Gastronomically speaking, 2017 has been a good year for Norway. New, promising restaurants have opened not only in Oslo, but in other key cities as well – some of them already gaining Michelin stars and critical acclaim. But as a true foodie knows, a country’s culinary identity is so much more than its collection of restaurants. To really understand it, you have to go out there in the nature: learn how to forage its bounty, and how these fresh ingredients translate into the traditional dishes that have been gracing the tables of locals for decades.
Brunost, or mysost, is more than just cheese: it’s an institution for Norwegians, and it would be wise of you to treat it as such. For instance, don’t comment that it doesn’t really taste like cheese – in fact, don’t even expect it to taste like cheese. Brunost is more like a salty fudge, and to appreciate it in all its creamy richness it would be better to pair it with sweet things, like croissants, waffles (melted on top of them, of course) and buttered toast with strawberry jam. In any case, to cut the perfect slice you’re going to need an ostehøvel.
Reindeer are often used in traditional Norse dishes and stews. The most popular one in Norway is called finnbiff, a hearty stew where the reindeer meat is cut into shavings and browned in a pot alongside bacon and mushrooms. Water is added, 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, flavorful and satisfying – and the meat is not chewy at all (the way game meat can be).
This is not the Norwegian way of saying, ‘tout your own horn’. Although you would be excused to do so, if you indeed manage to bake a suksessterte, or suksesskake. This almond-meringue-based, custard-cream-filled treat is traditionally served in special occasions like christenings, birthdays and confirmation ceremonies (the coming of age rite for youngsters). There are many recipes online, but our favourite one comes from the food-blog Thanks for the Food and it doubles the recipe to make a two-tiered cake. Success!
One of the things you need to understand about Norway is that nature belongs to everyone. It’s basically ‘Allemannsretten,’ every man’s right to roam freely, hike, ski and camp, pick flowers, chop wood for fire, and perhaps most importantly, forage mushrooms and berries (we’ll get to the berries later). More than 1000 different species of mushrooms can be found in the Norwegian forests and only 10-15 of them can be deadly (rule of thumb: if it’s red, don’t touch it!), but chanterelle are definitely among the most sought after. Golden-yellow, delicate and oh, so buttery, chanterelle are best enjoyed on their own, lightly fried on a pan with (you guessed it) butter – but you can also use them to accompany meaty dishes or risottos.
They’re not called ‘highland gold’ for nothing: cloudberries (‘molter’ in Norwegian) are not commercially grown, so the only way to get your hands on them is to forage them or grow them yourself (just know that it will take seven years). They start as white, but then turn into a bright red – and they’re completely ripe once they get an orange hue. Just be aware that you can only pick them from places that are not fenced, or risk the ire (and occasionally, shotguns) of local farmers. If you manage to get some highland gold for your trouble, you’ll be rewarded with their wine-like taste that goes exceptionally well, and is traditionally served with, cream.
Pinnekjøtt is one of those things you’ll either love or hate – but Norwegians love it and you definitely need to try it. It’s a traditional dish from the West coast of the country: dried and salted sheep ribs that you have to soak in water for at least a day before actually cooking them (sometimes more). Then you cover the bottom of a big pot with sticks of birch wood (Pinnekjøtt literally means ‘stick meat’ in Norwegian), layer the meat on top of them and add water carefully: it should cover the sticks of wood, but not the meat. Then you steam-boil it for 2-3 hours until it’s so tender it can be pulled apart – and serve it with boiled potatoes and mashed rutabaga. It’s a big holiday food in Norway, so learning how to make it (or even attempting to) will earn you major points with the locals.
Lutefisk dates back to the Vikings and, legend has it, was first created by mistake (apparently the Vikings burned down a fishing village, along with its wooden racks of drying cod). To make lutefisk you 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, but since it’s such an integral part of their heritage they’ve been searching for ways to improve it. Enter bacon. Nowadays lutefisk bacon is so popular, that if you go to the supermarket you’ll find pieces of bacon specifically marketed for ‘lutefisk’. The pairing is actually perfect, but the best way to do it justice is to go to a restaurant where they know their ‘lutefisk bacon’, like the Gamle Raadhus in Oslo.
For Norwegians living near fjords, eating tons of shrimp in the summer is like a bucket of popcorn at the movies for the rest of the world: the perfect snack for the occasion. The simplest way to have them is, of course, on a piece of toast with butter and a slice of lettuce but there’s also the fancier option of skagentoast (invented by a Swede chef in the 50s but served throughout Norway nowadays) which involves dill, mayo and boiled egg, chopped finely together into a salad. Enjoy!