Magnificent landscapes, climatic contrasts and man, alone, pitted against the crushing forces of nature. All of these are part of the fascination that Norway holds for visitors from other countries. But nature and climate are more than
merely the basis for memorable experiences, they are the very source of the ingredients from which Norwegian culinary traditions have
evolved. Norway's long and varied coastline offers ample waters for both
"wild" and farm-raised fish. The
slow ripening process of everything that grows during the light Nordic summer imparts an extraordinary aroma
to berries, fruits and vegetables, and the animals that graze on the succulent
green grass provide meat with a distinctive full flavour.
Norway is a modern, urbanized nationwith a booming petroleum and technology
industry. However, with only four million inhabitants spread throughout
an area the size of Italy, it goes without saying that unspoiled nature
of the country.
Although many eyebrows are raised when Norwegian culinary artists win international awards today, it is not the first time that foreigners have
been impressed by Norwegian fare. When papal envoy Cardinal Wilhelm of Sabina
came to Bergen
to attend the coronation of King Håkon V in 1247, he had misgivings about the food and drink, having been forewarned. However, in his speech following the banquet he lavished praise on the meal he had
Unfortunately, the historical record of the cardinal's speech makes no
mention of the menu, but foreign visitors to Norway in the 18th and 19th
centuries speak highly of the salmon, fowl, game and strawberries with cream.
These are treats
that most present-day tourists will also encounter, and they don't even have to come to Norway to taste the salmon. "Norwegian
Salmon" has become a familiar delicacy in many countries. Very few
people are aware that salmon exports are a very
recent industry, compared with the export of dried cod, for instance.
Stockfish and lutefisk
On the northernmost coast of Norway, cod has been hung on poles and dried in the wind without salt for more than a thousand years. For more than a millennium this product has been sold to other European countries in order
to bring home
such rare commodities as wine, wheat and honey. They called this fish "stockfish" - or stoccafisso or estocafix
or however they may have written it. A French cookbook manuscript from 1393
explains how boiled stofix should
be eaten with mustard or dipped in butter. However, the fish must first be pounded with a wooden hammer
and then soaked in water for many hours. Adding wood ash lye to the water
makes the fish particularly soft and flavourful. The result of this process
is the celebrated lye fish (lutefisk),
today a Norwegian and Swedish speciality, and as in certain areas of the
USA, closely identified with Norwegian and Swedish immigrants.
Flatbread and vegetables
Admittedly, many past visitors have told of distressing encounters with Norwegian food. A Parisian woman who sampled a particularly unyielding variety of Norwegian flatbread described it as follows: "Norwegian bread has
and size of a plate, and the same consistency." It may not have been baked with the same care everywhere, but the French lady was probably
especially unfortunate on that occasion 150 years ago. Today, at any rate, this crispy, wafer-thin bread is
a distinctive feature of a traditional summer meal in the country.
Many complained about the lack of fresh meat and vegetables. A Frenchman
describing Norway lamented, "It is a dreary country. There is nothing
to eat. Believe me, sir, in the
whole of Bergen there is not a trace of vegetables or fresh meat, no fruit, no pears, no plums!" His criticism was probably justified to a certain extent, as the choice of comestibles at the time was extremely dependent on seasons. Had he come in the
however, he would have found boats laden with apples from the fruit districts along the Hardanger Fjord. Fruit and berries ripen slowly in the Norwegian climate, but this gives them a unique flavour. Thanks to the cool climate
and very few insects,
use of pesticides can also be kept to a minimum. Today Norwegian vegetables, fruit and berries such as Chinese cabbage,
apples, cherries and strawberries are in great demand in many countries due to their high quality. Norway
has always grown tasty
root vegetables which chefs today have become expert at combining in new and exciting ways.
Salmon and bacalao
Almost every visitor raves about Norwegian fish, such as fresh trout
and salmon. Fresh fish is prepared
in a variety of ways, though it is commonly served poached as
Restaurants now also offer a wide range of other types of fish, many of them unattractive in appearance, but with a taste that is difficult to beat.
For hundreds of years, fishermen scorned these species, throwing them back
into the sea. One such fish was the
wolffish, despite the advice of North-Norwegian epicure and baroque poet, Petter Dass, who insisted that one should not
be put off by its appearance.
Another fish that is popular all over the country is cod,
Norwegians prefer to eat as fresh as possible. Thanks to air transport
and modern refrigeration methods, other Europeans too can now enjoy this
gift from the sea. Their forefathers were more familiar with the dried varieties
of cod, such as the stockfish mentioned
earlier, and clipfish, which is
more popular abroad than in Norway. Clipfish is both salted and dried. Formerly,
it was laid out on bare rocks in dry summer weather, but today this drying process takes place in thermostat-regulated drying rooms. Clipfish is
to Portugal, Italy, Spain, South America and the Caribbean, where it is
called bacalao and prepared in hundreds of different ways. In Norway, as a rule, it was simply boiled and served with potatoes until the Spaniards
taught us to use olive oil and
tomatoes. In recent years, however, Norwegian
chefs and gourmets have concocted exciting new
dishes from this traditional ingredient.
Milk - the mother of all dishes
Sour milk cheese (gammelost) is made by boiling milk without adding
rennet as is customary in European cheese production. However, this is just
one of a broad range of cheese products made in this manner. The oldest
were sweet milk dishes, such as gomme, which a lucky visitor may still find in certain rural areas. Special dishes for
weddings and childbirths included rømmegrøt, a sweet, filling sour cream porridge that is a traditional feature of
Norwegian summertime lunches accompanied by flatbread and dried, cured meat.
