Lots of cosmopolitan places today offer a wide variety of cuisines. But in all likelihood, if you want genuine Norwegian fare then you’re going to have to go to Norway first.
So when you’re there, what kind of food can you expect? What should you order in a restaurant? Here are some dishes that you simply must try out so that you can really say that you’ve tried Norwegian food.
Dried “something”. This can be dried fish or meat, and it can be dried in any number of ways. It can be smoked, salted, cured, pickled, or fermented. This is a Norwegian tradition brought on by necessity. They stored food for the winter, and they had to dry the food for the storeroom so they’d have something to eat after the summer has passed. For Norwegians, dried food is the real taste of winter. One example is klippfisk, which means “cliff fish”. It’s cod that’s been dried and salted. You can also try dried reindeer and dried elk. The reindeer is smaller and so it’s sweeter. The elk tastes dry and wilder because of its large size.
Farikal. This is officially the national dish of Norway. It’s really a simple casserole of lamb and cabbage, and it’s very popular during the autumn. Usually, you have this with crispy flat bread, cowberry sauce, and fresh potatoes. Most people eat it with cold beer, but you can really savor its taste when you just take ice cold water.
Pinnekjot. Some Norwegians regard this as the true national dish. When Norwegians come home after being in another land, this is the dish that tells them they’re home. It’s a must-have traditional Christmas dish in Norway, much like turkey during Thanksgiving in the US. This is made from the ribs of lamb or mutton, and the meat is salted and dried. The name Pinnekjot means “stick meat”, and that’s because birch sticks are used as a steamer to cook the meat.
Mahogany clam. If this is available, you have to try it. The mollusks off the coast of Norway are very long-lived, and they’ve probably been under the water for about two centuries. That means they’re especially succulent and tender.
Great scallop. Because of the cold water, seafood takes longer to grow. So that means the flesh of the great scallop is really plump. It’s salty and very sweet at the same time. Most of the time, they’re served in the shell with juniper and reindeer moss.
Smalahove. Perhaps you should just try this without knowing what it really is. In the western parts of Norway, it’s considered a Christmas treat. The term smalahove, however, means “sheep’s head”. You need to get over your reluctance and try this smalahove, especially if you’re dining with a Norwegian family. It should be served hot, and you start with the eyes. The fatty areas will taste better when it’s warm.
Cod tongue. Norway does export cod, but you don’t really think of it as Norwegian cuisine. However, you can eat like a Norwegian by trying cod tongue, which isn’t really popular outside the country. It really should be called “cod chin”, though, because the cut isn’t really the tongue at all. It really is more of the area right underneath the “chin” of the cod. It’s tossed in seasoned flour before it’s fried in butter. You should get this fresh, so you should be in Norway during the fresh fish season from January to April.
Brunost. This is a staple cheese in Norway. The people there eat it for breakfast, but some include it with other meals. They have it with jam or crispbread or on toast. Many tourists are often surprised by the taste of this brown sweet-savory cheese. This is goat’s cheese and it’s made from caramelized whey. It’s what gives it its characteristic sweet and sour sharpness. One traditional dish here is sweet waffles shaped like a heart. There’s usually a slice of brunost on top. During the Yuletide season, the brunost is also served on the festive toasted buttered julecake. It’s flavored with cardamom and peppered with candied peel and fruit.
Gamalost. This cheese is harder to find than brunost, but it’s worth the search. There’s even a yearly Gamalost Festival held in Vik every May. The name gamalost means “old cheese”, and it’s so old that it was part of the diet of the Vikings. They also thought it was an aphrodisiac. This cheese is yellow brown, and it’s hard and flaky. It has a pungent aroma and the taste is intensely sharp. It takes a lot of effort to make, and that’s why you mostly find this only in Norway.
So there you have it. If you find yourself in Norway, you have to try all these so you can say that you’ve tried eating like a true Viking. Hail Ragnar!