We must admit it, grown-ups in Norway are looking forward to the Christmas season mostly because of traditional Christmas meals and drinks. All December is Christmas party-time in Norway. Every company or social group hold their own julebord (Christmas party), which means Norwegians attend at least one during the month of December. This season Daily Scandinavian enjoyed its Christmas party at the Sorgenfri restaurant in Oslo to enjoy the taste of a typical Norwegian Christmas.
Sorgenfri (closed down Octorber 2020) at Aker Brygge is a popular down town restaurant all year round and is not overwhelmingly decorated for Christmas. The restaurant has a calm-down atmosphere which suites us perfectly. Head waiter Lilje Sverve Antonsen served us this evening and was kind enough to shoot pictures of the dishes too.
The most popular Christmas dinner in central Norway is ribbe, which consists of pork ribs. In the old days this Christmas meal gave energy for the rest of the winter. There are several side dishes to the “ribbe” and the most common is sauerkraut, red cabbage, patties, sausages and potatoes.
Related: Extreme Easting – Norwegian Lutefisk
Our main dish, however, was lutefisk. Lutefisk is usually served with a variety of side dishes, including, but not limited to, bacon, green peas, green pea stew, potatoes, lefse, gravy, mashed rutabaga, white sauce, melted or clarified butter, syrup, geitost (goat cheese), or gammelost (“old” cheese).
Lutefisk means literally “lye fish” and is made by mixing lye of potash and water and soaking dried cod in it. It has an extremely strong, pungent odor which is mostly avoided by foreigners not used to the dish. I have, however, encountered more and more visitors to our country, claiming that they love the taste of the fish and side dishes – and not least the accompanying schnaps, aquavita and beer. Lutefisk is rarely eaten more than once a year.
According to forskning.no, lutefisk has been a common Christmas dish for a lot longer than people realize. It was eaten on Catholic holidays as long ago as the mid-16th-century.
The Julebord tradition is an important part of the Norwegian culture. Norwegians normally dress casually, but the Julebord is one of the rare occasions when they dress up in formal attire.
Related: Food and Drink in Norway
Pinnekjøtt (racks of lamb or mutton cured in brine or coarse sea salt) is another main Christmas dish in Norway, mainly in Western Norway. Pinnekjøtt has, however, rapidly gained popularity in later years also in other regions. Its unique flavor comes from the traditional preservation methods of curing, drying and in some regions also smoking as means of inhibiting the growth of micro-organisms.
A traditional Norwegian Christmas dessert is Riskrem (Rice Pudding), which is made from leftover rice porridge and whipped cream, with some sugar and vanilla added. It is usually topped with a red berry or served with fruit sauce. It is fluffy and creamy with a little tang from the sauce.
Related: Norwegian Christmas Aquavit
During the season, most breweries release batches of Christmas beer (juleøl). These are Christmas versions of their beers, usually darker and spicier than their regular brews. Today, aquavit and beer often accompany the meals due to its use at festive and ceremonial occasions.
Not everyone in Norway celebrates Christmas with dishes described here, but most people more or less enjoy the season according to these traditions. In later years, many immigrants also celebrate, using elements of the traditional Norwegian Christmas.
All photos by Lilje Sverve Antonsen if not otherwise noted.
The Taste of a Typical Norwegian Christmas, written by Tor Kjolberg