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This page was last updated by Carolynne White March 30, 2001


Even the potato, thought of as almost as

Norwegian as brown goats' cheese, originally arrived from abroad. Norwegians

celebrated the potato's 250th anniversary last year.


What food, then, is Norwegian? Asked which dish we think of first as Norwegian,

65 per cent of us reply meatcakes, while 36 per cent think of lamb and cabbage

stew and 23 per cent reply cod. A nationwide survey carried out in January 1994,

in connection with the Government's promotion "Competitive Strategies for

Norwegian Food", showed distinct regional preferences where dishes are

concerned. While meatcakes rank first in all regions, westerners rank potato

dumplings second, and Oslo-dwellers rank "lutefisk" (dried cod steeped in lye)

third, just ahead of dried mutton ribs and fresh cod.


On the home front, the approach of Christmas is signalled by the blended smells

of exotic spices and goodies in the oven, which at Christmas means gingersnaps,

doughnuts, cones and all the other traditional cakes and cookies which are a must

for most people at Christmas: many families still call for the traditional "7 kinds".


Most families also stick to special Christmas dinner traditions. Along the coast, the

main dish at home on Christmas Eve is often fresh cod or halibut or lutefisk, while

in eastern Norway many prefer pork ribs with pork sausage patties and Christmas

sausages. Dried mutton ribs are a west coast specialty. A popular meal earlier in

the day, while the other preparations are in full swing, is rice porridge, and many

families have rice cream with red fruit sauce for their Christmas dinner dessert.


Livestock and grain farming and the fisherman-farmer

Livestock and grain have always been the staples of Norwegian farms, and our

diet is still marked by their products: milk, butter, cheese, meat, and bread and

other cereal products. We also have plentiful supplies of fish from our long

coastline. The combination of fishing and farming was very common along the

coast. The husband went fishing, taking his oldest sons with him, while the wife did

the farm work, helped by any smaller children.


Documents from as long ago as the Middle Ages show the importance of the cod

and herring fisheries to the Norwegian economy; herring was aptly nicknamed

"sea silver". Salted herring was for many years the stand-by of the less

well-to-do. Today herring is no cheaper than other fish.


Salted and pickled herring are used in many of the tasty dishes which make up the

Norwegian cold table, and one often finds herring on hotel breakfast tables,

pickled or in tomato or mustard sauce.


Dishes made from ground fish go back a long way in Norway. Names like

"Kvitsøyball" and "Kristiansundball" testify to the place of origin on the coast,

whereas "mackerel cakes" or "ground saithe cakes" tell us the raw material.


Many of the items which we regard as typically Norwegian, and which today, in

nineties versions, figure as the pièces de résistance on party tables, were first

developed to


meet a crying need to store food without the help of freezers. Existence was a

struggle to survive (and keep the livestock alive) on the farm from one growing

season to the next. Animals were slaughtered in the autumn, when they were

heaviest, feed supplies were limited, and nature could help with the refrigeration.

Meat and fish alike were preserved using salt, sugar, drying and smoking in

various combinations. In addition to salted and smoked meat and fish, salmon and

trout were cured under pressure in brine. Milk became butter, cheese and

buttermilk. Fresh food was long considered unhealthy, and the use of plenty of salt

was encouraged. In Norway's short growing season and with the older types of

grain, there was no guarantee that grain crops would ripen every year.


The commonest baked goods in the old days were flatbread and "lefse"

(griddlecakes) Lefse can be crisp or soft: oatcakes, for instance, were baked at

low heat until crisp, so that they could be stored in the raised food loft with the

flatbread. Soft lefse will not keep. They often contain cream, and can be served as

party dainties depending on the ingredients and what they are spread with.


Fresh food only began appearing on dinner tables in the 1700s, with the advent of

the cooking stove - and stoves were not for everyone until the beginning of this



In ages past, grain was the staple food in Norway, and the Norwegians, Like many other Europeans, were reluctant to accept

potatoes when introduced. South America had cultivated the potato for thousands of years before it came to Europe. In the

1700s, food was scarce in Norway, but following hundreds of years of raising grain it was difficult to convince people to the

benefit of the potato, until a minister, P. H. Hertzberg, took up the cause of the potato in his sermons. In fact, he wrote a book

about the cultivation of the potatoes, a best seller and sold out of three printings. Before long the knowledge of the benefit of

potatoes, as they understood them in those days, spread across Norway, and Today, it remains Norway's most important










Aquavit is also spelled 'akvavit' or 'aquavite' depending on where you come from; in

Denmark it is also called snaps. Aquavit is a clear or pale yellow spirit of slightly above 40

percent alcohol. Originally the name came from the Latin phrase aqua vitae meaning

'water of life'. Most commonly it is dry with a caraway flavour. It is made from fermented

grain or potato mash;