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FOOD & DRINK

The traditional Norwegian Christmas delicacies you should know about

Some of the most popular delicacies and foods served in Norway during the holidays will have you heading back for seconds. 

Pictured is a table set for Christmas.
Here's everything you need to know about Norway's Christmas foods. Pictured is a table set for Christmas. Photo by Anthony Cantin on Unsplash

 Pinnekjøtt

Pinnekjøtt (or ‘stick meat’) is a Norwegian favourite for families to enjoy on the juleaften (the evening of the 24th of December). A helpful hint, if you know you’re going to be eating pinnekjøtt for dinner in the evening, drink plenty of water throughout the day. The heavily salted lamb meat that is dried and then cooked again by being mounted on sticks in a bath of hot water is perhaps the saltiest tasting food in all Norwegian cuisine. 

Ribbe 

Ribbe, or “pork belly”, is often characterized by its rind. The crispier and crunchier the better. If you’re not hearing a local raving over how delightful pinnekjøtt is to eat on Christmas, it’s likely because they are raving over how delicious ribbe is. These two Christmas meals are arguably the most popular and often go head to head. 

It may sound like an odd question to pose, but it is completely normal to ask a Norwegian co-worker or friend if they are team pinnekjøtt or team ribbe. You’ll likely be asked as well. So get a taste of both so you can pick your side and join in on the light-hearted battle. 

Medisterkaker

Medisterkaker can be the star of your dinner plate or work well as a side dish. The recipes vary. Though traditionally, this hearty pork-based dish (typically in the shape of slightly flattened meatballs) is made with at least 25 percent pork fat. What makes them so Christmasy is the festive spice blend of added ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and pepper. 

Kokt torsk 

Kokt torsk or “boiled cod” is a traditional Christmas meal for households situated along the coastline. A firm line has been drawn between lovers and haters of kokt torsk. You’ll find very few Norwegians who claim this is their favourite Christmas meal. If you do find someone, the odds are that they grew up near the coastline, especially in the south of Norway. Traditionally, the mild-tasting fish is served with a clear butter sauce and boiled potatoes. 

Lutefisk 

Lutefisk or  “Cod fish” is fisk preserved in “lye” or lut.  The dish that can best be described as fishy in its taste and odour is considered a traditional holiday dish. However, you’ll likely meet less than a handful of Norwegians that incorporate this meal into their Christmas dinner lineup. Instead, lutefisk is more popular with the older Scandinavians who immigrated to the United States. In fact, more lutefisk is consumed annually in the state of Minnesota than in Norway. 

Pepperkake everywhere

During the month of December, you’ll likely spot pepperkake everywhere! The crispy gingerbread cookie is available to grab on shop counters, passed out as gifts, and used to decorate windows. You can make your own. Though typically, it’s the store-bought versions that litter all offices and parities. Some Norwegians claim pepperkake is the ultimate taste of Christmas. But since it is so easy to find and eat often, many locals are relieved when pepperkake takes an 11-month hiatus after the new year. 

What about the sides? 

If you find yourself more excited by the sides of your main dish rather than the main protein, you might be disappointed during Christmas dinner. Norwegian Christmas side dishes are typically not the stars of the meal. In fact, one can go so far as to call them bland. You can expect peeled and boiled potatoes, boxed sauerkraut, spoonfuls of tyttebær sauce or “lingonberry” sauce, and more boiled potatoes. But that’s ok. Many find they are a nice equalizer next to the traditional Christmas foods that are fatty, salty, and have very distinct tastes.

On the beverage table

Aquavit – Aquavit is a Nordic favourite. The slightly spicy tasting spirit is distilled from grain and potatoes. Sipping on the strong liquid during Christmas dinner is a wonderful way to clear the palette from the extra fat and salt the meal contains. 

Gløgg – Gløgg, Norway’s take on mulled wine, is served both as an alcoholic cocktail and a non-alcoholic beverage. The warm drink is slightly spicy in taste. And the aroma that exudes from the kitchen while gløgg is being heated up on the stove could melt even Scrooge’s heart. 

Juleøl – Juleøl, or “Christmas beer”, is typically darker and fuller in taste than this pilsner loving country is used to drinking. As a result, you will find that the beer aisle has been taken over with famous nordic beer brands, such as Hansa and Ringnes, and their Christmas beers around the holidays. 

Don’t forget to hunt for the almond

If you’re celebrating in a more traditional Norwegian household, you’ll likely find a cake in the spectacular shape of a small tower on the dessert table. This is Kransekake, and it is a traditional dessert both in Denmark and Norway. Kransekake is typically served on special occasions. Weddings, the 17th of May, and yes, Christmas. In addition to seeing kransekake served in all its glory as a towering cake, you can also find smaller bites of kransekake sold in the shops and bakeries during the holidays. 

