While Norwegian eating habits have become more cosmopolitan in the last decades, traditional Norwegian "farm" food is still widely eaten, made by whatever can grow in the northern climate, be stored for a year until new crops come out, and contain enough energy for you to do hard work. Regional variances in traditional food are huge and hence, and what is thought to be "typical traditional" for one Norwegian might be totally unknown to another. Typical examples are variations of yeasted and unyeasted bread and other forms of bakery, porridges, soups, inventive uses of potato, salted and smoked meat, and fresh, salted or smoked fish. Dried cod (tørrfisk) and salted cod (klippfisk) are staples of coastal communities in the west and north and can be seen drying on outside racks in spring and summer. The national dish of Norway is fårikål, a stewed casserole of lamb's meat and cabbage. Other specialities include lutefisk (lyefish) made from dry/salted fish processed in lye, and potato dumplings served with salt meat (raspeball) or mixed with fish (blandeball). Sheep's head (smalahove) and dried mutton ribs (pinnekjøtt) are traditionally served before or during Christmas in Western Norway.
Finer traditional food is usually based on hunted animals or fresh fish. Steak, medallions and meat balls from game, deer, reindeer and elk are highly appreciated foods with international reputation, so are fresh, smoked and fermented salmon varieties as well as a host of other fish products. Traditional pastries like lukket valnøtt (marzipan-covered whipped cream cake) are other original contributions to international cuisine. Cheese of various types is common, but one particularly Norwegian favourite is brun geitost (brown goat-cheese), a mild sweet cheese which bears a remarkable similarity to smooth peanut butter in colour, texture and taste.
Today, Norwegians use plenty of sliced bread for almost any meal except dinner, whereas recipes for hot meals will be taken from almost anywhere in the world, including of course the traditional kitchen, but seldom the most extreme examples. Lunch usually consists of some bread and snacks instead of a warm dish but this is then compensated by eating well at dinner time. Most Norwegians don't go out for lunch, instead have a quick meal in the workplace.
Norway maintains high import tariffs for food; especially meat, dairy products, and alcoholic beverages. Norwegians who live near Sweden or Finland usually cross the border to buy these products.
Norwegians are also known for buying a lot of frozen pizzas at modest prices in any grocery store.
Places to eat
Yes, Norwegians eat whale (hval). However, it's very seldom found in most ordinary restaurants, and chances are it might be overly expensive. In freezers at some supermarkets you may encounter whale meat as well.Young Norwegians did not grow up with eating whale because of the moratorium in the 1980s. Although whaling started up again in the early 1990s, whale is no longer a staple food as it once was in the coastal areas. Norway only allows a limited catch of the minke whale as this specific species is not regarded endangered.
Eating out is expensive, with fast food starting from 50 kr and sit-down meals in a decent restaurant nearly always topping 200 kr or more for a main course. Even a take-away sandwich and a coffee at a gas station may cost you up to NOK70 (€9, USD11.50). One way to cut costs is self-catering, as youth hostels and guesthouses often have kitchens for their guests. Supermarkets and grocery stores are not hard to find, even in the smallest village there is usually more than one grocery store. The largest chains are Rimi, REMA 1000, ICA and Joker. Breakfast is often hearty and buffet-style, so pigging out at breakfast and skipping lunch is also an option. Buy/bring a lunchbox before attending breakfast, as most of the bigger hotels will allow you to fill it up for free from the breakfast buffet for eating later in the day.
For a cheap quick snack Norwegian-style, look no further than the nearest grill or convenience store, which will dish up a sausage (pølse) or hot dog (grillpølse) in either a hot dog bun (brød) or wrapped in a flat potato bread (lompe) for around 20-30 kr. However prices can soar as high as 50kr if you buy at the right (read wrong) places. In addition to ketchup and mustard, optional toppings include pickled cucumber (sylteagurk), fried onion bits (stekt løk) and shrimp salad (rekesalat). To get the most for your money, order a (kebab i pita) which is lamb meat roasted on a spit then fried when you order, served together with vegetables in a pita bread. This tastes great, is extremely filling and can be found for as little as NOK40 in central Oslo. Outside, you will have to stick with your grillpølse.
Very few Norwegian cuisine restaurants have vegetarian meals on the menu, but will make something if asked, with varying success. Some of the few chains of stores/restaurants where you will always have a vegetarian option is Peppes Pizza, Dolly Dimple's, SubWay and Esso/On the run (spinach panini).
Allergies and diets
If you have allergies like lactose intolerance and gluten allergy, going to Peppe's Pizza, Dolly Dimple's, Subway and Burger King are good suggestions. But if you want to eat somewhere a little fancier, asking the maître d'hôtel at the restaurant is always good practice. In some cases, if it is not on the menu, they might be able to accommodate you anyway.
As the regulations for food is extremely strict in Norway, the ingredients for anything you buy is always printed on the packages, and if you ask, you will always be told what is contained in the food you order.
Food safety is very good in Norway. Salmonella is very rare compared to other countries, and health officials inspect restaurants at a regular basis. Also tap-water is usually very nice; Voss water from Vatnestrøm in Aust-Agder is actually exported abroad, including USA.