Brown goat's cheese (geitost) may be one of the most distinctively
Norwegian sandwich toppings today. Foreigners often think it tastes like
caramel and find it difficult
to understand why so many Norwegians include a goat's cheese sandwich in their traditional packed lunches. Several types
of cheese made of cow or goat's milk are exported, primarily to the USA
In earlier days, soured milk was used in the
daily porridge, which was made of water and grain, usually barley or oats, which Norwegians have appreciated
through the ages as much as the Scots and horses. Some people also added milk to beef and pork stews. As it was readily available all over the country,
milk has played a prominent role in Norwegian cooking. Moreover, milk was
used to make butter, one of the most coveted Norwegian "units of currency"
in the days of a barter economy. Butter had such high status that it was
placed on the table as a
decoration at weddings, moulded into large pyramidal sculptures. The original, handcarved wooden moulds can be seen today in
ethnological museums and are a prime example of Norwegian handicrafts.
All the cheeses and dairy products were a natural consequence of the fact that milk could not be kept fresh for any length of time. In this respect
Norway was even worse off than other countries because winters were so long.
only be put out to pasture for a few short summer months.
Norwegians were therefore extremely dependent on dried, smoked, salted and pickled meat. Fresh meat was scarce and thus a luxury. As for cured meats
and sausages, Norway may not have the same abundant selection as Spain,
for instance, but we can boast a unique
national specialty, fenalår, or cured leg of mutton.
Fresh lamb, given a fine, rich flavour by the fragrant summer grass, has become popular for both roasts
and other dishes. In earlier days, the finest meat was reserved for the
wealthier classes, while fresh
mutton for the population at large generally meant the cheapest, fattiest parts from the autumn slaughter, simmered with cabbage and whole peppercorns to make what is now considered a national
However, salted lamb ribs (pinnekjøtt), originally a regional speciality from Western Norway, have also won national
status as Christmas fare. This savoury dish is now to be launched on the
hopefully with proper instructions for steaming and serving
it with mashed rutabaga.
A traditional Christmas dinner generally features roast pork ribs in Eastern Norway, and cod, halibut or lutefish in the coastal districts, even
though migration has virtually erased these culinary boundary lines. The
porridge is still served, but seldom at the main Christmas meal in the evening. More and more Norwegians are turning to turkey, a type
of poultry that has not been as common here as in other countries.
Other Christmas specialities include a variety of sweet and salted delicacies. Head cheese, prepared in the Danish
and German fashion, rather than the French. Mutton roll, a similar dish made of lamb.
Smoked leg of lamb.
Many different types of marinated herring.
Pork sausages and meatballs.
Lutefisk has become an increasingly
popular choice for pre-Christmas festivities.
One of the key components of Norwegian Christmas celebrations are Christmas
biscuits, or cookies, of which a wide variety should be served.
The expression "all seven sorts" clearly evokes the goal of any ambitious housewife
about to embark on her Christmas baking.
Larger cakes, too, have played a prominent role on Norwegian coffee tables. Layer cakes (bløtkaker)
are filled and frosted with whipped cream and jam, while almond macaroon
rings are piled
high in pyramids to make the traditional tower cake called kransekake.
Today, Norway is a major coffee-drinking nation. Up until the last century, however, 90 % of the Norwegian population lived in rural areas, where the
everyday beverage was blande, a mixture of water and sour whey. Those
afford it drank beer before the advent of coffee. On holidays,
however, everyone was to have home-brewed beer, a tradition dating back
to the Viking age - if not earlier. Now modern breweries have more or less
taken over, some even exporting large quantities
It is difficult to cultivate wine grapes this far north, so wine must be imported, but Norway produces a type of spirits called aquavit (akevitt). Distilled from potatoes, it is usually flavoured with caraway. Aquavit and
beer are the
traditional accompaniments to lutefisk, mutton and cabbage and many salted and smoked dishes. The production of "linie akevitt"
is not complete until the liquor has been shipped in casks on Norwegian
vessels on a round-trip to Australia. Its
name refers to the fact that it passes the equator - the Line. Whether or not being rocked by the waves
improves the product has always been a moot point, but no one has ever claimed
It is difficult to define a Norwegian cuisine in the same way we can talk about a French cuisine. Norway has no history of the aristocratic and bourgeois
classes that traditionally have the necessary affluence to develop culinary traditions. Apart from the hotels, our restaurant traditions were limited primarily to a few mountain inns.
Today, however, Norway can boast considerable diversity on the culinary front. Having travelled abroad, often as charter tourists, more and more people are eager to sample foreign cuisines.
It has become much easier to find proper ingredients since immigrants from other cultures opened their shops in Norwegian towns. Chinese restaurants are no longer the only ethnic alternative,
now that Mexican, Indian, Korean, Indonesian and Creole establishments offer new and tantalizing culinary experiences.
The process of internationalization has also brought other trends to Norway. As in many other Western countries, foreign visitors to Norway will now find a wide variety of snack bars and
international chain restaurants. And a visit to a supermarket will reveal both semi-processed and fully prepared dishes, ready to be popped into the microwave oven.
A reaction to the streamlined, standardized fast foods is a tendencyto return to long-standing Norwegian food traditions. In rural areas, people are once again consulting their grandmother's
recipe books, and a number of national dishes such as fermented fish (rakfisk), sour milk cheese (gammelost) and salted lamb ribs (pinnekjøtt) have again become popular.
The new generation of creative Norwegian chefs, who are proving as talented as the other European culinary elite, focuses on what is distinctively Norwegian. Applying the very best methods of
classic French cuisine, these chefs are devising innovative menus that showcase Norwegian ingredients. Some of these products are among the best in the world, and are finding their way to the
kitchens of top chefs throughout the world.
This recipe book is produced by the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and is copied
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