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Food and Drink For Members

The traditional Norwegian Christmas foods you should know about

Agnes Erickson
Agnes Erickson - [email protected]
The traditional Norwegian Christmas foods you should know about
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

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

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Pinnekjøtt

Pinnekjøtt (or 'stick meat') is a Norwegian favourite for families to enjoy on juleaften (Christmas Eve - the day Norwegians celebrate Christmas). 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 characterised by its crackling. The crispier and crunchier the better. You are likely to have heard locals raving over how delicious ribbe is.

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 Christmassy 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. 

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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 descendants of 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 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. 

In the run up to Christmas, many will invite friends and family over to bake the year's batch of Christmas gingerbread cookies. 

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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 equaliser next to the traditional Christmas foods that are fatty, salty, and have very distinct tastes.

However, it's not all bad news. Julepolser (Christmas sausage) is a favourite side dish in Norway, due to its distinctive flavour. 

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. The drink also aids digestion, making it popular after pinnekjøtt. 

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 most Norwegian beers. 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.

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Julebrus - Much like there are pinnekjøtt or ribbe households, those that enjoy Norwegian 'Christmas soda' can be split into those who prefer brown Christmas soda and those who like red Christmas soda. 

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. 

Those who live in areas where cloudberries grow may also enjoy cloudberries and cream at Christmas. 

Kransekake aside, perhaps the most popular dessert served after Christmas dinner is riskremRiskrem or "rice pudding" 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.  

There's also risgrot which is a rice pudding that is served warm with butter, cinnamon and sugar. It's also traditional to hide a marzipan pig in this. 

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