Meals & Dining Customs
Most working Norwegians seldom go out to lunch; instead they grab a quick open-face sandwich, or smørbrød, at their offices. But in major towns and cities, lunch is generally served from 1 to 3pm. The middag, the main meal of the day, is generally eaten between 4:30 and 6pm. Many restaurants serve this popular middag from 1 to 8pm. In late-closing restaurants, it's possible to dine much later, until around midnight in Oslo. Long after middag time, a Norwegian family will have aftens, a smørbrød supper that will see them through the night.
The Cuisine -- The chief criticism leveled against Norwegian cooking is that it's too bland. The food is always abundant (the Norwegians are known for their second helpings), substantial, and well prepared -- but no threat to the French for a Cordon Bleu prize. Today, instead of their own cuisine, Norwegians often turn to the Continent or even Asia to satisfy their taste buds. Foreign restaurants, especially in such cities as Oslo and Bergen, are all the rage.
Norwegians are proud -- and rightly so -- of many of their tempting specialties, ranging from boiled cod (considered a delicacy) to reindeer steak smothered in brown gravy and accompanied by tart little lingonberries, which resemble wild cranberries.
Norway relies on fish, both freshwater and saltwater, for much of its food supply. Prepared in countless ways, fish is usually well cooked and always fresh -- a good bet indeed. Try, in particular, the aforementioned boiled cod; it's always -- emphasis on always -- served with boiled potatoes.
In early summer, kokt laks (boiled salmon) is a highly rated delicacy. Kreps (crayfish) is another big production (as it is in Finland), and ørret (mountain trout), preferably broiled and served with fresh lemon, is a guaranteed treat. A recommendation for top-notch fare: fiske-gratin (fish soufflé), delicately seasoned.
Norwegians love their fatty smoked eel (roket al), although many foreigners have a tendency to whip by this one on the smörgåsbord table. The national appetizer is brine-cured herring with raw onions.
You may want to try reindeer steak or faar-i-kaal, the national dish, a heavily peppered cabbage-and-mutton stew served with boiled potatoes. A fisher's or a farmer's favorite is lapskus (hash, to us), prepared with whatever's left over in the kitchen. The North American palate seems to take kindly to kjøttkaker, the Norwegian hamburger -- often pork patties -- served with sautéed onions, brown gravy, and boiled potatoes.
The boiled potato is ubiquitous. Incidentally, the Norwegian prefers it without butter -- just a bit of parsley. Nowadays fresh vegetables and crisp salads are a regular feature of the Norwegian diet as well.
Rumgraut is a sour-cream porridge covered with melted butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon. If they're in season, try the good-tasting, amber-colored muiter (cloudberries). An additional treat, well made in Norway, is a pancake accompanied by lingonberries.
Frokost (breakfast) is often a whopping koldtbord, the famous cold board, consisting of herring and goat's milk cheese, and such fare as salmon and soft-boiled eggs, plus wienerbrød (Danish pastry). At this time, most visitors encounter the ever-popular flatbrød, paper-thin crisp rye bread. Many visitors may not want to spend the extra kroner for this big spread, but those going on glacier expeditions need this early-morning fortification.
Incidentally, smorgasbord and smørbrød are very popular in Norway, although they seem to be served here without the elaborate ritual typical of Denmark and Sweden. Customarily, smorgasbord in Norway is only a prelude to the main meal.
Restaurants -- Value-conscious diners may want to consider the following when eating in Norwegian restaurants:
- Look for the dagens menu or daily special, which are reasonably priced and usually prepared fresh each day.
- Order fixed-price menus, especially at lunch. Often, you can dine in some of the most expensive restaurants by patronizing them at lunch and ordering from the set menu.
- Do as the Norwegians do: Order one or two smørbrød (open-face sandwiches) for lunch.
- Watch the booze -- it can add greatly to the cost of any meal.
- Go ethnic -- there are hundreds of affordable foreign dining spots. Norwegian restaurants tend to be expensive.
- Best bet for a quick and inexpensive meal is a konditori, or bakery tearoom. Look for self-service cafeterias as well.
- Fill up at the traditional Norwegian koldtbord (cold board) at breakfast buffets, so you'll need only a light lunch.
Norway has strict laws regarding the sale of alcohol. Beer and wine may be served in hotels and restaurants 7 days a week, but hard liquor can be sold only between 3 and 11:45pm -- and never on Sunday. Visitors can buy the precious stuff from the Vinmonopolet, the state liquor-and-wine monopoly . The restriction on hard liquor may be a bonus for budgeters, as Norwegian prices are sky-high, in line with all the Scandinavian countries. Warning: Unless visitors ask for a favorite brand of gin or scotch, they may be served a sour-tasting Norwegian home brew.
The Norwegians, like the Danes, are essentially beer drinkers. Pils, a light lager, is fairly low in alcohol content, but the lagerøl is so low in alcoholic content (less than 2.5%) that it's a substitute for water only. The stronger Norwegian beer is called Export and is available at higher prices. Two other types of beer are Brigg and Zero.
The other national drink is akevitt (sometimes written as aquavit or schnapps). Who would ever think that potatoes and caraway seeds could knock a person under the table? It's that potent, although it's misnamed the "water of life." Norwegians gulp down beer as a chaser. Aquavit (try Linie Akevitt) is sloshed around in oak vats all the way to Australia and back -- for added flavor.
The stores of Vinmonopolet, the monopoly that sells wines and spirits, are open Monday through Wednesday from 10am to 5pm, on Thursday from 9am to 6pm, and on Friday from 9am to 5pm. The Vinmonopolet is closed on Saturday in all towns except Kirkenes, Bodø, Ålesund, Trondheim, Haugesund, and Arendal. Liquor is not sold to anyone under 20 years of age; for beer and wine, the cutoff is 18.