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Trying Lefse in Norway

Date
Jun, 25, 2020

One of the most requested foods I get as a tour leader in Norway is lefse; it’s something everyone has heard of and wants to try when they come to Norway. Where do you even find lefse in Norway? Is it common to buy? I set out (for research purposes) to try different types of lefse in Norway and report back with which lefse to buy.

First, though, I took a look at how lefse is viewed around Norway and the world.

Lefse - Wikipedia
Source: Wikipedia

What is Lefse?

Lefse is a type of Norwegian flatbread that is often (but not always) made with potatoes, flour, butter, and milk. It has a similar texture to a thin pancake and is often eaten with butter, sugar, cinnamon or brown cheese on. Norwegian-American variations may add peanut butter, corn syrup or ham and eggs. More on that later.

It’s important to keep in mind that lefse is not flatbread. Sometimes it is used like a flatbread, but there is a separate Norwegian flatbread (see here)

Despite the fact that lefse has so few ingredients, recipes amongst Norwegian and Norwegian-American recipes vary considerably and each family claims to have the best recipe there is. This makes it tricky to decipher exactly what kind of lefse you should try – flat or thin? Sugar or salmon? Brown cheese? Rolled up or flat? There are so many options. It’s especially tricky when trying to figure out what recipe can make. I can see why so many people stick to their family recipe.

Lefse is incredibly popular in the United States, particularly in the Mid-West where there is a large Norwegian-American population. Between 1850 and 1920, 800,000 Norwegians left Norway to go to the United States – at the time, the population was around 3 million people. Lefse is probably more popular in the United States than it is in Norway, and Norwegian-Americans take the making of lefse very seriously. Their recipes vary from the Norwegian recipes; American’s tend to use potatoes as the main ingredient, whereas Norwegians tend to use flour.

The History of Lefse

Norway has strong lefse traditions linked to the popularity of flat bread. Flat bread kept really well, and sources from the 16th century say that it was soaked before eating. The oldest lefse was made from flour; when potato was introduced in Norway it gradually overtook flour, though not in all places. Flour wasn’t as commonly available in some parts of the country, where wheat doesn’t grow so easily, but potatoes were able to grow almost anywhere, making it a worthy replacement.

Several lefse traditions originate in the development of flatbread into finer pastries. For example, in Helgeland, the lefse is decorated with a pattern before being fried a second time (see krinalefse). In Salten, the lefse is a soft flatbread with sour cream and brown cheese filling; the flatbread softens like a spoon when you gently fry it. As Norway was a very isolated country until recently, almost every region has its own version of lefse.

There is a rumour that the Vikings made lefse, but this isn’t true. Potatoes arrived in Norway in the 15th century, well after the Viking Age. The Vikings may have had a flour version of a lefse, but it was likely much closer to a flatbread than lefse.

How to Cook Lefse

The original lefses in Norway were made with barely and oat flours, and later they were made from rye and wheat flours. Potatoes are used in some parts of the country, though it is much less common.

Once the dough is ready, it is divided into balls and then flattened into thin, round circles – often the size of the griddle. It is then rolled with a special roller with square indents – see equipment below.

Traditionally, the lefse was fried over an open fire, stone slab or iron plate. Today, electric griddles are used. Most lefse recipes follow the principle of flatbread baking. The lefse is placed onto the griddle with a special wooden stick. Some recipes use a pan, good to know if you can’t fit a griddle in your tiny apartment kitchen (my own personal experience!)

Equipment

It is possible to buy lefse equipment while you are in Norway. I went looking at the shops, and found the following:

Wooden Stick

Available at Wallendahl in Bergen:

Cost: 69 NOK (https://wallendahl.no/produkt/aanonsen-bakepinne-70-cm-flat/)

Buying Online in Norway:

Buying Online in the USA:

Griddle

I was originally told by my husband that griddles would be hard to find in Norway, but then in the very first store we checked we found one. Originally I was going to attempt to make lefse at home, but the griddle I found was way too big. We found it in Coop Obs:

I think my husband was saying they were hard to find simply so we didn’t have to buy one! There are heaps online, just look for the word “steketakke”

Buying Online in Norway:

Buying a Griddle in the USA:

Rolling Pin

I did actually buy a rolling pin at Wallendahl for 199 NOK. They are easy to find:

Buy in the USA:

Lefse Kit

Those in the USA are lucky because you can buy a lefse kit straight from Amazon that includes everything mentioned above. View it here: https://www.amazon.com/Piece-Lefse-Starter-Non-stick-Grill/dp/B00QXVUK3W/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=lefse+starter+kit&pd_rd_r=5668dc0e-8510-47a3-ad9a-392c200e97c3&pd_rd_w=Xmgxe&pd_rd_wg=1tzHh&pf_rd_p=ff875a9e-7810-43da-bae9-ec4c363817ac&pf_rd_r=DQ6HX6XG680C5WQ59VQF&qid=1592977565&sr=8-2

Regional Differences

When doing research for this article, I came across so many variations of what to do with lefse. It really depends on either where you are, where you are from, or how you like your lefse.

