10 foods to try in Norway

  • By André Blomberg-Nygård - Restaurant critic

Make your trip to Norway unforgettable with our guide to the dishes and delicacies you must try at least once, including fermented fish and sheep's head...

Boats anchored in Oslo harbour, Norway, on a sunny day

Don't leave Norway without trying…

Kjøttkaker
This simple dish is common throughout the country and many families eat it weekly. Minced meat is seasoned and kneaded with a variety of ingredients, such as onions or rusk, before it is formed into small cakes and pan-fried. These are then simmered in gravy and served with either mashed peas or creamed cabbage. This staple is experiencing something of a renaissance after being sidelined by trendier imports like pizza and tacos over the years.


Lefse
Norwegians love this sweetened variety of the traditional soft flatbread with a cup of coffee. It is slathered with a blend of butter, sugar and cinnamon, then meticulously folded or rolled and cut into portions so that it's easy to carry. The need to quickly get back into the fields after dinner perhaps necessitated the easy, portable nature of this dessert and, to this day, you can grab one to go on ferries around the country and in well stocked grocery stores.

Lefse. Photo credit: iStock


Klippfisk
Spanish fishermen came up with this way of preserving fish for the long journey back from the North Sea. Salted, dried and pressed cod is well known as the star of the Iberian dish bacalao and you can come across fine examples of that in Norway, too, particularly in the northern parts of the west coast. However, it is also used to great effect in the dish plukkfisk where the salty fish is boiled and picked from the bone before being folded into creamy mashed potato.

Klippfisk


Pinnekjøtt
This hearty meal of salted, air-dried rib of sheep is traditionally served on Christmas Eve. The ribs are rehydrated, steamed over birch sticks and served with mashed kohlrabi. It originates from the rolling valleys of the west coast where cattle farming is all but impossible yet sheep are plentiful. The rich, salty taste is balanced by the inherent sweetness of the kohlrabi, which makes the dish rounder in flavour.

Pinnekjøtt. Photo credit: Matprat Mari Svenningsen


Svele
Originating on the west coast, this batter-based cake has gained popularity throughout the country in the last 40 years. Unlike the American pancakes they resemble, svele is usually an afternoon treat with coffee, eaten warm from the pan. They're served buttered and covered with anything sweet from syrup to uniquely Norwegian brown cheese. The use of salt of hartshorn (ammonium bicarbonate) and baking soda as raising agents give these cakes their characteristic flavour.

Sveler. Photo credit: Matpratn Kim Holthe


Raspeballer
This dense ball of mashed potato and flour is slowly simmered in stock with fatty cuts of sheep or pork. It's usually served with thick cubes of pan-fried bacon and lots of brown butter. Many restaurants serve it as a special every Thursday afternoon. However, at its core, it is a heavy-duty farmer's dish. One can only assume it was designed to keep the workforce insulated during the harsh Norwegian winter. The result is a glorious mix of fat and salt that activates all of the brain’s pleasure receptors.

Raspeball. Photo credit: Matprat Astrid Hals


Rakfisk
These fermented fillets of freshwater trout hail from the landlocked parts of the country. They are salted, layered in wooden barrels and covered with spruce branches before being left to ferment for months. It is most commonly enjoyed on the soft flatbread lefse (see above) which is spread with butter and soured cream and served alongside an onion and beetroot salad. The pungency of the fish can be overwhelming, but with liberal amounts of butter and soured cream, it's well worth trying!

Rakfisk. Photo credit: Cathrine Dokken


Lutefisk
This festive dish of dried cod soaked in lye (a strong alkali) goes all the way back to the 16th century – it's mentioned in early literature as being favoured by royalty. The process of making it is complex, but in essence a soak in lye before the second of three cold-water rinses changes the appearance and texture of the fish (making it springy). All of the caustic lye is removed by the time you're served it, usually with generous amounts of bacon, mashed peas, boiled potatoes and golden syrup.

Lutefisk. Photo credit: iStock


Bergensk fiskesuppe
This delicate and subtle fish soup from Bergen often rivals the more upfront and powerful bouillabaisse of Marseille. It's traditionally made with a light fish stock based on local small pollock. Double cream is added to the concentrated stock for a silky soup served with small fluffy fish balls made of finely ground haddock, cod and pollock. Egg yolk, soured cream and a touch of vinegar are added once it is removed from the heat to give a characteristically rich yet sharp flavour.

Bergen Fish Soup. Photo credit Bonjwing Lee


Smalahove
Feeling adventurous? This is a salted and smoked sheep's head, boiled and served with potatoes and the omnipresent kohlrabi mash. As with many Norwegian foods, the flavour is smoky and salty enough to require liberal amounts of beer to wash it down and this rustic delicacy was traditionally paired with a home brew. Although it has found its way onto restaurant menus in recent years, it's still best enjoyed in a high quality drinking hole. If you are brave enough to try it, the fatty bits around the ears and eyes are considered the tastiest.

Photo credit: Sven Ove Bøe.

André Blomberg-Nygård is, in his own words, an outspoken self-taught chef and globe-trotting food pundit. He only stops eating long enough to let you know what he’s thinking. He's the long serving and famously unforgiving restaurant critic of Norway’s largest newspaper Verdens Gan. 

Comments, questions and tips

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Oivinm
12th Aug, 2017
It's not kohlrabi, it's swede (rutabaga) that we mash... Really now, how do you even mash a kohlrabi. The misunderstanding comes from the Norwegian word for swede (kålrabi), I'm sure.
zvalentia
7th Aug, 2017
This is a joke, right? I live in Norway & I can tell you for a fact Waffles + Jam as well as a few cookies are the only good 'treats' here. Do NOT eat the sheep's head!!!
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