Fish treated with lye, a sheep’s head and potato dumplings. They may sound like a wicked concoction, but are in fact all specialties of the Norwegian kitchen.
With its history of massive, brutal Vikings, Norway knows its way around a solid diet. After all, one doesn’t get wickedly tall and prepared for pillaging by eating food that isn’t nutritious. Nowadays most Norwegians eat a wide variety of international foods, which isn’t surprising, but there are still a couple of Norwegian classics around that might seem a little odd.
Sticks and sheep
Christmas time in Norway is a feast like many places in the world, and among one of the most popular dishes you’ll find during any family gathering is “Pinnekjøtt”. Lamb’s ribs are salted and dried, sometimes smoked, and steamed over birch branches for close to 8 hours. “Pinnekjøtt” directly translates into “Stickmeat”, either referring to the fact that the meat is cooked on birch sticks or that the sheep’s ribs resemble sticks. Whatever the reason for the name may be, you can rest assured that you’re in for a tasty meal.
Smalahove is a classic from the western part of Norway, which is simply a lamb’s head that’s been salted, sometimes smoked, and then dried. After that it is chucked in water and boiled until completion and then served with mashed swedes and potatoes. Everything is edible, and if you’ve ever wondered what a lamb’s eye or tongue tastes like, here’s your chance. Certain places even let you participate in the preparation of the lamb’s head or award you a diploma for eating it.
Credit: ©Lief Aiksheim
Famous for fish and potatoes
Even though oil is Norway’s main industry now, fishing has always played a massive role in Norwegian society. The country was once amongst the poorest in the world and a main ingredient in the diet at that time was herring. This small fish is known as the “Silver of the Sea” and is usually served with potatoes, another main ingredient in Norwegian cuisine. A nutritious meal rich in tradition that is still served today, although it seems to be losing its foothold in the Norwegian diet.
Potatoes are a central part of Norwegian cooking and usually accompany most types of meat or fish when served. However, they sometimes feature as the main dish as “komle”, or potato dumplings. What you eat alongside komle depends on where in Norway you are, but it is often enjoyed with salted meats, swedes and other vegetables. Komle is common in most parts of the country, but may be called by a different name such as “raspeballer”, “kompe” or “klubb”. Thursday is the unofficial day for komle, and your best shot of sampling this tasty treat.
Feast of fish
Another Norwegian classic is stockfish. Cod is the most commonly used fish, but other white fish are also used to a lesser degree. The fish is dried for long periods of time, typically during the winter and spring months. Northern Norway is especially known for this food, where massive racks used for drying fish can be seen all along the coastline during the season.
Fish has always been an important part of the Norwegian diet and lutefisk is a traditional dish served during Christmas. Stockfish is softened in water and lye before it is cooked, sometimes even grilled, and served with potatoes, bacon, mushy peas and mustard. This white, wobbly fish is usually served from November till the end of January, but the season is expanding with the popularity of the dish.
Sample the smoked, tender meats of “pinnekjøtt” or try white wobbly “lutefisk” when you visit, either way the Norwegian kitchen has a lot to offer any traveler. In Bergen you'll find several restaurants where you can have a taste and when you’ve enjoyed a nice meal kick back and relax at either Radisson Blu Hotel Norge or Radisson Blu Royal Hotel, both in the heart of Bergen. After all, nothing feels better than going to bed rich with experiences and full of food.
Credit: ©Ib Aarmo
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