Kransekake aside, perhaps the most popular dessert served after Christmas dinner is riskremRiskrem or “rice porridge” is a creamy dessert served cold with a fruit-based coulis drizzled on top. What makes this dessert extra fun is the game traditionally played with it. A shaved almond is often hidden in the serving bowl filled with riskrem. And whoever discovers the almond in their bowl receives a traditional pig made out of marzipan as their prize.  

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FOOD & DRINK

What you should know about dining out in Norway

Norway's international reputation on the food scene may not enjoy the reputation of its neighbours, but what can you expect if you take a night off from the kitchen in Norway and choose to go out to eat instead?

Pictured is a group of people eating out.
Here's what Local's in Norway think about eating out in Norway. Pictured is a group of people eating out. Photo by Jay Wennington on Unsplash

Locals opinions are varied 

“There are a lot of good things going on, but you just have to be very aware of where you’re going to grab a bite,” says Leeni from Oslo. Adding, “Fine dining scenery is great, but the casual world is not that developed. It’s more mediocre quality with a high price. That’s just my opinion.”

The fine-dining scene in Norway has grown in the past decade. Restaurants like Maaemo and Under are making a name for themselves both with local diners and the Michelin guide. 

Casual dining may not be quite as vibrant as the fine dining scene. But that doesn’t mean you still can’t find some good places.'” Even on the coast, it is hard to find a good fish restaurant. However, there is always pizza kebab, but we have some nice Thai food. Which might come in handy if you are a vegetarian and travelling outside of Oslo.” says Mireille Wulf

Lunch and breakfast

If you’re dining out in Norway, you may want to choose to go out to dinner instead of breakfast and lunch. Some bigger cities, such as Oslo and Trondheim, have started developing more of a weekend brunch and lunch scene. Though your options are nowhere near what they would be in comparison to other large cities in Europe. 

There is “No tradition for lunch here. Norwegians have always eaten bread and cheese and bread and liver paste for lunch. With a half-hour break, you don’t have time for more,” says Frances. It’s true, on the weekdays, 

Norwegians are very much no muss, no fuss when it comes to their meal choices. The matpakke or “packed lunch” dominates as the main source of food throughout the workday. 

“Many restaurants do not seem to open for lunch. Which is very strange for me, even after considering that many Norwegians in offices just eat cold sandwiches,” says Ankur.

If you’re looking to grab a bite to eat earlier in the day, local cafes will usually have a few selections to choose from, though they may not be warm. Think more ham or shrimp sandwiches than warm stews and pasta dishes. 

You could also choose to dine at a hotel if you want a more hearty breakfast than the pastry selection at the local cafe. Hotels all around the country usually offer drop prices for their surprisingly good breakfast buffets if you’re not staying with them.

And the coffee

Are you meeting a friend for coffee? You’ll likely have a few places to choose from. But be aware of some subtle differences in the size and temperature.

The “Portion sizes are small and extremely expensive, including the drinks. Coffee arrives warm and ends up needing to be finished quickly. No real need to sit at the coffee shop because your tiny cup size and room temperature makes the outing quick,” says Deon Van Zyl.

“My experience with coffee in shops/restaurants here is that it is served warm and not hot. I prefer my coffee hot. Just warm becomes cold even before the first sip when you take away a cup in the cold,” says Deepika Nowley. “Also, what surprised me at first was the word” dobblet “. I expected a larger cup, but it only meant a double espresso shot for the same cup size.” 

READ ALSO: Why is food in Norway so expensive?

Coffee and teas may be served a little cooler than you are used to, but you’ll likely never have a tough time finding a place that serves warm (not hot) drinks in this country. After the Finns, Norwegians consume the most coffee globally, averaging around 7,2 kilograms of coffee per person per year. They mostly prefer light roasts and without the extra fluff. However, most cafes will offer you the option of ordering milk-based coffee drinks.

Best way to pay and tipping culture

Tipping is not a customary practice in Norway. Those who work in the restaurant industry, both in casual and fine dining, are paid a decent wage and don’t have to rely on tips as they would in other countries. However, if you want to tip, feel free to do so. It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary to tack on some extra if you particularly enjoyed the service or food. 

“Most Norwegians use cashless methods to pay; and, when paying, it is not customary to tip for a handful of items or just a couple of drinks,” says Samantha Gross Galiando. Adding, “While Norwegians are known for their politeness, behaviour can vary depending on their age group and venue type.”

Payment methods, like most everything else in Norway, paying at a restaurant or cafe has, for the most part, become paper-free and digitized. Of course, you can still pay with cash. But you might have to end up waiting extra for your server to come up with the right amount of change back. Or you may even be asked to pay by a card or mobile pay instead. 

Forgot your wallet? That might be ok. Many restaurants accept payment by Vipps ( the most popular payment app in Norway) if that is your only option. You don’t want to assume this alternative is available in smaller towns or more rural areas. So try and remember to bring a backup method of payment just in case. 

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