Norway is often described as a "dry" country, because alcohol is highly priced and a glass of wine or beer in a restaurant is in the range of NOK60 and above. When in cities and towns with many students such as Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim and Tromsø, you can very often find lower prices. Ask young people in the streets or at your place of accommodation for hints and tips of where to go. Beer can be bought at the supermarkets, however wine and stronger alcoholic beverages have to be purchased in state owned liquor stores (Vinmonopolet). The Vinmonopolet is a monopoly but maintains high quality and a wide selection of products; the finest products are moderately priced. The price of alcohol, however does not stop the locals from having a good time. They are often found drinking and carrying on in local street parties and on their porches.
The high prices is one reason why the tradition to hold vorspiel and nachspiel before going out is very popular in Norway. The words derives from German and can be translated into pre- and after party. If going out in the weekend, it is not unknown for Norwegians to gather at a friends house and not leave there until after twelve in the evening. So if you've seen Norwegian drinking culture abroad, and are shocked by the empty bar/club at ten o'clock, call your Norwegian friend and ask where the vorspiel is. (If that person one of the many Swedes in Norway, vorspiel would mean foreplay - they would say foreparty.) It's likely to be a whole lot of fun. Clubs tend to fill up around the period immediately after midnight. However this is mostly true at weekends - during normal weekdays, you will often find Norwegians sitting in bars enjoying a couple of beers or a bottle of wine.
You must be at least 18 years old to purchase beer or wine and 20 years old to purchase spirits with an alcohol content of 22% and more in Norway.
Technically, drinking in public is prohibited. This law is very strict, and even encompasses your own balcony, if other people can see you! Luckily, the law is very seldom enforced (cases of anyone being fined on their own balcony are very rare, for instance), and Norwegians do indeed drink in parks. There are calls for modifying the antiquated law, and recently, there has been a debate in media: most people seem to agree that drinking in parks is alright as long as people have a good time and remain peaceful. However, if you bother others and get too intoxicated or a policeman happens to be in a bad mood, you may be asked to throw away your alcohol, and in a worst-case scenario, fined. Drinking openly in the street is probably still considered somewhat rude, and it would be more likely to attract police attention than a picnic in a park, and is advised against. Having a glass of wine in an establishment that legally serves alcohol at the sidewalk, of course, is not a problem.
Be careful about urinating in major cities like Oslo if you're drunk, fines for public urination can be as high as NOK10,000 (USD1,750)! However, this normally isn't a problem if you urinate in a place where nobody sees, like a couple of yards into the woods. Public intoxication is also something you should be a bit careful with, especially in the capital, Oslo. In smaller towns the police will have no problem giving you a night in the local jail if they think you are disrupting peace and order.
In Norway, all alcohol with a volume percentage of under 4.75% can be sold at regular shops. This means you can get decent beer all over the place. The price varies, but imported beer is usually expensive (except Danish and Dutch beers brewed in Norway on licence like Heineken and Carlsberg). Shopping hours for beer are very strict: The sale stops at 20:00 (8PM) every weekday, and at 18:00 (6PM) every day before holidays (incl Sundays). Since the sale times are decided by the local council, it may vary, but these are the latest times decided by law. This means the beer will have to be PAID for before this time. If it's not paid, the person behind the counter will take your beer, and tell you "Sorry pal, too late!". On Sunday, you can't buy alcohol anywhere except bars/pubs/restaurants.
For strong beer, wine and hard alcohol, you will have to find a Vinmonopolet branch. The state shop has a marvellous choice of drinks, but at mostly sky-high prices. The general rule is that table wines are more expensive than in nearly any other country. Expect NOK80-90 for a decent, "cheap" wine. However, as the taxation is based on the volume of alcohol per bottle rather than the wholesale cost, you can often find more exclusive wines at comparably lower prices than in private establishments in other countries. Vinmonpolet is open until 17:00 Monday to Wednesday, 18:00 Thursday to Friday, and 15:00 on Saturday.
Many car borne visitors (and Norwegians on shopping trips to Sweden and Finland) bring alcohol into Norway, but there are import restrictions for private use; 1 litre of liquor and 3 litres of beer without paying heavy duties.
The brands you are most likely to see in pubs are industrial lagers from Ringnes, Hansa, Borg, CB, Mack, Aass and Frydenlund (accompanied by a vast array of imported drinks). However, in the last ten years a range of microbreweries and craft breweries have made locally produced beer of all varieties and often high quality available. For instance Nøgne Ø, Ægir, Haandbryggeriet, Kinn, 7 Fjell and many more. Beer from small or specialty breweries are also available in pubs or cafes such as Mikrobryggeriet (Bogstadveien Oslo), Lorry's (Parkveien, Oslo), Grünerløkka Brygghus (Oslo) or Beer Palace (Aker Brygge, Oslo), Ægir (Flåm), Trondhjem Mikrobryggeri (Trondheim) and Christianssand Brygghus (Kristiansand).
Norwegian akevitt, a distilled beverage of about 40% alcohol, is distinguished from other aquavits originating in other Nordic countries and Germany because it's always made from potatoes, and aged in used sherry casks. Recipes remain secret, but most Norwegian aquavits are spiced with caraway and anise. There are at least 27 different Norwegian aquavits, suitable to different kinds of food, in drinks or as avec. Aquavit is especially popular with traditional food for Christmas. The classics are Lysholm Linie (a nice all-round aquavit to go with not too heavy food), Løiten Linie (with salted and smoked meat), Gammel Opland (all-round, especially good with traditional lutefisk) and Simers Taffel (to go with herring), you should also try Gilde Non Plus Ultra (as avec) if you enjoy the taste. The "Linie" aquavits have in fact travelled twice across the equator while ageing!