Norway is a land of surreal mountain ranges, vast glacier-carved valleys and colorful villages perched in improbable places, as well as exceptional, simple local food. True, the landscape tends to take center stage here, but you can’t truly know Norway—or its people—until you become familiar with its cuisine, and authentic Norwegian fare isn’t something you’ll easily find outside the country’s borders.
New Nordic cuisine has rocketed Scandinavia to the top of foodie must-visit lists over the past few years, but for Norwegians, eating local isn’t just a food trend; it’s a way of life. Norway has long-honored environmentally friendly food practices, so despite new culinary innovations and feverish global attention, good food is nothing new here. Sheep and goats graze in outlying pastures along the coast and in the mountains. Norway’s cold, largely unpolluted climate is ideal for growing fruits, berries and vegetables without extensive pesticide use. Modest farms and small holdings produce milk, cheese and beef in healthy, virtually disease-free environments, and when it comes to animal welfare, the country’s subjected to strict laws and regulations. And, of course, the extensive coastline offers a long, rich history of seafood dishes. The majority of the country's delectable ingredients are still fished, hunted or grown within the nation’s borders, and with wide-open moors, abundant forests and ample coastlines, Norway is teeming with raw materials, meaning you'll have plenty of fresh local dishes to try!
The Dining Experience in Norway
No matter where you are in the country, you’re sure to find a wide variety of restaurant experiences to fit your palate and preferences. From Michelin-starred kitchens and casual family restaurants to outposts that specialize in seafood and menus infused with world flavors, Norway offers a little bit of everything. Expect Norwegian meals to be generous, laden with a variety of delights and often complemented by social kaffe (coffee) sessions in the afternoon.
Because of the diversity of landscapes found within the country – from metropolitan Oslo to the small towns found along the dramatic fjords to the fishing villages of the magnificent Lofoten Islands, you can expect to find a diversity of meal offerings as well, varying from region to region. Plan for seafood, simple yet delicious meals, and universally friendly service.
Typical Norwegian Dishes
No matter where you are in Norway, make sure to enjoy these quintessentially Norwegian delicacies:
● Brunost (Brown Cheese)
Though dubbed a cheese, this technically isn’t cheese at all. Rather, it’s made from the whey that’s typically tossed out during the cheese-making process. The whey is boiled for a long time until it caramelizes into a salty, fudgy brown diamond. Look for a slicer next to the dish with which to shave off thin pieces for placing atop toast at breakfast.
● Pickled Herring
Norwegians love their fish, and this is one of the many forms you’ll find it in! Dressed in various sauces, including a simple vinegar base, as well as versions with tomato, mustard and sherry, pickled herring is typically eaten atop rye bread.
These heart-shaped Scandinavian waffle delights are served all over Norway, from ferry boat food stalls to museum cafés and more. They’re often eaten midday as a snack and can be topped with jam or brunost—or, better yet, both!
In summer, Norway’s vast open spaces become a berry buffet. This orange-pink delicacy isn’t grown commercially, so it’s highly sought after when it’s briefly in season each summer. Cloudberries are most often served in desserts, such as multekrem (cloudberries and whipped cream).
● Potato Lefse
This thin potato pancake is a fantastic bite made from potato, wheat flour, egg, butter and sugar. It’s eaten at breakfast and as a snack. You’ll look like a pro if you dress it (traditionally with jam or butter, cinnamon and sugar) and then roll it up.
Norwegians eat lots of this fast-food item, which is similar to a hot dog. Look for them throughout the country at gas stations, small grocery stores and street food stalls. It’s often served in a bun, but you can also find it chopped up in soups and stews, as a fry-up, as a meal with potatoes or even as part of Christmas dinner (julepølse).
This humble dish (translated as “fish balls”) involves a white fish, such as cod, that’s been blended with eggs, milk and flour and formed into a ball, then boiled or pan fried. It’s a common Norwegian meal, and many locals keep canned versions at the ready in their cupboards.
The reindeer herding tradition in Norway goes back thousands of years and continues to this day. You’ll see reindeer meat on many restaurant menus, and it’s often available in a variety of forms, such as sausages, meatballs and others. It’s generally salty, smoky, quite lean and nutrient rich.
Regional Foods and Specialties
Norway’s regional cuisines are relatively easy to find throughout the country, but these regionally (or situationally) specific dishes are worth hunting down:
● Bergensk Fiskesuppe
This delicate and subtle fish soup from Bergen can rival even Marseille’s more upfront and powerful bouillabaisses. Traditionally made with small local pollack, double cream, egg yolk, sour cream and a touch of vinegar, this light fish stock is a silky, flavorful and sharp soup.
A dense ball of mashed potato and flour, this dish is slowly simmered in stock, along with fatty cuts of sheep or pork. Typically served with thick cubes of pan-fried bacon and lots of brown butter, many restaurants offer it up as a special every Thursday afternoon.
● Tube Caviar
Yes, in Norway, you can find caviar in a tube, but you can also find various flavors of soft cheese spread in this packaging. (Try the bacon cheese…obviously!) Embrace the tube – you can most easily find it in the larger cities before heading out for your more rural adventures. It’s pretty much the perfect way to package food for long train rides, mountain hikes, fjord cruises or whatever excitement you’ll get up to in Norway.
Backroads Pro Tip
Raising glasses in Norway? Don’t break eye contact. When you raise your glass to toast, silently make eye contact and then drink. Never break that eye contact until the glass is back down on the tabletop. That’s how to skøål (cheers) properly here!
Norwegian Dining Terms: Glossary
Words to Know on the Menu
● Reindeer: Reinsdyr
● Dried fish: Tørrfisk
● Sheep’s head: Smalahove
● Aquavit: Akevitt
Words to Know When Dining Out
While most Norwegian people speak impeccable English, it’s always appreciated when you try your hand at a few local words and phrases. Here are a handful to get you started at a Norwegian restaurant:
● I’m a vegetarian: Jeg er vegetarianer.
● Table: Bord
● Menu: Meny
● Waiter: Servitør
● Waitress: Servitøren
● Water: Vann
● Restroom: Toalett
● Yes: Ja
● No: Nei
● Thank you: Takk
● Thank you very much: Tusen takk
● You’re welcome: Vær så god
● Please: Vær så snill
● Excuse me: Unnskyld meg
If dining at a full-service restaurant (a “white tablecloth establishment), it’s customary to leave a tip of up to 10%. If dining at more casual restaurant, no additional tip is expected, though its not uncommon for patrons to leave a small tip of 1-2 kroner.
When in Norway, many Westerners find the need to adjust their eating habits for mealtimes. Frokost (breakfast) in Norway might be served as an enormous buffet, a koldtbord, or as a smaller selection of dairy, eggs, fish and breads. Expect to see roasted and cured meats and a selection of cheeses, as well as items found in a traditional American breakfast, such as hot cereal, bacon and sausage. Lunsj (lunch) is often a simpler, lighter affair than breakfast. It can be a smaller smorgasbord or open-faced sandwiches consisting of pâté, cold meats or cheeses. Expect fruit and coffee to be available as well. Snacks might be served between lunch and dinner and just before bed. For one of the most typical Norwegian snacks, opt for brown cheese (brunost ) on bread. Afternoon kaffe includes coffee and cakes. Dinner (middag) comes early, around 4:00 p.m., and is usually plainer than other meals.
Norwegian table manners are typically more formal than one would expect from such a friendly and informal nation. For proper etiquette at the table, emulate the Norwegians. Hold your fork in the left hand and the knife in the right while eating.