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Food, Dining, & Drinks in Norway

Historic Diet

Norwegian Food - Lobster
Lobster

The historic diet in Norway is quite limited, especially if you look back to the region's earliest inhabitants. The people entered the lands as the icebergs retreated, leaving behind good soils, but a short growing season and limited lands. The plants that grew in the region tended to be either hardy root crops or wild berries, with few other options.

The main food source of these early settlers came from animals. The people settled along the coasts in the south, where fish and other sea life were plentiful. Inland the forests were also home to elk, otters, beavers, and other animals that were commonly caught and used as food. In the north, especially among the early Sami people the most important animal was the reindeer, which dictated where the people moved and settled as this animal formed a substantial part of their historic diet and remains important today.

The people also ate birds, but to a lesser degree. Puffin was, and still is eaten, but these birds and others never made up much of the historic diet.

Culinary Influences

Norway's diet has always been based off the land and locally available ingredients. Due to the country's geographic diversity, there have been a number of different diets in the country historically. Along the coast seafood has dominated, while inland wild game and freshwater fish have been more common. In both parts, berries and other native fruits and vegetables are also popular.

From the earliest days, due to these short winters, preservation techniques have become necessary and have greatly developed over time. Although many fruits and vegetables were preserved for the long winters, the people also ate a number of fresh foods, primarily via steaming and smoking. Smoked salmon is still very common in Norway and abroad today thanks to the Norwegians and pickled herring is a common dish throughout the Baltic Sea countries, which is made through a preservation process.

In the 1500s numerous foods found their way to Norway from the Americas. Tomatoes, peppers, and most importantly in Norway, potatoes arrived. Due to the hardy nature of potatoes, they grow well in Norway and have since become a very important food in the modern Norwegian diet. Some animals, including turkeys, also arrived from the Americas at this time.

Norwegian Food - Pepper Steak
Pepper Steak

In the 1900s shellfish have become more popular. Prior to this point shellfish were too difficult to harvest compared to fish so were rarely eaten as catching them were time consuming and expensive. As technology improved and people gained more money and discretionary incomes shellfish have gained popularity.

Also in the 1900s the food industry vastly changed in Norway and elsewhere as modern preservation techniques and devices have gained popularity, food production methods have become more mechanized, and fertilizers have given the lands more food than they previously could have offered. This has allowed Norway to expand their local food production while food selection has also expanded due to the importation of foods that can't be grown in Norway itself. Additionally, it allows better preservation of all foods, both local and foreign.

In part due to the improved food storage and preservation techniques, food in Norway is not unlike food in many other countries. Fast food, frozen food, and ethnic foods have all become popular and all are easily available in Norway today, especially in the larger cities, such as Oslo, Bergen, and Trondheim. Despite this, most people continue to maintain a diet similar to this historic diet based on locally available foods and animals.

When & Where to Eat

Norwegians generally begin the day with a cup of coffee and perhaps a small breakfast. This is typically eaten at home and the food is rarely more than simple cold foods that don't take any preparation time. This may include bread, jam, cheese, cereal, and even open faced sandwiches. Due to work schedules today mid-day meals vary somewhat, but most people will have another small cold meal at work taken at about noon. Again this meal is fairly simple and generally consists of leftovers as open faced sandwiches are common.

The main meal of the day is eaten at about 4:00-6:00 pm and is known as middag. This meal is changing somewhat as many people work until 5:00 or 6:00 pm and may not get home until even later. No matter when it is eaten though, it is the largest meal of the day and often consists of a protein, such as fish, mutton, or meatballs with potatoes and vegetables. This meal is usually eaten in the home with family, but going out to eat in Norway is popular, so many people will go out for meal.

For those who eat an earlier middag meal a late evening snack, usually consisting of leftovers, is eaten. As more people work later and hence eat their middag later, this evening snack is becoming less popular.

Staple Foods

Bread: nearly every Norwegian includes bread in their dining routine, especially for breakfast and lunch
Cheese: cheese remains a common ingredient in dishes or can be served alone

Regional Variations, Specialties, & Unique Dishes

Gammelost: sour milk cheese
Kjottkaker: fried meat balls served with gravy, mashed peas, and potatoes
Lutefisk: dried cod or ling marinated in lye to preserve it; more of a traditional food than an everyday meal
Pinnekjott: salted, dried, and sometimes smoked lamb ribs; common for Christmas meal
Rakfisk: fermented fish

Dining Etiquette

Norwegian Food - Salmon
Salmon

Although being invited into a Norwegian's home is rare, if you do get an invitation, arrive on time and bring a small gift, such as chocolates, pastries, or wine. Also be sure to dress conservatively; despite the liberal nature of the country, dressing nicely is a sign of respect so do so, especially if you're at a business meeting or dining in a local's home. Once you arrive, look to see if you should remove your shoes and shake everyone's hand, even children. If the host is still preparing the meal, offer to assist with the preparation although this offer will often times be turned down.

Your host may have a seating arrangement so wait to take a seat until invited to do so. Once seated, the Norwegians are somewhat formal, but before the formalities many meals will begin with a toast. If there are toasts, make eye contact throughout the toast and once finished drinking women traditionally put their glasses down before men do. Toasts are typically only made with hard alcohol or wine, not beer, but this depends on the situation and your company.

The entire time you are at the table you should keep your hands within sight; the easiest way to do this is by resting your wrists on the edge of the table. When eating though use the continental style (the knife in the right hand, fork in the left: don't switch hands) and wait to begin eating until your host begins or invites you to start. It's considered polite to try everything offered so grab a little of everything; if you have a food allergy or other dietary restrictions try to mention this when you are invited to dine as turning it down now is a bit rude, but will be understandable and accepted as the Norwegians are generally too polite to make much of a fuss. Once you're finished eating, and do eat everything on your plate, place your fork and knife together in the 5:25 position.

Norwegian Food - Aquavit
Aquavit

Expect dinner to be followed with conversation and don't rush out after a meal, neither in a home nor in a restaurant as socialization is an important part of every meal. If you are in a restaurant, the inviter is expected to pay for everyone, but the guest should reciprocate by inviting the host out to a later meal.

Most Norwegian restaurants will include a service charge of 10% to the bill, but rounding up is a common gesture for good service. In Oslo and other large cities tipping is growing in popularity and you should add another 5-10% for good service so the total tip falls in the 15-20% range; for poor service, no additional tip is needed. In small towns, tipping is an odd custom and is not expected so just pay the standard 10% service charge, which should already be on most bills.

Drinks

Norwegian Food - Hansa Beer
Hansa Beer

Like many other Scandinavians, the Norwegians love coffee and most places will have long lines to get some each morning. It is also used as an excuse to socialize and get together, which makes coffee popular throughout the day. Norway offers nearly every other popular international non-alcoholic drink like juices, tea, and soft drinks.

Aquavit is one of the most unique drinks in Norway; it is an alcohol distilled from potatoes and flavored with anise and caraway, although many times it is flavored with additional, or different, spices. Beer, however is the most commonly drunk alcohol as there are numerous microbrews in the country. Vodka is also common as it is in other Nordic countries. Although wine isn't produced in Norway, it is easily accessible in shops and at nice restaurants throughout the country.

Generally speaking, the tap water is safe to drink in Norway, but check with locals for any particular regional differences. Also, many people may have troubles adjusting to the local tap water, as it will most certainly be different from what your system is used to.

This page was last updated: August, 2013