The European Free Trade Association: Bon appétit!

Tuesday, 4 September 2018 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: Editorial, European Union, General
Reading Time:  41 minutes



The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) is a regional trade organization and free trade area consisting of four European states: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland. The organization operates in parallel with the European Union (EU), and all four member states participate in the European Single Market and are part of the Schengen Area. They are not, however, party to the European Union Customs Union. EFTA was historically one of the two dominant western European trade blocks, but is now much smaller and closely associated with its historical competitor, the European Union. It was established on 3 May 1960 to serve as an alternative trade bloc for those European states that were unable or unwilling to join the then European Economic Community (EEC), which subsequently became the European Union. The Stockholm Convention, to establish the EFTA, was signed on 4 January 1960 in the Swedish capital by seven countries (known as the “outer seven“). Whilst the EFTA is not a customs union and member states have full rights to enter into bilateral third-country trade arrangements, it does have a coordinated trade policy. As a result, its member states have jointly concluded free trade agreements with the EU and a number of other countries. To participate in the EU’s single market, Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway are parties to the Agreement on a European Economic Area (EEA), with compliances regulated by the EFTA Surveillance Authority and the EFTA Court. Switzerland has a set of bilateral agreements with the EU instead.


Icelandic Lobster sautéed in garlic butter at Café Duus in Keflarvik © Benreis/cc-by-3.0

Icelandic Lobster Soup sautéed in garlic butter at Café Duus in Keflavík © Benreis/cc-by-3.0

Icelandic cuisine
Icelandic cuisine has a long history. Important parts of Icelandic cuisine are lamb, dairy, and fish, the latter due to Iceland being surrounded by ocean. Popular foods in Iceland include skyr, hangikjöt (smoked lamb), kleinur, laufabrauð, and bollur. Þorramatur is a traditional buffet served at midwinter festivals called Þorrablót; it includes a selection of traditionally cured meat and fish products served with rúgbrauð (dense dark and sweet rye bread) and brennivín (an Icelandic akvavit). The flavors of this traditional country food originates in its preservation methods; pickling in fermented whey or brine, drying, and smoking. Modern Icelandic chefs usually emphasise the quality of available ingredients rather than age-old cooking traditions and methods. Numerous restaurants in Iceland specialise in seafood. At the annual Food and Fun chef’s competition (held since 2004), competitors create innovative dishes with fresh ingredients produced in Iceland. Points of pride are the quality of the lamb meat, seafood, and (more recently) skyr. Other local ingredients include seabirds and waterfowl (including their eggs), salmon and trout, crowberry, blueberry, rhubarb, Iceland moss, wild mushrooms, wild thyme, lovage, angelica, and dried seaweed, as well as a wide array of dairy products. Because of the history of settlement in a harsh climate, animal products dominate Icelandic cuisine. Popular taste has been developing, however, to become closer to the European norm. As an example, consumption of vegetables has greatly increased in recent decades while consumption of fish has diminished, yet is still far higher than any other developed country at about quadruple the average.

In the beginning of the 20th century, farmers living near the towns would sell their products to shops and directly to households, often under a subscription contract. (This is similar to the concept of Community Supported Agriculture in some United States cities since the late 20th century.) To deal with the Great Depression in 1930, the Iceland government instituted state monopolies on various imports, including vegetables. They granted the regional farmers’ cooperatives, most of them founded around the start of the 20th century, a monopoly on dairy and meat production for the consumer market. This meant that smaller private producers were out of business. The large cooperatives were believed able to implement economies of scale in agricultural production. They invested in production facilities meeting modern standards of food hygiene. These cooperatives still dominate agricultural production in Iceland and are almost unchallenged. They pioneered new cheesemaking techniques based on popular European varieties of gouda, blue cheese, camembert, etc. Cheesemaking (apart from skyr) had been nearly extinct in Iceland since the 18th century. The cooperatives have driven product development, especially in dairy products. For instance, they market whey-based sweet drinks and variations of traditional products. One of these is “”, a creamier, sweeter skyr, which has boosted the popularity of this age-old staple.

Fishing on an industrial scale with trawlers started before World War I. Fresh fish became a cheap commodity in Iceland and a staple in the cuisine of fishing villages around the country. Until around 1990, studies showed that Icelanders were consuming much more fish per capita than any other European nation. Since then, however, steeply rising fish prices have caused a decline in consumption.

