Norwegian cuisine is in its traditional form largely based on the raw materials readily available in a country dominated by mountains, wilderness and the sea. Hence, it differs in many respects from its continental counterparts with a stronger focus on game and fish.
The most known traditional Norwegian dish in the modern world is the smoked salmon. It is now a major export, and could be considered the most important Norwegian contribution to modern international cuisine. Smoked salmon exists traditionally in many varieties, and is often served with scrambled eggs, dill, sandwiches or mustard sauce. Close to smoked salmon is gravlaks, (literally "dug salmon"), also known as brine-cured salmon or gravlax. Cured salmon is often sold under more sales-friendly names internationally. One of the most peculiar Norwegian fish dishes is Rakfisk , which consists of fermented trout.
The largest Norwegian food export traditionally has been tørrfisk, (Portuguese Bacalhau), dried codfish in various forms. Tørrfisk has for centuries also been an international staple food, and is especially being sold in Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries, as well as in African coastal countries. During the age of sailships, tørrfisk played an interesting part in world history, being an enabling food for cross-Atlantic trade and providing food for the slave business.
Fish is in general the most important food produce from Norway , and a huge number of fish dishes exists. Apart from salmon and cod, many traditional fish coursed have been based on smoked herring, sardin products and mackerell, among others. Products from these fish are often sold in various pickled forms or with sauces. Fresh cod and cod soups are especially beloved along the coastline, and the king among them is the skrei, the spring cod, which has a season of only a few weeks.
Due to availability, seafood dishes along the coast are usually based on fresh produce, cooked by steaming and very lightly spiced with herbs, pepper and salt. While most coastal Norwegians consider the head, caviar sack and liver an inseparable part of a steamed seafood meal, most inland restaurants will spare diners this part of the experience. A number of the species available have traditionally been avoided or used as bait, but most common seafood is part of the modern menu.
Meat and Game
High cuisine is very reliant on game, such as elk, reindeer and fowl. These meats are often hunted and sold or passed around as gifts, rather than bought in shops, and as such tend to be served at social occasions. As these meats have a distinct, strong taste, often served with matching condiments like wild berry jam and juniper berries and rich sauces.
Preserved meat and sausages come in a bewildering variety of regional variations, and are usually accompanied by sour cream dishes and flat bread or wheat/potato wraps. Particularily sought after delicacies include the "fenalår", a slow-cured lamb's leg, and "morr", usually a smoked cured sausage, though the exact definition may vary from one valley to the next.
Earlier in the 20th century, whale was widely eaten as a cheap substitute for beef. More recently, a combination of rising prices stemming from a quota reduced to ca. 300 animals p.a. and the easily ruined flavour of the meat has made whale a much rarer delicacy. Eating whale meat, although not common, is not controversial in Norway .
Due to a partial survival of an early medieval taboo against touching dead horses, eating horse meat was nearly unheard of until recent decades, though it does find some use in sausages.
There is some degree of variation with emphasis on ingredients between regions, main areas being the forest inland, the highland, the northern and the coastal tradition. Within these, variations are usually in preservation and preparation methods as well as spices. The cuisines of regional centers such as Oslo , Kristiansand , Bergen and Trondheim tend to be more reliant on international spices and imported ingredients, and usually combine the nationalist and regional traditions with international influences.
The term "husmannskost", (meaning serf's diet or renter's diet) covers various simple, basic native dishes which are popular, but not really considered presentable to guests. However, nationalists and urbanization have given some of these dishes national distribution, in some cases uplifiting them to cult status, giving them a renaissance as gourmet meals. Those involving exotic raw materials or preservation methods are the most popular among these, and some have achieved international fame, or infamy. Examples include Smalahove (from the west coast, a smoked sheep's head) and from the north, lutefisk, cod treated in lye. Both are now considered delicacies, and the lutefisk has a long standing as Christmas food in fishing communities. Of the more everyday items, boiled or fried lumps of fish paste holds a place in Norwegian culture comparable to that of spam in the anglophone world.
Fruit and Desserts
Norwegian fruits and berries are considered especially tasty, since they mature more slowly in the colder climate, and hence give a more intense taste. Especially strawberries and apples are popular and are used in a large variety of dishes and desserts. Cakes and pastries also play a part in Norwegian cuisine and include kaffebrød (small cakes and pastries served with coffee), which are also to be found in other Scandinavian countries. These are often flavoured with the spice cardamom which is also to be found in Danish pastry. Larger cakes are also made here, including Bløtkake, a light sponge cake.
Dairy is extremely popular in Norway , and the citizens like to think they have the best milk in the world. Cheese is also exported, especially the plain-brand favourite Jarlsberg cheese, alongside . The sweet brown/red cheese (often goat cheese or a mix of goat and cow milk cheese, also called geitost or gjetost cheese) is very popular in everyday food and thought of as very homy. More sophisticated or extreme cheeses include the gammelost, an over-matured, highly pungent brown cheese.
Both industrial and small-scale brewing has long traditions in Norway , and restrictive alcohol policies have encouraged a rich community of brewers, and colourful variety of beverages both legal and illegal. The most popular industrial beers are usually pilsners and red beers ("bayer"), while traditional beer is much richer, with a high alcohol and malt content. The ancient practice of brewing "Juleøl" (yule beer) persists even today, and imitations of these are available before christmas, in shops and, for the more potent versions, at state monopoly outlets ("Vinmonopolet"). Cider brewing has faced tough barriers to commercial production due to alcohol regulations, and the famous honey wine, "mjød" (mead), is mostly a drink for connoisseurs and practitioners of the native religion. The climate has not been hospitable to grapes for millenia, and wines and more potent drinks are available only from Vinmonopolet.
Distilled beverages include Akevitt, a yellow-tinged liquor spiced with caravay seeds (also known as akvavit or Aqua Vitae). The Norwegian "linie" style is distinctive for its maturing process, crossing the equator in sherry casks stored the hull of a ship, giving it a more taste and character than the more raw styles of other Scandinavian akevitter.Norway also exports some vodkas and bottled water.
Modern Norwegian cuisine, although still strongly influenced by its traditional background, now also bears the marks of modern fusion: Pastas, pizzas and the like are as common as meatballs and cod in the homes, and the city restaurants sports the same international selection you would find in most western cities - but reindeer pizza and salmon burgers are Norwegian variants to these international staples.