Norway’s National Dish Explained

Norway is home to many unique dishes, and many of them are clearly affected by a region with little access to species and different types of meat. Some of the Norwegian dishes include Norwegian meatballs, sodd, lapskaus, and Christmas food like pinnekjøtt and ribbe (pork ribs).

But which dish is considered Norway’s national dish, and why is it so?

Norway’s national dish is called fårikål, a mutton and cabbage stew spiced with salt and pepper. It is prepared by simmering for multiple hours, and it is typically served with boiled potatoes. Fårikål is mainly eaten in late September and the rest of the autumn.

The name fårikål can literally be translated to “mutton in cabbage”, so it’s exactly what the name says.

We’re going to take a close look at Norway’s national dish fårikål in this article, looking at its history, why it’s considered Norway’s national dish, and even a quick guide to making it.

Homemade fårikål, Norway's national dish
Homemade fårikål, Norway’s national dish. Photo by Nicklas Iversen / The Norway Guide.

It’s traditional to eat fårikål at dinners with friends and family, since it’s a dish that is easy to prepare for large groups.

Fårikål is a big deal in Norway, and most of the population agrees that it should be the national dish. It has a big cultural significance, and it’s one of few meals that are eaten all over Norway. Over 70 % of Norway’s population reports that they are eating the dish at least once during the autumn.

Me and my family always make at least one fårikål dinner each autumn, and preparing in a way so that it’s ready to be eaten shortly after we return from a mountain hike.

Fårikål’s long history in Norway

There are written records of fårikål, or “faar i kaal” as it was called, as far back as the early 1800s.

The basis for the dish is very typical traditional Norwegian dishes; boil vegetables and meat together and serve it with potatoes. This is pretty much the basis of most Norwegian cuisine, and fårikål is as Norwegian as you get it.

The meat used for fårikål is a part of the sheep that is not really usable for much else than a stew, so it’s believed that this was originally a method to use the meat that was otherwise not going to be used.

Fårikål has been a popular dish for the last few hundred years, and it is traditionally eaten as a celebration type of feast for when the sheep are brought back from free-range grazing in the mountains in late September or early October.

Free ranging sheep in Norway
Free ranging sheep in Norway. Photo published with permission.

How fårikål became Norway’s national dish

Fårikål has the status of Norway’s unofficial national dish for a very long time, but it was only in 2014 that the Norwegian government made it official.

The semi-official title was first awarded back in 1972. A radio show called Nitimen had a nationwide vote on finding different parts of Norwegian favorites, including things like the national animal, national bird, national flower, and more.

And as you can guess, one of these national votes was to find Norway’s national dish. Fårikål won the poll by a landslide, and thus won the unofficial title of the Norwegian national dish.

But that didn’t make it an official national dish recognized by the Norwegian government, but the government did actually want to crown a national dish later in 2014.

Making fårikål the official national dish of Norway

To figure out if Norway’s national dish was in fact fårikål, the government hired a survey company to survey a wide range of Norwegians to ask what they considered to be the national dish.

Over 45 % of the participants answered fårikål, giving it the number one spot by a large margin. The second place was awarded to kjøttkaker (sometimes called frikadelle in English) at 36 % of the votes.

The survey made it clear that fårikål is indeed Norway’s national dish, and the government made it official in 2014.

A let’s close the chapter of the history of Norway’s national dish with a fun fact. When 11,000 children were asked the same survey, the voted taco to be the national dish. And it’s not as strange as it might sound!

What fårikål tastes like

Fårikål is not as tasty as many people imagine it to be, because you can only get so far with only salt and pepper as your spices. The dish has a strong taste of mutton, while the taste of cabbage is less prevalent.

The dish is very high in fat, so the meat itself has a lot of flavor.

Fårikål. Photo by Jarle Vines / CC BY-SA 3.0.
Fårikål. Photo by Jarle Vines / CC BY-SA 3.0.

A short version of how to make fårikål

It’s actually very easy to make fårikål, and anyone can do it. Let’s take a look at how to quickly and easily make it yourself.

You will need:

  • Mutton (preferably fårikålkjøtt if you live in Norway and can buy it).
  • Cabbage.
  • Pepper.
  • Salt.

And here’s how to make fårikål:

  1. Slice the cabbage into small boat-shaped pieces.
  2. Put a layer of meat, followed by a layer of cabbage, a layer of meat, then cabbage etc. in a big pot.
  3. Put 1 spoon of unchopped pepper into a semipermeable bag (like a tea bag) and put it in the pot.
  4. Fill the pot with water.
  5. Let it simmer for around 3 hours until the meat is nice and tender.
  6. Boil potatoes.
  7. Remove the bag of pepper before you serve it.
Ingredients to make fårikål.
Ingredients to make fårikål. Photo by Nicklas Iversen / The Norway Guide.

And that’s pretty much all there is to making fårikål. It takes very little effort, but you will need to prepare to spend some time on it since it needs to simmer for a long time before it’s ready.

The day of fårikål

Norway has an semi-official fårikåldag, or the day of the fårikål. This is always on the last Thursday in September.

The day itself isn’t really anything special, but many families have a tradition of “celebrating” this Thursday by eating fårikål.

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