Icelanders consume fish caught in the waters of the North Atlantic Ocean. Fresh fish can be had all the year round. Icelanders eat mostly haddock, plaice, halibut, herring, and shrimp.

Hákarl (meaning ‘shark’ in Icelandic) is putrescent shark meat, which has been preserved. It is part of the þorramatur, the traditional seasonal Icelandic foods. It is often accompanied by brennivín, a local schnapps.

Traditionally, domestic sheep, the most common farm animal in Iceland, was the primary source of meat. Sheep were also used for their milk and wool, and were worth more alive than dead. When a sheep was slaughtered (usually the young rams and infertile ewes), most or all of the carcass was used for making food, which was carefully preserved and consumed. Traditionally lambs are slaughtered in the autumn, when they are more than three months old and have reached a weight of almost 20 kg. After Christianisation, horses were eaten only as a last resort. After the middle of the 18th century, attitudes changed. Horse meat, usually salted and served boiled or in bjúgu, a form of smoked sausage, has been common in Iceland since the 19th century. Icelandic beef is usually of top quality with good marbling due to the cold climate. Icelandic cattle are grass-fed and raised without growth hormones and drugs. However, the lack of tradition for eating beef has resulted in sales of lower quality meat, forcing buyers to be careful.

Small game in Iceland consists mostly of seabirds (puffin, cormorant and great black-backed gull) and waterfowl (mallard, greylag goose and pink-footed goose). The meat of some seabirds contains fish oil. It is placed in a bowl of milk overnight to extract the oil before cooking. Ptarmigan is also found in Iceland, but hunting of them has been banned because of dramatically declining stocks since the late 20th century. Ptarmigan, served with a creamy sauce and jam, has been a traditional Christmas main course in many Icelandic households. Seal hunting, especially the more common harbor seal, was common everywhere farmers had access to seal breeding grounds. Seal was considered an important commodity. Whereas mutton was almost never eaten fresh, seal meat was usually eaten immediately, washed in seawater, or conserved for a short time in brine. Seal meat is not commonly eaten anymore and is rarely found in stores. Systematic whaling was not possible in Iceland until the late 19th century, due to the lack of ocean-going ships. Small whales were hunted close to the shore with the small rowboats used for fishing. Beached whales were also eaten. The Icelandic word for beached whale, hvalreki, is still used to mean a stroke of good luck. When Iceland started commercial whaling (mostly minke whales) in the early 20th century, whale meat became popular as a low-priced red meat. It can be prepared in much the same manner as the more expensive beef. When Iceland withdrew from the International Whaling Commission in 1992, commercial whaling stopped. Some whale meat was still sold in specialised stores, coming from small whales that had beached or been accidentally caught in nets. In 2002 Iceland rejoined the IWC, and commercial whaling recommenced in 2006. Whale meat is commonly available again, although the price has gone up due to the cost of whaling. Reindeer were introduced in Iceland in the late 18th century and live wild on the moorlands in the eastern farthing. A small number are killed by hunters each autumn. Their meat is sold in stores and prepared in restaurants most of the year. Reindeer meat is considered a special delicacy and is usually very expensive. Importing raw meat to Iceland is strictly regulated and dependent on specific licenses issued to importers. The government has feared contamination. Due to Iceland’s isolation, most of the stocks of domestic animals raised in Iceland have no resistance to some diseases common in neighboring countries. For this reason, tourists are banned from bringing in even cured ham or sausage with them; these are confiscated by customs officers.

Dairy products are very important to Icelanders. The average Icelander consumes about 100 gallons of dairy products in one year.

Vegetable production and consumption is steadily growing, with production going from around 8,000 tonnes in 1977 to almost 30,000 tonnes in 2007. The cold climate reduces the need for farmers to use pesticides. Vegetables such as rutabaga, cabbage and turnips are usually started in greenhouses in the early spring, and tomatoes and cucumbers are entirely produced indoors. Iceland relies on imports for almost any type of sweet fruit except for berries. Since the early 20th century, it has again been possible to grow barley for human consumption in a few places, for the first time since the Middle Ages.

