I travel to eat. I eat to travel?

I am sure there is some complimentary way to justify my eating habits, my hours spent looking up restaurants on TripAdvisor, my jaunts to other towns using a bus- boat-hiking combination for some local stew, trying to hide a mini panic attack when my friends grow tired of waiting for some restaurant I’ve had my heart set on – but I have yet to come up with one.

I just love food.

Norwegian food
Snack at the Oslo Opera. The dish was called Taste of Norway.

One of my favorite things about a new place is getting to try the local food.

Growing up in Southern California, I’ve gotten to sample a whole array of food, and thus has made my palate curious for the cuisine of the world. Besides drooling over the hippest and hottest restaurants with legendary chefs and the best reviews, my guilty pleasure when traveling is trying the local and the bizarre staples of the country.

So when visiting Norway, I first stuffed myself on salmon, as you do, and then waited (semi) patiently to try some other local delicacies, like Smalahove, boiled sheep’s head, and whale.

Below you will find some food that highlight the quirky personality of the country, as well as showing you that Norway has kept its cultural identity alive and well, and on a plate (I mean where else are you really going to eat boiled sheep’s head).

Let’s talk seafood first

Salmon

While this is not an uncommon dish, there is something special about Norwegian salmon that makes it oh so tasty.

With its many fjords and cold, clean water, the salmon in Norway grow more slowly, and with a firmer flavor structure, than fish in warm water. Salmon is the stand out seafood winner of the country in my mind. In fact, we are trying to figure out a viable way of transporting it to Barcelona from Norway to have at home. We have not yet been successful, but here’s hoping.

Whale

Yes, I said it, whale. I was intrigued by the chance to try this, right after I worried about the ethical repercussions of having it, as a dish.

Apparently whale was considered a common dish in Norway up until the ban in 1980, because it was cheaper than meat back in the day. Whaling began again, but is less popular now,  in the 1990s and is currently regulated so that the mammals do not become endangered.

With my mind at ease, I sought out whale at the fish market in Bergen, where a nice fish stall owner grilled up some for me to try on the house.

Rakfisk

Fermented trout. This dish consist of fish, salted, charred, and fermented from 2 months up to a year, then eaten without cooking. Often eaten sliced with bread or potatoes, accompanied by onions, mustard sauce, or sour cream.

Gravlaks

Fermented salmon. The process of fermentation was used in the olden days to preserve fish before refrigeration and has apparently just stuck. This dish is made of dry-cured salmon covered in salt, sugar, and spices and left to ferment.

Lutefisk

Dried cod that is soaked in a lye solution to rehydrate it. Seems a bit fishy (excuse the pun) to me to soak food in chemicals I associate with lab work. I think this might be one of those try it once kind of things for me, but who knows, I might love it.

Now for the meat lovers

Smalahove

Lambs head. The whole head. Usually salted, then boiled and served on a plate. A dish that once was very typical of western Norway. It is now less frequently had, but some families still serve it as their Christmas dish.

Right below you will see my dish from a very traditional farm in Voss (at Smalahovetunet), where we were the only ones that day eating this dish and we had to make reservations well in advance. This is what I asked for my birthday meal and I am happy I did. The meat was a bit salty for me, I am rather salt adverse, but other than that, quite nice. It was a great experience to have, and included  a tour of the whole farm with the owner who showed us the cooking process and even came to check on us several times to make sure we were enjoying the dish. (Or maybe just to make sure we had the courage to eat it.)

Kjøttboller

The Norwegian form of the more famous Swedish meatballs. Minced beef, rolled and fried, usually served with mashed potatoes, gravy, and peas.

Ribbe

Roasted pork belly. This is the most commonly had Christmas dinner in Norway. It is estimated that 5,000 tons of pork ribs (200,000 pigs) is consumed every Christmas season. It is believe that this dish would give you energy to get through the cold winter and is usually served with sauerkraut, potatoes, and white sausages.

Reindeer

Found in restaurants around Norway, more commonly farther north as you go, comes in a variety of forms, from steak to carpaccio.

Grillpølse

The typical Norwegian snack, a hot dog. It is to Norway what pizza is to New Yorkers, what kebabs are to Lebanese, or what fried chicken is to Londoners. You will find this in basically every gas station, ferry, or rest stop around. It is usually in either a hot dog bun (brød) or wrapped in a flat potato bread (lompe).

Aquavit

Now that's the good stuff
Lethal stuff. Aquavit. Photo: Bruce Turner, Flickr.com

Aquavit is Norway’s national drink. It gets its own category because it is not food, per say, though it is a potato based spirit that is flavored with herbs. This strong liquor is the favored pairing to Christmas food and many meat dishes. Poured in a shot glass and is sipped throughout the meal.

Norwegian cuisine in its traditional form relied heavily on the food source and materials that are available in the surrounding nature: mountains, fjords, and coastal lands. It has a strong emphasis on game and fish, which is what is reflected above, and local delicacies can vary from one region to another, depending on what they had to work with from the land. While tradition holds strong, in recent years Norway has also incorporated some western franchises in the larger cities as well as earned 6 Michelin stars, establishing its place in the culinary world.

 

Come see and taste these dishes for yourself or tell us what your favorite Norwegian dish is!