Compared to continental Europe, Norway’s cuisine is more seafood-focused. On average, Norwegians eat seafood three to four times a week, often for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Why all the seafood? Norway has pristine cold fjords and an extra-long coastline — the distance from Oslo to the northern tip is as far as Oslo to Rome — filled with seafood, making it a natural choice. And if you’re not a seafood lover, there’s quite a bit for you too. Here are some must-try treats in Norway’s capital.
Norwegian salmon is a popular fish among Norwegians and fish-eaters throughout the world. A popular and traditional salmon dish to order is gravlax, which is basically salmon cured in a mixture of dill, salt, pepper and sugar, and served with mustard sauce. Other preparations include smoked (rokt laks), grilled, steamed, poached or baked.
A great spot for smoked salmon and other seafood is Louise Restaurant & Bar, located in Oslo’s downtown waterfront in the only surviving shipyard building in Aker Brygge. It’s a short walk from Akershus Castle, next to the cruise terminal. Just take the winding path down from the park that surrounds the castle, past City Hall.
Reindeer meat tastes a lot like beef and is not as gamy as one would think. One of the traditional ways to order it is chopped up into medallions and served in either a blackberry sauce or a sauce made of port and raisins.
Head to Engebret Café, located in a quaint 18th-century building, for delicious reindeer medallions. It’s Oslo’s oldest restaurant and has been a favorite of many, including playwright Henrik Ibsen and composer Edvard Grieg.
If you’re interested in a quicker dining experience, head to the budget-friendly, cafeteria-style restaurant of Kaffistova, located in city center. It serves homey Norwegian food, and the reindeer cakes with mushroom sauce are savory, filling and a must-try.
Norway’s beloved brown mustard-colored hard cheese has a sweet taste, almost like a savory dulce de leche. It’s made of whey (the liquid remaining after milk is curdled and strained into cheese) boiled with milk until the milk sugars caramelize and the water evaporates, giving it the sweet taste and unique color. Then the cheese is packed into rectangular blocks and refrigerated.
You can find variations of this cheese. Some use only goat’s milk (geitost), some only cow’s milk (flotemysost), and some stick to the original recipe and mix both goat’s and cow’s milk. Cut with a cheese slicer, this snack is often enjoyed on buttered whole-grain bread. But brunost can also be added to meatball sauces or a venison stews. Buy it at any supermarket, food store, even a 7-Eleven (yes, there are 7-Eleven’s in Norway).
Boiled shrimp are very popular and served at many cafes throughout Oslo. Freshly caught boiled shrimp can be bought from the fishing boats in front of City Hall (Radhus), perhaps while you wait for the ferry to the Bygdoy Peninsula museums. The “small” shellfish platter at Louise Restaurant & Bar features Norwegian shrimp, salmon, king crab, scallops, oysters and mussels; it’s like seafood tapas.
Norway’s fish soup is creamy, generally made with several fish types, plus (sometimes) carrots, celery and potatoes, seasoned with bay leaves and parsley. An excellent seafood-only restaurant serving catch-of-the-day fish soup with shellfish is Lofoten Fiskerestaurant, an elegant, modern-style restaurant open for lunch and dinner. It’s at the edge of Aker Brygge, a waterfront restaurant, bar and shopping complex with, in summer, a whopping 2,500 restaurant seats outdoors.
Rommergrot is a pudding or porridge made with sour cream, milk, cream and flour, flavored with cinnamon and sugar that has been enjoyed by Norwegians for centuries. Originally only made for special occasions, rommegrot is easy to find in Oslo due to the fairly inexpensive means of making it and how popular it has remained over the years. It’s traditionally served as a dessert with thin-sliced cured meat, usually leg of lamb or ham. And the portion sizes tend to be small, either in a small cup or bowl, due to its richness.
It’s served at Kaffistova, a cafeteria-style, casual, budget eatery with traditional Norwegian fare in downtown Oslo.
Open-faced sandwiches (with one piece of bread, never two) are so popular in Oslo that they’re eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Some popular sandwiches include smoked salmon (often with hard-boiled egg slices, capers and dill, or scrambled eggs with chives), shrimp (with mayonnaise, lemon and dill) and herring and meatball sandwiches. Gamle Raadhus, is definitely the place to go if you want to try a few (smaller sized) sandwiches. Located next to Akershus Castle and housed in the original City Hall building built in 1641, Gamle Raddhus has a great lunch and dinner special where you choose three personal-sized open-faced sandwiches per person.
Norway’s pinkish, rich-tasting cod roe spread is sold in a toothpaste-like tube and not in the typical tin can like it is in the US. It’s not saved for special occasions, but is an essential part of breakfast, lunch or dinner, eaten on crackers, bread, cold sausages, sliced boiled eggs or on top of sandwiches. You’ll find it at any supermarket or food store. But you can also find it at Mathallen Food Hall, an indoor market of 30+ specialty shops selling cheese, seafood, high-quality foods from small Norway producers, and international fare from Spanish tapas to Asian dishes.
How do Norwegians like their herring? Let me count the ways: pickled (sursild); in tomato sauce (tomatsild) with allspice, bay leaves and pepper; smoked; in sweet-and-sour sauce; in wine sauce; in sour cream; and even in a hot mango sauce. You’ll find some preparation of herring on breakfast menus, as hors d’oeuvres, served on rye bread, in salads or in omelets. Smoked herring — smoked anywhere from 12 hours to 10 or 12 days — is generally served with beets and apples in salads or with mashed potatoes. You can find some form of herring at just about every restaurant in the city.
Norwegian lamb is tasty and fragrant because the sheep graze on grass often mixed with wild herbs in mountain pastures. It can be prepared in various ways, from dried cured ribs (pinnekjott) to simmering in a stew (farikal) to sausage links. In fact, farikal, a stew of bone-in lamb, cabbage and black peppercorns, has been called Norway’s national dish; it’s so popular that the last Thursday in September is dubbed Farikal Feast Day, celebrated by Norwegians dining on it everywhere from restaurants and homes and even schools. There’s a National Farikal Society for the devout fans. Both leg of lamb and cured leg of lamb are in the “Taste of Norway” platter at Louise in Aker Brygge, along with reindeer sausage, fermented trout and cured ham.