Modern Icelandic bakeries offer a wide variety of breads and pastry. The first professional bakers in Iceland were Danish and this is still reflected in the professional traditions of Icelandic bakers. Long-time local favorites include snúður, a type of cinnamon roll, usually topped with glaze or melted chocolate, and skúffukaka, a single-layer chocolate cake baked in a roasting pan, covered with chocolate glaze and sprinkled with ground coconut. A variety of layer cake called randalín, randabrauð or simply lagkaka has been popular in Iceland since the 19th century. These come in many varieties that all have in common five layers of 1/2-inch-thick (13 mm) cake alternated with layers of fruit preserve, jam or icing. One version called vínarterta, popular in the late 19th century, with layers of prunes, became a part of the culinary tradition of Icelandic immigrants in the U.S. and Canada. Traditional breads, still popular in Iceland, include rúgbrauð, a dense, dark and moist rye bread, traditionally baked in pots or special boxes used for baking in holes dug near hot springs, and flatkaka, a soft brown rye flatbread. A common way of serving hangikjöt is in thin slices on flatkaka. Other breads include skonsur which are soft breads, and Westfjord Wheatcakes (Vestfirskar hveitikökur). Traditional pastries include kleina, a small fried dough bun where the dough is flattened and cut into small trapezoids with a special cutting wheel (kleinujárn), a slit cut in the middle and then one end pulled through the slit to form a “knot”. This is then deep-fried in oil. Laufabrauð (lit. “leafbread”), a very thin wafer, with patterns cut into it with a sharp knife and ridged cutting wheels and fried crisp in oil, is a traditional Christmas food, sometimes served with hangikjöt.

Rösti © Mussklprozz/cc-by-sa-3.0

Rösti © Mussklprozz/cc-by-sa-3.0

Liechtensteiner cuisine
The Liechtensteiner cuisine is diverse and has been influenced by the cuisine of nearby countries, particularly Switzerland and Austria, and is also influenced by Central European cuisine. Cheeses and soups are integral parts of Liechtensteiner cuisine. Milk products are also commonplace in the country’s cuisine, due to an expansive dairy industry. Common vegetables include greens, potatoes and cabbage. Widely consumed meats include beef, chicken and pork. The consumption of three meals a day is commonplace, and meals are often formal. Common foods and dishes are:

Norwegian Smørbrød © - Seansie/cc-by-2.0

Norwegian Smørrebrød © – Seansie/cc-by-2.0

Norwegian cuisine
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. Many of the traditional dishes are results of using conserved materials, with respect to the long winters. Modern Norwegian cuisine, although still strongly influenced by its traditional background, now bears some globalization: pastas, pizzas, tacos, 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, as is yogurt. Norwegians usually eat dinner around 4-5 PM. This is the most important meal of the day and typically includes carbohydrate-rich foods such as potatoes and protein-rich foods such as meat or fish. Norwegians usually eat supper (kveldsmat) around 7-8 PM. This may be an open sandwich.

Preserved meat and sausages come in a large variety of regional variations, and are usually accompanied by sour cream dishes and flatbread or wheat/potato wraps. Particularly sought after delicacies include the fenalår, a slow-cured lamb’s leg, and morr, usually a smoked cured sausage, though the exact definition may vary regionally. Lamb’s meat and mutton is very popular in autumn, mainly used in fårikål (mutton stew with cabbage). Pinnekjøtt, cured and sometimes smoked mutton ribs that are steamed for several hours (traditionally on a bed of birch sticks, hence the name, meaning “stick meat”), is traditionally served as Christmas dinner in the western parts of Norway. Another Western specialty is smalahove, a salted, or salted and smoked, lamb’s head. Other meat dishes include:

