Smoked Salmon to Stokfisk: The Traditional Foods of Norway


If two of the mainstays of the traditional Norwegian diet are widely known and liked in North America — the country’s distinctively nutty and slightly sweet Jarlsberg cheese and the salmon raised in the floating farms that dot Norway’s coastline — the classic cooking of this long, fjord-cragged Scandinavian nation remains little-known. Those planning on visiting may want to acquaint themselves with the popular dishes of Norway before being put to the test on the ground.

Fish: Poached, Grilled, Salted, Smoked…

A selection of salted, dried, and marinated fishes at the Bergen fish market
A selection of salted, dried, and marinated fishes at the Bergen fish market - iStock/Victor Pelaez

A variety of factors explain the simple, thrifty, wholesome character of classic Norwegian cooking. The first is the country’s almost 16,000-mile-long coastline, which has made it one of the world’s greatest fishing nations for centuries. Then there is the country’s deeply ingrained instinct toward self-sufficiency, due to its harsh climate and sparsely populated landscape once ill-served by transport, as well as the fact that Norway remains outside the European Union. Food security remains a national priority to this day.

Stokfisk, or dried salted cod, is one of the most typical Norwegian staples. As a nutritious and permanently conserved product, it found its way into the kitchens of many other countries as well, especially those of Spain, Italy and Portugal, where it remains popular. The pretty little port of Alesund in western Norway is still the salt-cod capital of the world, and local restaurants take pride in serving the fish in a variety of different preparations. When stokfish is soaked in water with lye, it becomes a profoundly Norwegian preparation with a jelly-like consistency known as lutefisk. Though the locals revel in this strong-tasting food, it is, needless to say, very much of an acquired taste for the uninitiated.

Aside from the delightful and ubiquitous smoked salmon and tiny sweet shrimp served at breakfast, lunch and dinner, other seafood preparations include rakfisk, trout that has been salted and fermented for several months, and sursild, pickled herring served in a vinegar or sweet-and-sour sauce flavored with mustard, tomato or sherry. Milk-based fish soups are popular, as is fresh cod, often served poached with butter sauce, potatoes, bacon, cod roe and liver. Whale meat is historically consumed in Norway as well, but it has recently been declining in popularity.

Beef, Pork and Reindeer

Smalahove served at Christmas dinner
Smalahove served at Christmas dinner - Flickr/paslotte

In addition to such Scandinavian classics as kjøttkaker (ground beef patties seasoned with onion, salt and pepper) and kjøttboller (meatballs), Norwegians love pork chops and roasts. Rather more exotic moose, caribou and reindeer are often accompanied by a garnish of lingonberry jelly or sauce. Pinnekjøtt is a popular western Norwegian dish of braised lamb or mutton ribs served with potato or rutabaga purée, and smalahove is perhaps the country’s most challenging dish. Traditionally served at Christmas, it’s made from a dried sheep’s head that is boiled for three hours before serving. Not surprisingly, it is consumed with beer, akevitt (aquavit) or both.

Baked Goods

Traditional Norwegian brown cheese <i>geitost</i> on freshly baked brown bread
Traditional Norwegian brown cheese geitost on freshly baked brown bread - iStock/Sarah Bossert

The Norwegians are also great bakers. Excellent whole-grain flat bread is often consumed with locally made cheeses like geitost, or brown cheese, which is not really a cheese but rather the caramelized lactose from goat’s milk. And in delicious cakes, pies and pastries, expect to see locally grown bilberries, lingonberries, cloudberries, strawberries, rhubarb and apples.

By Hideaway Report Staff

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