Fårikål and the National Dish of Norway

This humble concoction of mutton and cabbage retains a special place in Norwegian hearts

Photo: Whitney Love Fårikål is Norwegian soul food at its most “koselig.”

Photo: Whitney Love
Fårikål is Norwegian soul food at its most “koselig.”

Whitney Love
Stavanger, Norway

Although maybe not the prettiest of dishes, fårikål is Norwegian soul food at its coziest and has been the Norwegian national dish since 1972. Fårikål, literally translated to “mutton in cabbage,” is a dish made from the non-prime cuts of mature sheep, also known as mutton, along with cabbage, salt, and whole black peppercorns—boiled together for hours until the mutton falls off the bone. This dish sounds simple and humble—because it is.

During January 2014, in celebration of the bicentenary of the signing of the Norwegian constitution, then Food and Agriculture Minister Sylvi Listhaug asked Norwegians to think deeply about their national dish, as well as their regional specialties. A contest was launched to find out what Norwegians consider the national dish and to learn which dish each region of Norway celebrates most. Contest entries were limited to ingredients produced in Norway.

The contest, which had its own Facebook page called “Norges nasjonalrett 2014,” started no less than a firestorm, with some asking for Listhaug’s resignation. Others wondered whether the new national dish would reflect the more recent immigrant groups in Norway. In the end, the contest results proved fårikål was still the nation’s most beloved dish, receiving 45% of the ballots cast and beating out dishes such as Norwegian meatballs in brown sauce, lapskaus (potato stew), fiskeboller (fish balls in white sauce), and poached salmon.

Every year, the last Thursday in September is celebrated in Norway as Fårikål Day. On this day, fårikål is eaten en masse all over the country and reminds Norwegians of simpler times when things were slower. While this dish is eaten all throughout the colder months of the year, the last Thursday in September is the day of the year one is sure to see it on menus in job canteens and local restaurants as well as in homes. Also, eating fårikål at the end of September is a clear signal that the warm summer months are long gone and a cooler, normally wetter autumn is here.

Photo: Whitney Love

Photo: Whitney Love

The first time I had fårikål, the strong lamb taste put me off, but over the years I’ve come to like it for its simple nature. I grew up in Arizona and my family ate more beef than anything—so when I moved to Norway, pinnekjøtt, not fårikål, made me fall in love with the taste of lamb. As well, I live in Stavanger, which sits in Rogaland county—one of the largest sheep-producing counties in all of Norway, so this is probably the best place in Norway to eat fårikål. Yes, I am slightly biased, but the fact is that Rogaland county is especially known for its sheep and many estimate that there may be more lamb and sheep living in the area than people. There are several farms raising sheep all over Rogaland county, but special attention must be paid to the sheep raised in Rennesøy and Kvitsøy. The long tradition and history of sheep farming in these communities and the unique taste of sheep raised near the sea have even earned Kvitsøy lamb protected designation of origin status worldwide.

In our home, we eat fårikål with boiled potatoes and occasionally carrots on the side for an added amount of sustenance and warmth when it is cold outside.

1 ½ kilograms (~3 pounds) cabbage, cut into wedges
1 ½ kilograms (~3 pounds) stewing sheep meat, cut into large chunks
4 tsps. whole black peppercorns
2 tsps. salt
300 milliliters (1 ¼ cup) water

Layer the meat, cabbage, peppercorns, and salt in the bottom of a large pot, pour in the water, and bring to a boil. After the water has come to a boil, decrease the heat to low and simmer until the meat is tender, about 2 to 3 hours.

Serve with warm boiled potatoes. Serves 6.

Whitney Love is a cookbook author and blogger. She hails from Tucson, Arizona, and is currently living in Stavanger, Norway. She runs the English language blog Thanks For The Food where she documents her love affair with Norway through the lens of traditional and modern Norwegian gastronomy. Find her online at thanksforthefood.com.

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 23, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.