  • Kjøttkaker – Meatcakes: rough and large cakes of ground beef, onion, salt, and pepper. Roughly the size of a child’s fist. Generally served with sauce espagnol (Kjøttkakesaus or Brunsaus in Norwegian). Potatoes, stewed peas or cabbage and carrots are served on the side. Many like to use a jam of lingonberries as a relish. The pork version is called medisterkake.
  • Kjøttboller – Meatballs: A rougher version of the Swedish meatballs. Served with mashed potatoes and cream-sauce or sauce espagnole depending on the locality.
  • Svinekoteletter – Pork Chops: simply braised and served with potatoes and fried onions or whatever vegetables are available.
  • Svinestek – Roast Pork: a typical Sunday dinner, served with pickled cabbage (a sweeter variety of the German sauerkraut), gravy, vegetables, and potatoes. All good cuts of meat are roasted, as in any cuisine. Side dishes vary with season and what goes with the meat. Roast leg of lamb is an Easter classic, roast beef is not very common and game is often roasted for festive occasions.
  • Lapskaus – stew: resembles Irish stew, but mincemeat, sausages or indeed any meat except fresh pork may go into the dish.
  • Fårikål – mutton stew: the national dish of Norway. Very simple preparation: cabbage and mutton are layered in a big pot along with black peppercorns, salt (and, in some recipes, wheat flour to thicken the sauce), covered with water and simmered until the meat is very tender. Potatoes on the side.
  • Stekte pølser – fried sausages: fresh sausages are fried and served with vegetables, potatoes, peas and perhaps some gravy.
  • Syltelabb is usually eaten around and before Christmas time, made from boiled, salt-cured pig’s trotter. They are traditionally eaten using one’s fingers, and served as a snack and sometimes served with beetroot, mustard, and fresh bread or with lefse or flatbread. Historically syltelabb is served with the traditional Norwegian juleøl (English: Christmas Ale), beer and liquor (like aquavit). This is because Syltelabb is very salty food.
  • Pinnekjøtt is a main course dinner dish of lamb or mutton ribs, and this dish is largely associated with the celebration of Christmas in Western Norway and is rapidly gaining popularity in other regions as well. 31% of Norwegians say they eat pinnekjøtt for their family Christmas dinner. Pinnekjøtt is often served with puréed swede (rutabaga) and potatoes, beer and akevitt.
  • Smalahove is a traditional dish, usually eaten around and before Christmas time, made from a sheep’s head. The skin and fleece of the head are torched, the brain removed, and the head is salted, sometimes smoked, and dried. The head is boiled for about 3 hours and served with mashed swede (rutabaga) and potatoes.
  • Sodd is a traditional Norwegian soup-like meal with mutton and meatballs. Usually, vegetables such as potatoes or carrots also are included.

High cuisine is very reliant on game, such as moose, reindeer (strictly speaking not game, as nearly all Norwegian reindeer are semi-domesticated), mountain hare, duck, rock ptarmigan and fowl. These meats are often hunted and sold or passed around as gifts, but are also available at shops nationwide, and tend to be served at social occasions. Because these meats have a distinct, strong taste, they will often be served with rich sauces spiced with crushed juniper berries, and a sour-sweet jam of lingonberries on the side.

Offal is eaten extensively, leverpostei (liver pâté) being one of the most common fillings for sandwiches, along with sylte (brawn) and tunge (beef tonguetongue of beef).

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 and mustard sauce. Another traditional salmon product is gravlaks, (literally “buried salmon”). Traditionally, gravlaks would be cured for 24 hours in a mix of sugar and salt and herbs (dill). The salmon may then be frozen or kept in a chilled area. Since grav means “buried” it is a common misunderstanding that the salmon is buried in the ground, (similar to how rakfisk is still prepared). This was the case in the medieval ages because the fermenting process was important, however, this is not the case today. 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 “krabbefest”, which translates to “crab party” feasts, either eating readily 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 kilogram of pie prawns and eat it at the quays, feeding the waste to seagulls. Beer or white wine is the normal accompaniment. 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 has been a staple food internationally for centuries, in particular on the Iberian peninsula and the African coast. Both during the age of sail and in the industrial age, stockfish played a part in world history as an enabling food for cross-Atlantic trade and the slave trade triangle. A large number of fish dishes are popular today, based on such species as salmon, cod, herring, sardine, and mackerel. Seafood is used fresh, smoked, salted or pickled. Variations on creamed seafood soups are common along the coastline. Due to seafood’s availability, seafood dishes along the coast are usually based on fresh produce, typically poached (fish) and very lightly spiced with herbs, pepper, and salt. While coastal Norwegians may consider the head, roe, and liver an inseparable part of a seafood meal, most inland restaurants do not include these in the meal. In Northern Norway a dish called “mølje”, consisting of poached fish, roe, and liver, is often considered a “national dish” of the region, and it is common for friends and family to get together at least once during winter for a “møljekalas” (loosely translated, “mølje feast”). A number of the fish species available have traditionally been avoided (especially those perceived as scavengers, due to a fear of indirectly eating friends or family members who had died at sea) or reserved for bait, but most common seafood is part of the modern menu. Because of industrial whaling, whale meat was commonly used as a cheap substitute for beef early in the 20th century. Consumption has been declining over time, but whale meat is still widely available in all parts of the country and most Norwegians consume whale meat occasionally. Eating whale meat is not considered controversial in Norway. Other fish dishes include:

