About two-thirds of Norway’s land-mass is mountains; only 5% of the land is arable.
In the north of Norway, the growing season is 100 days; in the south, 190 days. The days are long, though in a Norwegian summer: the sun will rise as early as 2 to 3 pm, and stay up until around 11 pm. The farming season would be shorter if it weren’t for the Gulf Stream. Still, the growing season was too short for wheat, so bread was historically made of barley, oats and rye, or even potatoes.
There are some regional food differences between the south and north which have remained, though modern communication and transportation links have made all foods available all over the country. For instance, people in northern Norway are less likely to use potato in their lefse bread, and strawberries start to ripen in the north of Norway just as the season is finishing in the south.
The population of Norway is 4 ½ million people as of July 2002. Norway is not part of the European Union; membership of the EU was rejected in referendums held in 1972 and again in November 1994.
Around 1993, the government started a “Competitive Strategies for Norwegian Food” campaign that involves a “Godt Norsk” (“Good Norwegian”) promotion and labelling scheme to provide quality assurance and labelling standards. Food safety is governed by the “Norwegian Food Safety Authority.”
The national bread in Norway is lefse, a flat bread which didn’t require an oven (which only rich people had one, plus an oven takes a lot of fuel to run.) Popular foods are meatcakes, lamb and cabbage stew, and cod. But without a doubt, the number one food that Norwegians now (2006) eat the most of is pizza. They are in fact the top consumers in Europe of frozen pizza.
About half of Norway’s food is imported; its largest food exports are salmon, Jarlsberg cheese and aquavit.
Fresh vegetables are expensive, particularly in winter. A typical winter vegetable dish might be boiled cabbage. Norway is self-sufficient in root vegetables.
Meat, fish, dairy and grains are staple foods. Compared to other first world countries, Norway, like Japan, eats relatively more fish than meat. Chicken, turkey and beef are expensive. Lamb is a traditional fall dish. Meat is often cured and served as cold cuts. Fish such as cod, herring and halibut are popular, and often used in ground fish dishes. Herring is eaten fresh, salted and pickled, though it has become expensive in recent years.
The trend amongst Norwegian chefs is to create a “fusion” food by applying contintental techniques to native ingredients and by reinterpreting traditional dishes. During the 1994 Winter Olympic Games held in Lillehammer, Hilary Rodham Clinton (wife of Bill Clinton) ate at the Mormors Hus restaurant, dedicated to promoting Norwegian food. She ordered tagliatelli. Her favourite restaurant in Lillehammer turned out to be the “Egon Restaurant”, which serves burgers, steaks, tacos and baked potatoes — with not a single Norwegian dish on the menu.
Eating out, though remains expensive, and so consequently Norwegians don’t do it very often. Instead, ready-to-heat or ready-to-eat products from supermarkets are popular. Owing to the cost of buying lunches, packed lunches (“matpakke”) for both work and school are still popular (as of 2006.)
Chinese restaurants were the first foreign restaurants in Norway.
The most affordable fast food is obtained from kebab shops, that also sell falafel. Hot dogs are also affordable: in fact, Norwegians eat on average 100 hotdogs a year per person.
Coffee shops are everywhere now, and 7-Eleven stores have been in the country for some time. Supermarket chains include Coop, KIWI, Rema 1000, Rimi, and Prix.
Norwegians are particularly fond of black liquorice and chewy candies, even though all sugar is imported. Sour cream is often used as a garnish; not many herbs and spices used are used in cooking.
A lot of food is served room temperature — particularly preserved foods and cheeses. Cold buffet tables will present pickled vegetables and fish, salads, cold cuts, cheeses, and fruit.
Norway was under total prohibition of alcohol from 1916 to 1927.
Now, beer is sold in supermarkets, but the supermarkets are only allowed to sell it through the week until 8:00 p.m.; 6:00 pm on Saturdays (they are closed on Sundays), and the alcohol content must be under 4.5%. Any alcohol other than beer (wine is imported) must be bought from state-owned liquor stores called “Vinmonopolet” (meaning “The Wine Monopoly”), created at the end of prohibition. Farmers are legally allowed to brew as much beer as they want to, provided it is from barley that they have grown themselves.
Tap water is safe and is drunk; glasses of tap water are provided free at restaurants.
Milk consumption is 160 US quarts (150 litres) per head a year.
There are 14 Official Holidays a year: 1 January, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Easter Monday, Constitution Day (17 May), Ascension Day, Pentecost Sunday (aka Whit Sunday), Whit Monday, Christmas Eve Day, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve Day.
People often take holidays from Palm Sunday through to Easter Monday inclusive.
Many people clean their entire house thoroughly before Christmas — that’s while making the seven different kinds of cookies that are traditional. Advent candles are lit on the four Sundays before Christmas.
Restaurants start promoting special Christmas foods in early November.
Most Norwegians are very dedicated to eating what is traditional for Christmas dinner in their region, and would be shocked to think of changing to eat something else, though turkey is slowly becoming popular. For Christmas Eve, people in western Norway (on the coast) will often have cod, halibut or lutefisk and pinnekjøtt with mashed swede, while in eastern, land-locked Norway, they might have pork, either ribs or sausages.
It’s traditional to eat rice-porridge, particularly on the 24th of December. Some is also put out for Santa.
Lutefisk and head cheese are also eaten at Christmas.
Christmas trees arrived in Norway in the 1700s from Germany.
Breakfast often consists of cereal, bread, milk or juice, coffee or tea. A few processed brands of breakfast cereal such as Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, three-grain Cheerios and some sugary ones are sold, but muesli cereal is more popular.
Bread is eaten for breakfast and lunch, usually with a glass of milk. Breakfast bread is almost never toasted, just buttered. On your breakfast bread, you might put jam, sliced cheese, slices of mackerel in tomato sauce, ham or salami. Breakfast eggs are rare; if served, they are likely to be soft-boiled eggs served in egg cups, or sliced hard-boiled eggs on buttered bread.
Lunch is sandwiches.
The main meal of the day, dinner, is usually eaten 4:30 and 5 p.m, and is usually meat, potatoes and veg.
Norwegians were very poor for a long time. Men would go fishing, while women looked after the farm. Wheat flour was not that common in Norway; barley flour was more common, as in Scotland. In rural areas, those who couldn’t afford beer drunk “blande”, made from water and soured whey.
The long winters made preserved food even more important than in most other European cultures.
There is no real history of an aristocratic cuisine.
Vikings from countries including Norway worked as mercenaries called “Varangians” for hundreds of years for the Emperors in Constantinople, which they called “Miklagard”. Some speculate that it’s because of some of the cooking habits they brought back that Norway today is the only culture in Europe to use cardamom as part of its native cooking.
Potatoes arrived in Norway in 1744. The promience of potatoes was only dislodged somewhat in the second half on the 1900s by pasta and rice.
Norway gained its independence from Denmark in 1905.
Norway means “northern way”.
Drangholt Jaksjø, Brita. La cuisine norvégienne. Utenriksdepartementet. August 1994. Retrieved December 2005 from http://odin.dep.no/odin/fransk/om_odin/stillinger/032005-990378/index-dok000-b-n-a.html.