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Norwegian word of the day: Pålegg

Norwegian word of the day: Pålegg
Do you have a favourite? Photo by Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
If there is one thing Norwegians love more than bread, it's spread.

Why do I need to know this word?

Pålegg is a blanket term used to describe many food items in Norwegian cuisine. If you’re asked to bring a pålegg to a social gathering or want to better understand what Norwegians consume daily, then you’re going to need to understand the word pålegg. 

What does it mean?

Pålegg is a collection of food products that are commonly put on top of bread. Derived from the words legg på, which means, “put on”. 

There is no direct translation that English speakers can use in place of pålegg. But most often, the word “spread” is used to describe this word that can be used for many (and we do mean many) food products. 

The most common pålegg found in Norwegian households is jam, cheese, thinly sliced meats, kavier (tubed caviar), and leverpostei (liver pâté).

Locals have their favourites. And it is always fun to discuss what your co-workers or friends prefer on their bread. 

Norwegians love their bread. And traditionally, pålegg is used for three meals a day. Breakfast, lunch, and kveldsmat or “evening food”. If you have found your favourite selection of pålegg in this country, then pat yourself on the back for completing a massive step in the integration process! 

What about butter? 

Ah, the great debate. Locals are undecided on if butter should be called a pålegg. Technically, it is as it is often smeared on top of bread. But it is common for a Norwegian to say they had a slice of bread with butter and a specific pålegg. And on a shopping list, butter would typically be written as a separate food item in addition to pålegg on the list. You can decide which side you want to be on. But to avoid a sceptically raised eyebrow, perhaps don’t tell a Norwegian your favourite pålegg is butter. 

Use it like this 

Kan du kjøpe ost? Det er min favorittpålegg – Can you buy cheese? It’s my favourite spread. 

Jeg er veldig glad i brødskiver med pålegg – I really like bread slices with spread.


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