  • Rakfisk – Norwegian fish dish made from trout or sometimes char, salted and fermented for two to three months, or even up to a year, then eaten without further cooking. Rakfisk must be prepared and stored very hygienically, due to the risk of developing Clostridium botulinum (which causes Botulism) if the fish contain certain bacterias during the fermentation process.
  • Torsk – Cod: poached, simply served with boiled potatoes and melted butter. Carrots, fried bacon, roe and cod liver may also accompany the fish. A delicacy which is somewhat popular in Norway is torsketunger; cod’s tongue.
  • Lutefisk – lyed fish: a modern preparation made of stockfish (dried cod or ling) or klippfisk (dried and salted cod) that has been steeped in lye. It was prepared this way because refrigeration was nonexistent and they needed a way to preserve the fish for longer periods. It is somewhat popular in the United States as a heritage food. It retains a place in Norwegian cuisine (especially on the coast) as a traditional food around Christmas time.
  • Preparation and accompaniment is for fresh cod, although beer and aquavit is served on the side.
  • Stekt fisk – braised fish: almost all fish are braised, but as a rule, the larger specimens tend to be poached and the smaller braised. The fish is filleted, dusted with flour, salt and pepper and braised in butter. Potatoes are served on the side, and the butter from the pan used as a sauce or food cream is added to the butter to make a creamy sauce.
  • Fatty fish like herring and brisling are given the same treatment. Popular accompaniments are sliced and fresh-pickled cucumbers and sour cream.
  • Fiskesuppe – fish soup: A white, milk-based soup with vegetables, usually carrots, onions, potato and various kinds of fish.
  • Sursildpickled herring: a variety of pickle-sauces are used, ranging from simple vinegar-sugar-based sauces with tomato, mustard, and sherry-based sauces. Pickled herring is served as an hors-d’oeuvre or on rye bread as a lunch buffet. This dish is a popular Christmas/holiday lunch in Norway.

The basic methods of curing are used: drying, salting, smoking and fermenting. Stockfish is fish (mainly cod) dried on racks, meats are dried, salt curing is common for both meats and fish. Fermenting (like sauer-kraut) is used for trout. Smoking is mainly used on the west coast as an addition to drying and salting, maybe because of the wet climate

Fruits and berries mature slowly in the cold climate. This makes for a tendency to smaller volume with a more intense taste. Strawberries, bilberries, lingonberries, raspberries and apples are popular and are part of a variety of desserts, and cherries in the parts of the country where those are grown. The wild growing cloudberry is regarded as a delicacy. A typical Norwegian dessert on special occasions is cloudberries with whipped or plain cream. Strawberry-Apple pie is also popular because of its rich flavour of strawberries and apples. Rhubarb pie (rabarbrapai in Norwegian) is another favoured dish in Norway. German and Nordic-style cakes and pastries, such as sponge cakes and Danish pastry (known as “wienerbrød”, literal translation: “Viennese bread”) share the table with a variety of home made cakes, waffles and biscuits. Cardamom is a common flavoring. Another Norwegian cake is Krumkake, a paper-thin rolled cake filled with whipped cream. (Krumkake means ‘Curved Cake’ or ‘Crooked Cake’). Baked meringues are known as “pikekyss”, literally translated as “girl’s kiss”. During Christmas (jul), the traditional Norwegian Holiday season, many different dessert dishes are served including Julekake, a heavily spiced leavened loaf often coated with sugar and cinnamon, and Multekrem (whipped cream with cloudberries).

