From food trucks to Michelin-star restaurants, Oslo’s food scene is thriving. Here’s a guide to the must-try dishes in Norway’s cosmopolitan capital city.
With an abundance of fresh seafood, several acclaimed New Nordic restaurants and a booming street-food movement, Oslo is the ideal city break for foodies. “Oslo is a modern but small city compared to Copenhagen or Stockholm, so it might be slightly more difficult to find traditional food here,” says food writer, blogger and author of two cookbooks Helle Øder Valebrokk. “The food scene is mostly New Nordic and international, but you will find hidden gems serving Norwegian food. Thanks to the New Nordic food movement, however, young chefs are now seeing traditional Norwegian food in a new light.”
“Heart-shaped waffles are typically Norwegian,” says Helle. “We eat them with sour cream and strawberry jam, or with a lot of farm butter and delicious brown cheese.” Thinner and softer than the American version, Norwegian waffles can be enjoyed all day long and are served almost everywhere in Oslo. Try them from much-loved waffle cafe Haralds Vaffel, which originally operated out of owner Jonathan Larsson’s bedroom window. “This is one of the few places in Oslo you can get the weird combo of waffles and sausage with fried onions, ketchup and mustard,” she says. “This is a speciality from the town of Moss.”
Skrei is a large species of cod that migrates every year from the Barents Sea to the coast of Northern Norway to spawn between January and April. “It’s the fittest, strongest and leanest cod in the world, with pearly white flesh,” says Helle. Once Norway’s most important export, dried cod was a valuable commodity during the Viking Age. Indeed, it’s due to skrei that people were able to survive so far north in such a harsh climate. “Skrei is traditionally eaten as roe and boiled skrei livers with steamed carrots and potatoes. Lofoten Fiskerestaurant in Aker Brygge by the fjord is the place to visit for fresh seafood. The food is excellent, and the view is beautiful.”
“This hearty soup is made with fish stock, pieces of fish, mussels and shrimp, and then thickened with heavy cream, which is flavoured with dill and root vegetables,” says Helle. A traditional Norwegian dish usually eaten with bread and butter, kremet fiskesuppe is served all over Oslo. The best place to sample this meal is at the upmarket Engebret Café, located in an 18th-century building in the oldest part of the city, Kvadraturen. “This is the oldest restaurant in Oslo,” she says. “It used to be a place for actors and theatre-goers coming from the Christiania Theatre opposite the restaurant. This whole area of Oslo is so beautiful, with art galleries, small shops and nice restaurants.”
Norwegians love hotdogs so much that they eat an estimated 450 million each year. “It’s the number one street food in Norway,” says Helle. Hotdogs are served in a bun or lompe (tortilla made with potato), usually topped with fried onions, ketchup and mustard, and found at newsstands across the city. “Some people are crazy and even put shrimp salad on top of it,” she says, laughing. “Syverkiosken is a hole-in-the-wall sausage stand that offers home-made sausages and a wide range of toppings. You can even get a waffle and sausage combination.”
One of Norway’s oldest dishes, rømmegrøt og spekemat (thick porridge) was often made to celebrate festive holidays. Many Norwegian homes still leave a bowl out for hungry elves on Christmas Eve. “It’s really more of a thick soup made with sour cream, whole milk, wheat flour, butter and salt,” says Helle. “Some eat this with butter, sugar and cinnamon. Traditionally, it’s eaten with cured meat.” Try it while overlooking one of the best views of Oslo at Frognerseteren, which is a short two minutes’ walk from the metro station of the same name. “This old traditional building is a must-visit for all travellers coming to Oslo for the first time,” she says.
“We used to be part of Denmark, and this is a tradition of theirs we have kept,” says Helle. Smørbrøds are usually eaten as a casual lunch at home, restaurants and on special occasions. These traditional open-faced sandwiches come with various toppings, including smoked salmon and scrambled eggs or roast beef. For a real treat, try them at the elegant Hotel Bristol. “The buffet of smørbrød is amazing,” she says. “Set in the famous Bibliotekbaren (The Library Bar), this is the place for a posh lunch. Since 1920, musicians, politicians, authors and actors have visited this beautiful venue.”
Meatballs in gravy is a hearty, no-nonsense favourite, often cooked in Norwegian homes. “Sometimes the meatballs are made with elk or reindeer, but lean ground beef is most common,” says Helle. “The dish is served with gravy, lingonberry jam, boiled potatoes and stewed cabbage or mushy peas.” Try it at the charming Restaurant Schrøder, which dates back to 1925. The restaurant is famous for being fictional detective Harry Hole’s favourite hangout in Jo Nesbø’s novels. “It’s decorated with old oil paintings hanging from wooden walls,” she says. “The clientele tend to drink a lot of beer here!”
The ultimate taste of Norwegian summers are shrimp, served in the sunshine with white bread, mayonnaise, dill and lemon. “The shrimp are boiled in saltwater on the boat,” says Helle. “They are cooled, and then served in their shell.” Head to Rådhuskaia just by the City Hall to get them at their freshest. “You can buy freshly cooked and chilled shrimp from the boat, and sit by the fjord and enjoy the catch,” she says. “But a true hidden gem we like to keep to ourselves is Lille Herbern. Take bus number 30 to Herbernveien and then a two-minute boat ride to the small island of Lille Herbern. Book a table outside and order the shrimp and other locally caught shellfish. It’s paradise on earth!”
This traditional Portuguese dish is made using Norwegian cod, which is flattened, dried and salted. It is then commonly exported to countries such as Portugal and Spain. “The famous red bacalao dish made with olive oil, onions, tomatoes and olives is not originally Norwegian. It was introduced to the west coast of Norway by Basque traders coming to Ålesund at the beginning of the 19th century,” says Helle. “They brought the ingredients for the bacalao, and in return, they bought the fish.” Now visitors to Oslo can try the Portuguese version of bacalao at Fiskeriet Youngstorget, a restaurant inside a fishmonger’s shop on Youngstorget. “It serves some of the best seafood in Oslo, including a really good red bacalao, traditional creamy fish soup, cured and smoked salmon, fishcakes and beautiful cod tongues.”
“This [fårikål] is the official national dish of Norway,” says Helle. “It’s a simple dish made using pieces of lamb or mutton with bone, cabbage, black pepper and water, cooked until the meat falls off the bones and served with boiled potatoes.” It is only available in traditional restaurants such as Stortorvets Gjæstgiveri during autumn after Fårikål Feast Day, which is celebrated on the last Thursday in September. “The building dates from the early-18th century, and rumour has it that it’s haunted and strange things happen after closing time.”