Updated: Dec 22, 2020
While there are many different aspects to a traditional Christmas celebration, it is safe to say that food is a vital part of it in most households. In this article we will introduce you to the most popular Norwegian Christmas dishes - and a little more.
Dinner on Christmas eve is surely one of the most anticipated meals of the whole year. While there are diverse food traditions all around Norway, two dishes remain the overall contenders for Norway's most popular Christmas dinner.
Ribbe (Pork rib)
Fatty pork rib and a crust as crispy as they come: It's not hard to see why Ribbe is on the top of the list of Norway's Christmas food. Just look at the picture above! The dish became popular at the end of the 18th century when potatoes came to Norway, and it became more common to eat pork. Before that, pigs were not common in food production due to the feed being similar to human diet - therefore raising pigs was seen as a waste of food. However, the potato solved this problem and paved the way for Ribbe to become one of Norway's most beloved Christmas meals. Sides commonly include sauerkraut, red cabbage, sausages and potatoes.
Pinnekjøtt (Dried lamb/mutton rib)
Similarly to Ribbe, Pinnekjøtt (literally: Stick meat) became popular in the late 18th century. However, the technique of drying meat is much older than that and was developed from drying fish as a means to keep meat from spoiling fast. Since meat was rare, it was usually kept for important occasions like Christmas dinner. Nowadays it is much easier to purchase Pinnekjøtt and it is usually served with potatoes and thick sausages.
Together, Ribbe and Pinnekjøtt make up the majority of Christmas meals in Norway every year. Matprat.no estimates that up to 70% of Christmas eve dinners are one of the two dishes with Ribbe being more popular in southern Norway and the greater Oslo area while Pinnekjøtt tops the statistic in northern and western Norway.
Lutefisk (Dried cod soaked in lye)
With a long coast and an even longer fishing tradition, it is no surprise that Christmas food traditions in Norway include fish dishes. Lutefisk is probably the best known one among all of them. After the dried cod is soaked in lye for several days to rehydrate, it is then boiled or baked and served with butter, salt and pepper. Serving fish for Christmas stems from Norway's catholic history that included fasting in the month of December. Due to easy availability of meat in modern times, only a small percentage of Norwegian families still serve Lutefisk on Christmas eve, but it is still very common to eat fish at least once during the Christmas period.
Apart from these widely popular Christmas dishes, there are also less common but equally interesting Christmas dinner options. One of them is Smalahove which is, literally, a sheep's head. The skin and the fleece of the head are torched and the whole head is then salted and dried. The dish originates from western Norway and was traditionally eaten by the poor. Today, Smalahove is mostly eaten by enthusiasts and some cities in western Norway also offer the dish to thrill seeking travellers.
Additionally, if you have visited any Norwegian supermarket, you are sure to have come across Norway's favourite fast food for any occasion: Grandiosa frozen pizza. And yes, frozen pizza has made its way into the Christmas traditions of many a Norwegian family since the brand was launched in the 1980s. Around Christmas, Grandiosa sells about 20% more pizzas than any other time of the year which shows how important they are as a dinner, lunch or snack during Christmas time.
And what to eat after the main?
No good family dinner is complete without something sweet to end with. Norwegian Christmas traditions include a variety of dessert options and sweet treats that are ideal for anyone with a sweet tooth!
Probably the most popular Christmas dessert is Julegrøt, a sweet rice pudding with whipped cream mixed into it. Usually, there is an almond hidden in the pudding and whoever finds it receives a marzipan pig as a prize. However, in the northern part of Norway, the most popular sweet treat is a dessert of cloudberry cream.
Completing the Christmas menu are a variety of cakes and treats. Kransekake (a tower made of cake rings containing crushed almonds) and Krumkake (a thin, spiral cake, rolled with a special iron) are widely popular. Also essential to Norwegian Christmas are gingerbread biscuits (pepperkaker) and gingerbread houses that are smashed and eaten after Christmas. If you want to see how the smashing looks like, check out the video below!
Like it boozy?
If you do, Christmas in Norway is just perfect for you. One of the oldest Christmas traditions is Juleøl (Christmas beer). Beer was brewed in Norway even before the country was christianized and it is not surprising that a tradition as long standing as this has found its way into Norwegian Christmas celebrations. Another common Christmas beverage is Aquavit, Norway's very own potato liquor. It's spicy and the perfect companion to the usually fatty Christmas eve dinner.
Lastly, Norway also does its own take on mulled wine: Gløgg is made of red wine and/or Aquavit, sugar and a combination of spices usually including cinnamon, cloves, ginger, cardamom and bitter oranges. The drink is served with almonds and raisins and of course there is also a non-alcoholic child friendly version made of fruit juice.
So if we succeeded in sparking your curiosity, why not take a trip to Norway during Christmas time? We would be happy to welcome you on our Christmas Tour and offer you the possibility or tasting some of the delicacies you just read about! But whether winter or summer, we hope that we could show you that Norway is always worth a visit, no matter the season!