Rakfisk – a traditional Norwegian Yule dish

I have the pleasure of inviting you to one of the most traditional Norwegian dishes: Rakfisk. The first record of the term Rakfisk dates back to 1348, but the history of this food is probably even older. A meal served in the dark winter time around winter solstice (long before the fridge was invented!). This is the kind of food you enjoy together with good friends like we did last weekend when my blog friend TorAa and his wife visited us in Mariestad, Sweden. Let me invite you to sit in before I give more details:

Dinner is served!
All pics taken with my Nokia mobile phone – please click to enlarge!

The word “rak” comes from the word “rakr” in the Norse language, meaning moist or soaked. The word descends from Indo-European “req”, which mean source or drop which is also related to the word rain. Rakfisk is put into a tub and then fluids are formed – it is brined. In the oldest sources, on the other hand, the Rakfisk is mentioned as “brine-cured fish”. Originally the fish was buried or put in underground cellars. The supposition for this conservation method is an even soil temperature at about 4C (39F) and that’s why the tradition is found around the polar circle at the northern hemisphere. We know of raking of salmon, herring and shark in addition to the gwyniad and trout/char that are the most commonly used today. Ours was a trout of course.

A convenient thing is that it does not need cooking since you eat Rakfisk as is. It’s usually served sliced or as a fillet with raw red onion, lefse (a traditional soft Scandinavian flatbread made out of potato, milk or cream and flour, cooked on a griddle), sour cream and almond potatoes. Some also use mustard-sauce, a mild form of mustard with dill. There is different traditions from every part of Norway – and don’t argue with them! – on the table above and in the rest of the pics, you see how we do it:-). Although not an everyday meal, approximately 500 tonnes of Rakfisk are consumed in Norway annually.

My plate – Butter with the cheese slicer.

Again, a good meal is only fulfilled if eaten together with good friends or family. The traditional food in itself invites talk of about good old days, traditions, Christmas time or Yule (click to read my earlier post for more information) and enjoying each others company. In that way TorAa and his wife was a perfect match. Another important accompaniment is what you drink to this dish. It has to be traditional too of course and then we are talking about the Scandinavian distilled beverage; Aquavit and beer. TorAa wanted white wine though (to save his stomach:-) Hi also introduced another great way of using a cheese slicer (cutting butter) as you can see above.

Since we were in Sweden eating and this blog is about culture in the Nordic countries I should mentioned: Rakfisk dish is related to their Surströmming and probably shares its origin in Scandinavian culture. I’m sure some of my Swedish readers can comment on this!

This is post two of a trilogy about TorAa and his wife visiting us in our vacation home in Sweden this weekend. The last one will be about the hilarious time we had Saturday when our wives went shopping. So stay tuned!

31 Comments

  1. Thanks for the introduction!

    When I read it, two things came to mind.

    I’m from Eastern Canada and a lot of “salted” cod is eaten there. The fish is salted and dried and can last a lot time.

    There is a Cuban fish dish where the fish is “cooked” in lemon and spices. No real cooking is required as you eat it as it is.

    I’m not a big fan of fish so can we order a pizza if I come visit??!! :)

  2. Thanks for the invitation!

    I’ll have to tell my husband about this. He’ll think it’s cool :-)

  3. I don’t care for fish but my husband would love this! You always present your food so artfully!

  4. I always wondered how they prepear Rakfisk, Do u know what thy do to Lutafisk? Or maybe that will come in some other post?
    I love advent :)
    Hugs

  5. It is probably something very different (you should ask one of your Filipino friends) but I saw fishermen putting fish with salt (not salted water) in huge containers. They told me they leave it there for a very long time. A year or more is no exception. I think they then make a kind of “bagoong” (fish paste?) with it. Alas my Tagalog is still not as good as it should be and I didn’t understood it very well. Sorry.

    From your pictures I can see the rakr fish seems to be still very fresh and in good shape. Which is not the case with bagoong.

    How long is the fish soaked in salted water to make rakfisk?
    In any case, it looks yummy!

  6. I am looking forward to eat rakfisk this season. One thing I look forward to winter are the exotic norwegian food.

    In reply to Sidney – rakfisk and our local “bagoong” has some resemblance in taste but the way it is eaten is very different. Rakfisk is trout and bagoong is anchovies or small fish. The later is generally used for taste while rakfisk is a dish.

    Anyway, Renny, you guys really had a blast weekend :)

  7. what came to mind is sushi.. i think i’ll prefer the faukeen dish. did i remeber it correctly? hehehe ;p

  8. since the fish is brined and not cooked i am curious what the texture is like. as for the ancient preparation i find it fascinating how various dishes were developed. our forefathers were amzingly resourceful, no?

  9. Bro Renny:

    So the Japanese aren’t the only ones who have a long tradition of eating raw fish. I learn something new every time I stop by here — which is why I do.

    Couldn’t help but notice the Hard Rock Cafe shot glasses on the table. Ha! A little bit of America in an old Swedish custom.

    Merry Merry, man!- DMunro (Bud in Yankee-land)

  10. Yes, it was really a quality time around the table and Anna and me really loved the fish and the lively, friendly atmosphere.

    Just to underscore the quality of that spesific “Rakefisk”, Anna and I will buy some for the weekend to come.