Bread is an important staple of the Norwegian diet. Breads containing a large proportion of whole grain flour (grovbrød, or “coarse bread”) are popular, likely because bread makes up such a substantial part of the Norwegian diet and are therefore expected to be nutritious. 80% of Norwegians regularly eat bread, in the form of open-top sandwiches with butter for breakfast and lunch. A soft flat bread called lefse made out of potato, milk or cream (or sometimes lard) and flour is also very popular. The variety of bread available in a common supermarket is rather large: wittenberger (crisp-crusted wheat bread), grovbrød (whole-wheat bread, often with syrup), loff (soft wheat bread), sour-dough bread and other German-style breads. Baguettes, ciabatta, bagels and so on are also popular. During the Hanseatic era, cereals were imported in exchange for fish by the Hanseatic League. The German Hanseatic League and the Danish colonial masters obviously influenced the Norwegian cuisine, bringing continental habits, taste and produce. Norwegians are particularly fond of a crisp crust, regarding a soft crust as a sign of the bread being stale. Oat is used in addition to wheat and rye and is perhaps the most unusual cereal in bread-making as compared to continental Europe and the UK. Seeds and nuts (like sunflower seeds and walnuts)are rather common ingredients, along with olives and sun-dried pickles, to improve the texture of the bread.

Cheese is still extremely popular in Norway, though the variety of traditional products available and commonly in use is severely reduced. Norvegia is a common yellow cheese (produced since the 1890s) as is Jarlsberg cheese which is also known as a Norwegian export (produced since the 1850s). The sweet geitost or brown/red cheese (not a true cheese, but rather caramelized lactose from goat milk or a mix of goat and/or cow milk) is very popular in cooking and with bread. More sophisticated, traditional, or extreme cheeses include the gamalost (lit. “old cheese”), an over-matured, highly pungent cheese made from sour milk, Pultost, made from sour milk and caraway seeds, and Nøkkelost flavored with cumin and cloves.

Norway has a particularly strong affinity for coffee and is the second highest consumer of coffee in the world, with the average Norwegian drinking 142 liters, or 9.5 kg of coffee in 2011. Norway has the fourth highest per capita coffee consumption worldwide. Coffee plays a large role in Norwegian culture; it is common to invite people over for coffee and cakes and to enjoy cups of coffee with dessert after the main courses in get-togethers. The traditional way of serving coffee in Norway is plain black, usually in a mug, rather than a cup. As in the rest of the west, recent years have seen a shift from coffee made by boiling ground beans to Italian-style coffee bars, tended by professional baristas. Coffee is included in one of the most traditional alcoholic beverages in Norway, commonly known as karsk, from Trøndelag.

Both industrial and small-scale brewing have long traditions in Norway. In addition, the volume of craft brewed beers from an expanding number of microbreweries, in the recent years has increased significantly. Despite restrictive alcohol policies, there is a rich community of brewers, and a colorful variety of beverages both legal and illegal. The most popular industrial beers are usually pilsners and red beers (bayer), while traditional beer is much richer, with a high alcohol and malt content. The ancient practice of brewing Juleøl (Christmas beer) persists even today, and imitations of these are available before Christmas, in shops and, for the more potent versions, at state monopoly outlets. Cider brewing has faced tough barriers to commercial production due to alcohol regulations, and the famous honey wine, mjød (mead), is mostly a drink for connoisseurs, Norse and medieval historical reenactors, and practitioners of åsatru and other Norse neopagan religions. The climate has not been hospitable to grapes for millennia, and wines and more potent drinks are available only from the wine monopolies. Distilled beverages include akevitt, a yellow-tinged liquor spiced with caraway seeds, also known as akvavit or other variations on the Latin aqua vitae – water of life. The Norwegian “linie” style is distinctive for its maturing process, crossing the equator in sherry casks stored in the hull of a ship, giving it more taste and character than the rawer styles of other Scandinavian akevittar. Norway also produces some vodkas, bottled water and fruit juices. In rural Norway, it is still common to find hjemmebrent (moonshine). For personal consumption, it is illegal by Norwegian law to produce beverage with more than 60% alcohol by volume. In Norway beer is available in stores from 9 am to 8 pm on weekdays and from 9 am to 6 pm on Saturdays. Moreover, you can buy wine and spirits until 6 pm during weekdays and 3 pm on Saturdays in government-owned and run liquor shops (Vinmonopolet). Only “true” grocery stores are allowed to sell beer; gas stations and so-called “Fruit & Tobacco” marts (“Frukt og Tobakk” or “kiosk” in Norwegian) are not.

