Norwegian cuisine in its traditional form is based largely on the raw materials readily available in Norway and its mountains, wilderness and coast. It differs in many respects from its continental counterparts with a stronger focus on game and fish.
Modern Norwegian cuisine, although still strongly influenced by its traditional background, now bears the marks of globalization and Americanization: pastas, pizzas and the like are as common as meatballs and cod as staple foods, and urban restaurants sport the same selection one would expect to find in any western European city.
Most Norwegians eat three or four regular meals a day, usually consisting of a cold breakfast with coffee, a cold (usually packed) lunch at work and a hot dinner at home with the family. Depending on the timing of family dinner (and personal habit), some may add a cold meal in the late evening, typically a simple sandwich.
The basic Norwegian breakfast consists of milk or fruit juice, coffee (or more rarely tea), and open sandwiches with meat cuts, spreads, cheese or jam. Cereals such as corn flakes, muesli and oatmeal are also popular, particularly with children.
The one traditional Norse dish with a claim to international popularity is smoked salmon. It is now a major export, and could be considered the most important Scandinavian contribution to modern international cuisine. Smoked salmon exists traditionally in many varieties, and is often served with scrambled eggs, dill, sandwiches or mustard sauce. Another traditional salmon product is gravlaks, (literally "pit salmon" or "buried salmon"). Traditionally, gravlaks would be salted, buried in the ground and left to ferment (similar to how rakfisk is still prepared), hence the name. Contemporary gravlaks, however, is salt-and-sugar-cured salmon seasoned with dill and (optionally) other herbs and spices. Gravlaks is often sold under more sales-friendly names internationally. A more peculiar Norwegian fish dish is Rakfisk, which consists of fermented trout, a culinary relation of Swedish surströmming.
Until the 20th century, shellfish was not eaten to any extent. This was partly due to the abundance of fish and the relative high expenditure of time involved in catching shellfish when set against its nutritional value, as well as the fact that such food spoils rather quickly, even in a northern climate. However, prawns, crabs and mussels have become quite popular, especially during summer. Lobster is of course popular, but restrictions on the catch (size and season) limit consumption, and in addition lobster has become rather rare, and indeed expensive.
People gather for "krabbelag" ("crab party") feasts, either eating ready cooked crabs from a fishmonger, or cooking live crabs in a large pan. This is typically done outdoors, the style being rather rustic with only bread, mayonnaise and wedges of lemon to go with the crab. Crabs are caught in pots by both professionals and amateurs, prawns are caught by small trawlers and sold ready cooked at the quays. It is popular to buy half a kilo of pie prawns and eat it at the quays, feeding the waste to seagulls. Beer or white wine is the normal accompaniment.
Mussels are normally bought live from a fishmonger who can guarantee them to be free of harmful micro-organisms; few people gather mussels themselves, owing to the risk of poisoning. Preparation is simple: steamed with garlic, parsley and perhaps some white wine, and served with bread. The juice can be enriched with double cream to make a soup.
The largest Norwegian food export (in fact the main Norwegian export of any kind for most of the country's history) in the past has been stockfish ("tørrfisk" in Norwegian). The Atlantic cod variety known as 'skrei' because of its migrating habits, has been a source of wealth for millennia, fished annually in what is known as the 'Lofotfiske' after the island chain of 'Lofoten'. Stockfish...
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