    PS. Still problems commenting to and from old and new blogger. And the Dashboard is in German.

  11. For some odd reason, I just don’t know if I could do the raw fish thing without anything but what’s on your plate. Your missing the soy sauce and wasabi!!!

    Very interesting to know for sure! You know I’d love to know some eating traditions here in Canada but I think since there are so many different cultures, it’s harder to know!

    And I’m so glad you too have old blogger. :)

  12. Cheese!!I love cheese,Renny!! wowwwww!!
    im drooling right now :)

    thanx for sharing another Norwegian culture :)

  13. What is the most disgusting food you ever have eaten?

    We think that the Swedish Surströmming maybe beats that without doubt! Don’t try the fermented Baltic herring from northern Sweden, it should be a warning sign on it that says that you could faint just by the smell of it.

    This one really smells rotten and in a very long way. They camouflage it with other stuff and drink heavily to be able to swallow it and the flies just LOVE it…

    I have tasted it once and never ever I want that any more.

    I’ve heard though that we export a lot of surströmming to Japan, they must have lost their sense of smell.

    It’s not at all like your Rakfisk which is GOOD tasting.

    BTW: Don’t you celebrate Lucia in Norway? We have today, 13 dec. come on over and have a look :-)

  14. I do not know if I would like rakfisk, as I don’t like salty foods. But I do love lefse. There is a restaurant that is very near to my house that serves it- so very delicous. Thank you for sharing the story of your wonderful dinner with Tor. :-)

  15. Oh, Yum! It looks so good! Wish I were there to eat and enjoy!

  16. Warmth welcome to my Crack Me Up Party on Friday 15 dec! Prepare some joke or some fun to bring and to have FUN :-)

    Tell everybody to come!

    Read more at my blog…

  17. Thanks for the invitation!

    as u visit my blog (thanks again) u know I am such a food person so for sure I wish to try this as well… even I am not a fish person :)

    but it still look yummy :)

  18. I never have been very keen on fish and only like smoked salmon. But I ate Stockfish in Italy and that was good too. Anyway you are a sadic, presenting me such a wonderful dressed up table when I am starving !
    Now, I will have my supper. Kangeruh steak with cawliflowers and baked potatoes ! (no kidding, we both love Kangeruh steaks it tastes much better then beef steaks and is so tender !)
    But your plate I would also eat with pleasure !

  19. wow that was a nice food them.. delish and tempting!!

    9 days to go to the yuetide season!!!

  20. Fascinating Renny…and quite yummy looking! There use to be a lovely restaurant here in Beverly Hills called Konditori…I think it had a combination of Scandinavian foods from many Scandinavian country’s…I LOVED it…When you mentioned the mustard dill sauce…They use to serve that on many things, on the side and in fact Bottled it and sold it…I think one can still buy it…It was Superb!

  21. Is rakfish the same as lutefisk? The Minnesotans of Norwegian descent tend to eat it as a special Christmas meal.

  22. looks good though! ;)

  23. @Teena: We have the same salted cod and also dried in Norway – I’ll tel about it later. You can have pizza if you absolutely have to:-)

    @Jen: What did your husband think?

    @MotherOfInvention: Thanks for the compliments!

    @Susanna: Yes, a Lutefisk post will come later!

    @Sidney: Thanks for sharing your fish experience – that’s what I like.
    It’s soaked for some month I think.

    @AL: Glad you’ve got the tast of it. Thanks also for helping me out with Sidney!

    @Tin-tin: It actuall reminds a great deal of sushi! I think you mean Fårikål:-)

    @Lime: It’s quite solid but melt on your tongue. Our forefathers did a good job yes, let’s keep up the traditions!

    @DMunro: Yea, raw fish is great!
    I have HRC shot glasses from all over the world:-)

    @TorAa: Hope your second try on Rakfisk was great too!

    @ET: No Soy sauce or wasabi on Rakfisk!

    @Ghee: No, not cheese this time but butter just to show how convinant the slicer is!

    @Mrs Lifecruiser: Maybe cow stomach (but it was great too!).
    Thanks for filling me in on Surströmning! Glad you are found of rakfisk!

    @Lisa: Lefse is great for a lot of things!

    @Maribeth: Come on over next year then:-)

    @Vince: Your welcome anyway!

    @Gattina: Smokes salmon is good Norwegian Tradition food too you know:-)

    @NeiLDC: Thanks and now even less days to Yule!

    @OldLadyOfTheHills: Glad you can have a Norwegian taste in Beverly Hills too!

    @GlobalLibrarian: No Lutefisk is something very different and we have it on Christmas Even so I’ll post about it later – sty tuned!

    @Grish: Glad you liked it too:-)

  24. I would like to try this traditional meal once in my life! Looks very interesting :)

  25. I suddenly had a vision of sitting down at table with you and your wife, Renny, because the way you talk about friendship and fellowship and communion is so much what Life is all about. I love how you describe it so well!

  26. I always enjoy learning about your traditions! So very different from here, but then that’s what makes the world such an interesting place!
    :)

  27. What an unusual (to me) dish. 500 tonnes of Rakfisk seems like a lot of brining going on.

  28. The Winter Solstice is almost here!

  29. Pingback: Yule Market in Oslo

  30. Pingback: Friendly winter break with gastronomic delight

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