Northern Norwegian food is extremely simple. Why would you want to overwhelm all those delicious ingredients with powerful spices and sauces when you are enjoying the freshest possible produce of the ocean, rivers and mountains?

Fresh on the plate

With winter cod in February, boiled pollock on the beach in the summer, king crab you’ve caught yourself, traditional Norwegian flatbread on the ferry and reindeer meat in a Sami lavvu tent, your taste buds will be kept busy when you visit Northern Norway.

Fresh fish

The fjords and ocean off Norway are the world’s richest, as this is where the cold and warm ocean currents meet. The winter cod comes into coastal waters during the period after Christmas, and this is the season for “skreimølje”, a gastronomic orgy of fresh cod, liver and roe – typically served with cod cheeks and tongues – which leaves the diner blissfully drowsy and content. Pollock is the summer fish, often eaten au naturel with crispbread. At Christmas, many Norwegians eat halibut, a firm and tasty fish.

Dried fish

Dried cod is Norway’s oldest export and is enjoyed in the form of “lutefisk” (treated with lye and boiled) just before Christmas. The outside walls of many homes in Northern Norway are strewn with cod being home-dried before it is taken down (semi-dried) as “boknafisk”, boiled and served with bacon bits. Unbled pollock is matured in a barrel for up to a year in order to make a dish known as “gammelsei” (“Old Pollock”) .

New ingredients

“Bait” is the term old fishermen use with a certain disdain about shrimp, scallops, horse mussel, blue mussel and sea urchin that is brought ashore. The notion of eating such things is rather new in Northern Norway, as the locals have always been so spoiled with regards to fresh wadays, however, fresh and juicy shellfish are being served in restaurants along the entire coast of Norway, and their meat is firmest in the winter.

King crab

The king crab actually originates from the Pacific Ocean, but it was released into the Barents Sea by the Russians in the 1960s. These monster crustaceans are now crawling westward along the Finnmark coast, and are already being caught off Troms County. The most extensive fishing for them, however, is east of the North Cape. On a king crab safari in Finnmark, the crab is served with mayonnaise and bread along with some white wine, but the gourmet restaurants serve it with delicious sauces and spices.

Rudolph on a platter

At a Sami wedding with a thousand guests, they serve “bidos” – reindeer stew – with potatoes and carrots. “Finnebiff”, which consists of thin slices of reindeer meat in a cream sauce flavoured with juniper, is another favourite. Dried reindeer heart is extremely sought after and hard to procure. If you are in a Sami home, it is common for a dried leg of reindeer to be passed around, and then one generally cuts a piece of dried meat to have with coffee.

Arctic farming

Goats, sheep and cattle are the most important domestic animals used in the simple farming operations along the fjords of Northern Norway. The mutton takes on a taste of juicy mountain pastures, and mild goat’s meat is making a solid comeback. Strawberries are harvested in July and August in mild fjord regions, and fresh carrots and the yellow Målselv turnips are crunchy late-summer delicacies.

Sweet and good

Coffee by the litre keeps the Nordlanders going and serves as the social glue. It’s often served with “lefse” – buttered flatbreads with multiple layers and with sugar, cinnamon and brown cheese on the inside. An extreme variety is the warm and soft “møsbrømlefse” from the Salten region, served dripping with melted brown cheese, butter and sour cream.

Northern Norway: berry-picking adventures

The main topic of conversation in the summer is the cloudberry harvest, and everyone from small children to old folks can be seen bent over on the moors of Northern Norway in August. Blueberries come forth in July and August, and September is the time to enjoy lingonberries. These berries have traditionally provided a good source of important vitamins, and are used as both an accompaniment for dinner and as a dessert.

Speciality foods to look out for:

You may not like all of these dishes, but give them a try!

• “Kobbesveiver”: seal flippers, boiled and served in a brown sauce
• “Kveiterekling”: dried halibut fat, shaved into strips and eaten as snacks
• “Møsbrømlefse”: a warm pancake-like flatbread from the Salten region, served with melted brown cheese, sour cream and butter. 
• “Boknafesk” or “boknafisk”: semi-dried cod; many Norwegians dry their own outside the house
• “Spikkauar” or “speket uer”: cured haddock – a tasty starter
• “Auarshau” or “uerhoder”: eaten by sucking out the contents of the haddock’s head
• “Kvæfjordkaka”: with the flavour of rum cream and almonds, this is Norway’s national cake
• “Balsfjordosten”: a special white goat’s cheese
• “Gammelsei”: unbled, salted pollock, matured in a barrel for at least six months
• Goat, in the form of both kid and chevon, is enjoying a renaissance
• Whale meat is fried like a steak, and fresh whale meat is available during the summer

Pollock in the midnight sun

Pollock bites best during the night – or perhaps that is just an excuse for fishing in the middle of the night. At any rate, find a good site for a fire along the shoreline and light up some driftwood. Take along:

• Fresh pollock
• Crispbread
• Butter

Boil some salt water in a pot over the fire. Cut the pollock into fairly thick, good-sized slices. Once the water starts to boil, take the pot partway off the fire and put in the pollock slices. Let the fish steep, and when the colour of the fish changes, it is fully cooked. Serve on buttered crispbread. Due to its delicious flavour, overconsumption is a real possibility, and the fish is said to be an aphrodisiac. You have been warned!