill, thyme, and of course, butter and sour cream are liberally used.


The general Scandinavian custom of skaal is as prevalent in Norway as it is in Sweden and Denmark: the raised glass of chilled Aquavit, the firm meeting of eyes followed by a decisive gulp and then the triumphant raising of the emptied glass and the final meeting of the eyes. Frequently this is followed by chasers of beer and most often the whole ritual precedes a meal and is carried on throughout the dining. The final bottomless cups of coffee are perhaps a token attempt at sobriety. It is difficult to say for which of these beverages the Norwegian has the greatest capacity. Suffice it to say that all are consumed in Norway in quantities unrivaled in North America.

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