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When the weather drops to -17 degrees Celsius, you’d better start eating. Traditional Norwegian cuisine is all about hearty stews, rich meaty flavours and taking advantage of all that nature has to offer in order to create dishes that will keep you warm in the harsh winters. Start with these classics below.
Speaking of using all that nature has to offer, Norwegians are big on game meat – reindeer being among the favourite and often used in traditional Norse dishes and stews. The most popular reindeer dish is a hearty stew called finnbiff, in which the meat is cut into fine shavings and browned in a pot alongside bacon and mushrooms. Water is poured in, creating a broth for the meat and vegetables to simmer in and, finally, crushed juniper berries, sour cream, thyme, milk and brunost are added to the mix. The end result is rich, flavourful and not chewy at all (as game meat can be sometimes).
It has been called the ‘national dish of Norway’ (although, if we’re being real, the national dish of Norway is that frozen pizza Norwegians seem to love so much). It’s a mutton stew that’s quite easy to prepare, as cabbage and mutton is layered in a big pot along with black peppercorns, salt and, in some recipes, wheat flour. Then, the ingredients are covered with water and simmered until the meat is very tender. It’s served with potatoes on the side.
Norway’s obsession with pølse started in the 1950s and is still going strong. Although grilled sausages are mostly a summer staple (and, of course, you can enjoy a hot dog, called ‘pølse med lompe’, any time of the year), winter calls for a heavier approach. Sausages, very often made from lamb meat, are used to make pølse gryte, which literally means ‘sausage in a pot’. The dish can vary significantly depending on where in Norway you are, from resembling more of a soup with vegetables (like the Lammepølse dish at Bergen’s Pingvinen) to a more sturdy, meaty dish accompanied with ribs and coleslaw (like one of the specialties of Svalbard’s Huset). In any case, you’ll never think of sausages as just boring grill food again.
Sure, pyttipanne is actually Swedish (or pyttipanna, as they call it over there), but it’s huge in Norway as well. It literally translates to ‘small pieces in the pan’ and is meant to be a creative way to utilise food leftovers from previous days, so it can basically include everything you have in the fridge. The most ‘standard’ version you’ll see being sold at Norwegian supermarkets has potatoes, carrots, onions and sausage – and it’s great with a fried egg on top. If you think this sounds like the perfect hangover food, then you’re right.
Pinnekjøtt, a traditional dish from the west coast of the country, literally means ‘stick meat’. Think dried and salted sheep ribs (soaked in water for at least a day before actually cooking them) that are steam-boiled in a big pot for hours, layered on top of sticks of birch wood. The meat is supposed to be so tender that it can be pulled apart and it’s traditionally served with boiled potatoes and mashed rutabaga. Basically, it’s one of those things you’ll either love or hate.
First things first: when Norwegians say ‘meat cake’, they don’t mean an actual cake. In fact, Norwegians tend to call everything, from a beef or fish patty to waffle cones and traditional sweets, ‘cake’. The overuse of the word aside, meat cakes (or kjøttkaker in Norwegian) are a staple on every family table and are usually topped with brown sauce and some kind of puree – usually potato, sweet potato or broccoli.
Lutefisk dates back to the Vikings. Legend has it that it was first created by accident, when the Vikings burned down a fishing village, along with its wooden racks of drying cod. When it rained afterwards, the fish that was covered in ashes became soaked in a kind of slush – and when the Vikings left and the villagers ventured back to their village, they discovered the fish had actually softened and didn’t taste bad at all. Nowadays, you don’t need Vikings to make lutefisk: you just soak dried cod in a lye solution for several days to rehydrate it, then rinse it with cold water and boil it (or bake it). It has an almost gelatinous texture and a flavour that many modern Norwegians cannot quite palate, so they often pair it with bacon. Our advice? Don’t try to make it at home. Find a restaurant that knows their lutefisk, like the Gamle Raadhus in Oslo.