Nordic Adventures: Exploring Norway’s Culinary Landscape
Foods You Must Try in Norway
No, it’s not all a Viking’s diet of cured meat and potatoes. Traditional cuisine in Norway is wide-ranging and reflective of the country’s geography – sea, mountains and lots of wilderness. Other Scandinavian countries have similar dishes, but Norway has some things that are all its own.
• Smoked salmon. Salmon grow more slowly in Norway’s cold waters, giving it a wonderfully rich flavour. You really haven’t had salmon until you’ve tried Norwegian smoked salmon, or røkt laksin. It is the country’s single most important contribution to international cuisine. Did you know that the Japanese didn’t use salmon in sushi until it was introduced to them by Norway? Every restaurant and household has its own way of making it. Eat it on its own or with brown bread and butter, scrambled eggs, dill, mustard sauce – pretty much anything. A popular variation is gravlaks, where the salmon is cured for 24 hours in sugar, salt and dill.
• Hot dog. No, this isn’t the typical frankfurter on a roll. It’s pølse, a sausage made from beef, pork or reindeer meat and wrapped in lompe, a flat, tortilla-like bread made from flour and water. Ask for pølse med lompe and add your favourite condiments. You can get it at kiosks, filling stations, IKEA, around train stations – wherever you’d expect to find classic Norwegian street food.
• Meatballs and meat-cakes. Known respectively as kjøttboller and kjøttkaker, these delectable chunks of meat – either in the shape of balls or large cakes – are often smothered in gravy or cream sauce and eaten with mashed or boiled potatoes, stewed peas, cabbage or carrots on the side.
• Mutton stew. It’s no accident that this is the national dish of Norway. Long, cold winters in Norway gave birth to fårikål, a hearty and simple stew that is guaranteed to warm you up and keep you going during the frigid winter weather. Cabbage and mutton are layered in a big pot along with black peppercorns and salt (sometimes wheat flour is added to thicken the sauce). It’s then covered with water and simmered until the meat is very tender. Potatoes are served on the side.
• Lamb. Known in Norway as pinnekjøtt, the lamb is first cured and then cold air-dried on racks. The ribs are sliced and soaked in water, then steamed over birch sticks. Pinnekjøtt is often served with rutabaga, potatoes and beer. It is the traditional Christmas dinner on many tables in Norway.
• Dried cod. Called lutefisk by Norwegians, the fish is soaked in lye and then rinsed thoroughly in cold water. This dish is served with copious amounts of bacon, mashed peas, boiled potatoes and golden syrup.
• Trout fillets. People who lived inland didn’t have access to the ocean, so they fished for trout in countryside lakes and rivers. Rakfisk is fermented fillets of freshwater trout that are salted, layered in wooden barrels and covered with spruce branches. The fish is left to ferment for months – maybe even a year – and then eaten uncooked. The dish is often served on soft flatbread spread with butter and sour cream, with onion and beetroot salad on the side. The pungent smell can be mitigated with enough sour cream and beer.
• Potato dumplings. These are made from mashed potato and flour and slowly simmered in stock with fatty cuts of sheep or pork. They’re usually served with bacon and brown butter. Many restaurants offer raspeballer as a special every Thursday afternoon.
• Sheep’s head. No list of Norwegian cuisine would be complete without smalahove. Originally eaten by the lower classes, this traditional Norwegian dish has found its way on to restaurant menus across the country. It’s a salted and smoked sheep’s head, boiled and served with potatoes and kohlrabi mash. The fatty bits around the ears, eyes and cheeks are considered the best parts. The brain is usually removed, but sometimes it is left in and eaten separately. If you don’t like your food staring back at you, you might want to pass on this one.
Dining Out in Oslo
The city of Oslo comprises a number of different neighbourhoods. While each has its own charm and personality, a few are known for their fair share of great restaurants.
• Aker Brygge used to be an old run-down area consisting of wharves and shipyards. It’s now Oslo’s newest trendy neighbourhood and features some of the city’s best shops, theaters, restaurants and cultural attractions.
• Once a working-class neighbourhood, Grünerløkka has become the city’s bohemian counter culture district. Immigrants who came in the 1980s and 1990s brought their own culture and food, resulting in some outstanding fusion restaurants. Local cafés and bars are also popular with foodies, hipsters and the young and trendy crowd.
• If you have a taste for reasonably-priced Asian or Middle Eastern food, head to Gamle Oslo, a large borough east of the city centre. There you can also take in the remains of the old medieval city.
• The Grønland district, while not known for lots of sightseeing attractions, is where many Oslovians go for affordable ethnic dining.
In Norway, coffee isn’t just something to keep you warm during the long, Nordic winter. It’s a way of life. Nine out of ten people drink it, and the average Norwegian enjoys four cups a day. It’s no surprise, then, that great java can be found in numerous coffee shops throughout the city. World-class baristas import, roast and grind coffee beans with meticulous care and admirable devotion to their craft.
The preferred brew is light roast – lighter than most of us are accustomed to – and many feel that it is best served black and slightly cooled in order to bring out the sweetness. It is especially suitable for single-origin coffee, and it brings out the fruity flavors and unique characteristics and nuances that tend to be overshadowed by darker roasts. Your cup of joe may come in a bespoke ceramic mug on a handmade wooden tray, or if you prefer iced coffee, it may be served cube-free in a wine glass. As in other countries, coffee culture has exploded in Norway over the past 20 years, and Oslovians take their java very seriously. It’s well worth the time to check out the rich coffee scene in Oslo.
If you’re looking for a fun evening out, Oslo’s nightlife scene is rich, lively and amazingly diverse. Many establishments stay open until 2:30 or 3:00 am on weekends, and the compact layout of the city along with its interconnecting inner neighborhoods means it’s ideal for pub crawling. The best bar scene can be found in Thorvald Meyers gate and the surrounding streets in Grünerløkka, as well as the Torggata strip west of the bridge that crosses the Akerselva. If you want something close to the city center, check out Youngstorget, and the developments around Aker Brygge have livened up the after-hours activity around the waterfront. If your mood is telling you to find something low-key and quiet, you’ll find some ideal places around Ullevålsveien in the St. Hanshaugen district.
Many Oslovians engage in forspill (literally, “foreplay”) before hitting the town. Okay, it’s not what it sounds like. They pay a visit to a local liquor store (Vinmonopolet, the only company in the country allowed to sell anything stronger than beer), pick up some wine or spirits at cheaper prices than they pay in a bar, and throw a few back at home or in a nearby park. So, if you do the same – and you’ve already found your happy place before you arrive at the watering hole of your choice – you’ll fit right in with the locals.
It’s common to find various games in Oslo drinking establishments, such as shuffleboard and ping pong. One bar even has an entire mini-golf course. It’s an added element that helps patrons loosen up, laugh and lose their inhibitions, and then they’re more than ready to socialize with acquaintances both old and new.
One more thing: bars and clubs in Oslo have a sort of unwritten dress code, and patrons are expected to be well turned out. While you don’t have to show up in a tuxedo or ball gown, don’t come in your hiking boots or fishing duds.
Get Your Hygge On
You’ve probably heard of the Scandinavian concept of hygge. It’s difficult to convey the exact idea in English; it essentially describes the feeling of being really, truly comfortable and relaxed. Hygge carries a strong sense of nostalgia. Think candlelight, hot spiced wine by a warm fire and cosy evenings reminiscent of simpler days of long ago. Dive into Norway’s wonderful and unique culinary landscape and discover what hygge is all about.