Don your woolly sweater, slice up some cheese, pour some coffee (or a bit of akevitt) into your wooden mug, and settle in to reminisce about your Norwegian adventures.
If you want a truly unique memento of your trip to the land of the Vikings, look out for these 10 things. You can be certain that all of them represent Norwegian culture in one way or another and none of them are mass-produced outside of the country.
Top Picks for You
Did you know that the cheese slicer was invented in Norway? In the early 20th century, a carpenter from Lillehammer named Thor Bjørklund came up with the idea, inspired by the tree slicers he used in his line of work. He patented the product in 1925, and it quickly became an important export—despite, by the way, attempts to ban it on the part of Norwegian cheesemakers, who feared its use would result in people consuming less cheese.
Even if you have one or two slicers kicking around the kitchen back at home, why not pick up another, straight from the source? The Bjørklund factory still operates in Lillehammer, but you can also buy its products in larger souvenir stores around the country.
INSIDER TIPAlso keep an eye out for Norwegian butter knives. Traditionally made from wood, these knives, in combination with the cheese slicer, will have you preparing sandwiches in no time.
Native only to the tundra and mountain wetlands of Northern Norway, as well as Swedish and Finnish Lapland, the small, orange cloudberry is an absolute delicacy. Similar in shape to raspberries, cloudberries have a unique sweet-and-sour taste and are very rich in Vitamin C—in fact, the indigenous Sami people are said to have survived harsh Arctic winters thanks to their consumption of the fruit.
The berries are tricky to find and must be hand-harvested each summer, so jams, liqueurs, and other items made from them can be expensive. Still, they make worthy mementos of your trip and are readily available year-round in souvenir shops and seasonally in supermarkets. Look for Lerum Heimefrå Molte, as well as the cloudberry-flavored “Arctic Candy” sold at places like the gift shop of Polaria in Tromsø.
INSIDER TIPIf you’re in Norway during berry season, don’t pass up the chance to sample the delicious dessert known as cloudberry cream (cloudberries in whipped cream and sugar, sometimes served with Norwegian cookies).
Wooden Coffee Mugs
During hikes in the Norwegian mountains, you might spot people pouring their coffee from flasks into wooden mugs. Quite common all over Norway, Sweden, and Finland, the mugs are generally made from birch, although the Sami people sometimes use reindeer horn. Regardless, they’re excellent examples of traditional craftsmanship. You can find them at Juhls’s Silver Gallery in Bergen or other handicrafts and souvenir shops around the country.
Knitwear has been part of Norwegian culture for centuries, and it seems as though every region has its own traditional patterns. One of the most famous, however, is the Selbu pattern that’s used for woolen mittens. As its name suggests, it hails from the town of Selbu, close to Trondheim, and it was developed roughly 150 years ago by a woman named Marit Emstad. The black-and-white mittens featuring an eight-point star are now a symbol of Norway, with souvenir shops everywhere selling countless variations.
INSIDER TIPIf you want the real deal, look for mittens labeled “handmade”—they’re the only kind available at Selbu Husflid in the mittens’ hometown.
Developed in the 1950s and, hence, comparatively new, the Marius pattern used for sweaters has, nevertheless, become the most knitted in all of Norway. And Marius sweaters are so thick, you’ll often see people wearing them without a jacket even in winter. Traditionally hand knit of high-quality wool, these sweaters can also be expensive, costing between 1,500 and 2,000 NKR. If cared for properly, though, they will last for years, so think of them as investment pieces. Look for them in shops such as at Bryggen Husflid in Bergen.
If you want something with a little bite to put in your wooden Norwegian mug, pick up some akevitt (aquavit). Made from potatoes, Norway’s traditional distilled spirit is 40% alcohol by volume and comes in clear (aged three-to-six months) or brown (aged up to several years) versions. There are also varieties infused with dill, cardamom, sweet cumin, and other herbs or spices. It’s often served together with beer and generally accompanies authentic Norwegian dishes, such as smalahove (sheep’s head), a traditional pre-Christmas dish in Western Norway.
INSIDER TIPYou can only find akevitt in branches of the Norwegian liquor-store chain Vinmonopolet or in duty-free shops at the airport, which will be your cheapest bet.
Kvikk Lunsj translates to “quick lunch,” and this milk-chocolate bar made by the Norwegian company Freia is definitely a lunchbox staple. Think of it as the Norwegian version of Nestle’s KitKat bar—only better, as any Norwegian will tell you! Kvikk Lunsj is available in literally any supermarket, though you might want to sample it at Freia’s chocolate store in downtown Oslo.
Mackerel in Tomato Sauce
Before it was Norway’s oil capital, the Western Norwegian city of Stavanger was the country’s fish-canning center. The industry started here in the 1890s, and by the 1920s, it employed more than half the city’s population. The last cannery closed in 2008, but canned fish is still a staple of the Norwegian diet.
Back in the day, the emphasis was on sardines, but these days, mackerel in tomato sauce is popular, particularly at lunches enjoyed by everyone from kindergarteners (to the chagrin of lunchroom janitors) to office workers (to the dismay of vegetarian co-workers in nearby cubicles). If you want to stock up on some for yourself, look for Stabbur-Makrell at any Norwegian supermarket.
Every souvenir store in Norway sells troll figures in various shapes, sizes, and, well…levels of ugliness! As cliché and kitschy as the dolls might seem, note that trolls are intrinsic to Norwegian culture. Indeed, folk tales about them have been passed down through generations thanks in part to two friends named Asbjørnsen and Moe.
In the 19th century, Norway’s version of Germany’s Brothers Grimm traveled the country to collect folk tales, including one detailing how a boy named Ashlad outsmarted a troll. Unlike the smiling, Norwegian-flag-holding, Viking-helmet-adorned souvenir versions of the creatures, those in folk tales are usually depicted as dangerous (albeit a little dumb) and very ugly—some of them even have multiple heads.
Caviar in a Tube
In Norway, toothpaste is far from the only thing that comes in a tube. Norwegians are very fond of their “tube food,” and although it might initially seem strange, consider this: in a country where people love to spend their free time hiking or skiing in the mountains, easy-to-carry food that doesn’t easily spoil (tubes can be stored at room temperature for up to two weeks) makes sense.
Breakfast and lunch spreads—from caviar to cream cheese in a variety of flavors—as well as mayonnaise and other condiments all come in tube form. One good bet is Kavli Kaviar, which has been on the market since 1917 and is readily available in supermarkets.