Swiss fondue © Julien29

Swiss fondue © Julien29

Swiss cuisine
Swiss cuisine bears witness to many regional influences, including from French, German and Italian cuisines and also features many dishes specific to Switzerland. Switzerland was historically a country of farmers, so traditional Swiss dishes tend to be plain and made from simple ingredients, such as potatoes and cheese.

There are many regional dishes in Switzerland. One example is Zürcher Geschnetzeltes, thin strips of veal with mushrooms in a cream sauce served with Rösti. Italian cuisine is popular in contemporary Switzerland, particularly pasta and pizza. Foods often associated with Switzerland include particular types of cheese and milk chocolate. Swiss cheeses, in particular Emmental cheese, Gruyère, Vacherin, and Appenzeller, are famous Swiss products. The most popular cheese dishes are fondue and raclette. Both these dishes were originally regional dishes, but were popularized by the Swiss Cheese Union to boost sales of cheese.

Rösti is a popular potato dish that is eaten all over Switzerland. It was originally a breakfast food, but this has been replaced by the muesli, which is commonly eaten for breakfast and in Switzerland goes by the name of “Birchermüesli” (“Birchermiesli” in some regions). For breakfast and dinner many Swiss enjoy sliced bread with butter and jam. There is a wide variety of bread rolls available in Switzerland. Bread and cheese is a popular dish for dinner.

Tarts and quiches are also traditional Swiss dishes. Tarts in particular are made with all sorts of toppings, from sweet apple to onion.

In the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, the Ticino area, one will find a type of restaurant unique to the region. The Grotto is a rustic eatery, offering traditional food ranging from pasta to homemade meat specialties. Popular dishes are Luganighe and Luganighetta, a type of artisan sausages. Authentic grottoes are old wine caves re-functioned into restaurants. Due to their nature they are mostly found in or around forests and built against a rocky background. Typically, the facade is built from granite blocks and the outside tables and benches are made of the same stone as well. Grottoes are popular with locals and tourists alike, especially during the hot summer months.

Rivella, a carbonated Swiss drink based on lactose, is one of the most popular drinks in Switzerland. Apple juice, both still and sparkling, is popular in many areas of Switzerland, and is also produced in the form of apple cider. The chocolate drink Ovomaltine (known in the USA as “Ovaltine”) originates in Switzerland and enjoys ongoing popularity, particularly with young people. Aside from being a beverage, the powder is also eaten sprinkled on top of a slice of buttered bread.

Wine is produced in many regions of Switzerland, particularly the Valais, the Vaud, the Ticino and the canton of Zurich. Riesling X Sylvaner is a common white wine produced in German-speaking parts of the country, while Chasselas is the most common white wine in the French-speaking parts of the country. Pinot noir is the most popular red grape in both the French-speaking and the German-speaking part, while this position is held by Merlot in the Italian-speaking part.

Absinthe is being distilled officially again in its Val-de-Travers birthplace, in the Jura region of Switzerland, where it originated. Long banned by a specific anti-Absinthe article in the Swiss Federal Constitution, it was legalized again in 2005, with the adoption of the new constitution. Now Swiss absinthe is also exported to many countries, with Kübler and La Clandestine Absinthe amongst the first new brands to emerge. Wine and beer can legally be purchased by youths of 16 or more years of age. Spirits and beverages containing distilled alcohol (including wine coolers like Bacardi Breezer) can be bought at 18.

Damassine is a liqueur produced by distillation of the Damassine prune from the Damassinier tree and is produced in the canton of Jura.

Bon Pere William is a famous regional Swiss brandy produced from pears, alcohol 43% by volume. It is usually paired with fondue or raclette dishes or taken after dinner, sometimes poured in coffee with dessert. Some bottles are available with the full size pear inside the bottle, grown with the bud placed in the bottle. There are many other types of regional brandies made from local fruit, the most popular being cherries (kirschwasser).

Switzerland has the seventh highest per capita coffee consumption worldwide.

Read more on The European Union: Bon appétit! and Wikipedia European Free Trade Association (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by - Global Passport Power Rank - Democracy Index - GDP according to IMF, UN, and World Bank - Global Competitiveness Report - Corruption Perceptions Index - Press Freedom Index - World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - UN Human Development Index - Global Peace Index - Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.

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