Traditional Norwegian lefse is smeared with butter, sugar and cinnamon. Some also use varieties of brown cheese.

Lefse recipes vary across Norway. Here are some examples:

Lokalmat - Snekalefse - smurt tynnlefse
Tynnlefse (source: lokalmat)
  • Eastern Norway: Typically uses potato and the texture resembles that of soft bread. It may be used as a meal rather than a dessert, and it’s common to find salty toppings such as jam, sausage, and more. This is not common in other parts of the country. Potato was more commonly used here from the 19th century onwards and was also common in Sweden. It was essential for survival during times when the supply of grain was low. This
  • Central Norway: Tynnlefse is flour-based lefse that is rolled up with butter, sugar and cinnamon. (Recipe)
  • Salten in Nordland: Møsbrømlefse made from water, cheese and flour. (Recipe)
  • Nordland: Nordlandslefse is a chunky lefse made of butter, syrup, sugar, eggs and flour. It was originally made in Western Norway as a treat to the Lofoten fishermen who arrived to trade their stockfish. (Recipe)
  • Hordaland: Anislefse resembles a thin lefse but is stained by large amounts of aniseed. (Recipe)
Nordlandslefse (source)

There are countless recipes for lefse across the country. When researching different recipes, I came across the website wappfood.net which lists traditional recipes in Norwegian. Here are just some recipes I found when looking up regional recipes online:

Eastern Norway:
Mørlefse (source)
Western Norway:
Hardanger Lefse (source)
Northern Norway:
Krinalefse (source)
Southern Norway:
Suldalslefse (source)
Central Norway:

Lefse and the USA

Traditional lefse-making in the USA. The song in this video is amazing – if anyone knows what it is, please tell me. Shazam couldn’t find it.
This video is adorable. Can they adopt me?

Lefse is very popular amongst Norwegian descendants in the United States, and is commonly made and eaten around Christmas.

Norwegian-Americans are more likely to make lefse from scratch than Norwegians are today. This is because the lefse-making tradition was brought over by Norwegians and it is seen as a way to connect to their heritage.

Norwegian-American lefse is much more likely to be made with potatoes as many of the first Norwegians farmed potato and therefore made it easy to make lefse.

The USA is keeping the lefse tradition alive. There are classes on how to make lefse, lefse can be found in many grocery stores in the Mid-West, and there are even lefse factories! Some parts of the country even have lefse festivals, such as the Lutefisk and Lefse Festival in Fargo, North Dakota, the Lefse Fest in Fosston Minnesota, and Lefse Day in Mankato Minnesota. The Potato Days Festival in Barnesville Minnesota has a lefse cookoff.

American Recipes

American recipes are not as varied as Norwegian recipes, and most of the recipes I found use potatoes instead of flour.

Here are some examples of recipes:

Lefse in Norway Today

In Norway, lefse is a traditional food that is typically reserved for special occasions. It is not eaten that often in Norway. The only times I’ve had lefse is when I’m with a group; I’ve never had it with my family. My husband buys lefse maybe once a year. We’ve never made it, though I’m working on putting together my own recipe!

There are lefse competitions in Norway. This is a competition overview from 2018, where the winner was Suldals Lefse and the runner up was Nordlands Lefse. An honorable mention went to Sunnmørslefse, the only potato-based lefse mentioned. The recipes of the winners are on the website if you want to be guaranteed good tasting lefse.

In general, lefse is a snack food you can buy from kiosks or it’s a food taken when you go hiking. It is sometimes served at traditional dinners (e.g. Christmas dinner), but this is becoming less common.

There are some really interesting Norwegian recipes that use lefse – if you want to go full Norwegian, you can make this Lefse with Lutefisk recipe. Honestly, I’ve only ever seen lefse as a sweet snack. The idea of adding fish seems foreign. But that’s just me – as we’ve learned so far, lefse preference differs greatly according to region.

Here’s a Reddit thread of what Norwegians put on lefse today.

Trying Lefse in Norway

Now for the fun part – where can you try lefse in Norway? For this bit, I ventured out to several supermarkets and collected up the different types of lefse I found.

For the reviews I recruited my dear husband and local Norwegian, Sean. He is born and raised in Bergen and grew up eating lefse. I’ve lived here for four years and only eat lefse with tourists. Hopefully both of our opinions will help you!

Lefse in the Supermarkets

Vestlands Lefse with Sugar and Cinnamon

Frozen Aisle (near the frozen breads) / 55 NOK for 6 packets of Lefse / Shop Link

Ingredients: Plain flour, sugar, margarine, milk, salt

Vestlandslefse is produced by Orkla Foods Norway and has its origins in Os, just south of Bergen. Production started in 1959 by Inger Bøe, and her son carried on the business. The business left Os in 2012 and is now in Stranda, Møre og Romsdal. It is closest to Møsbrømlefse, Krinalefse and Lefsekling. (See product website here)

This is the lefse my husband buys every year and this is the one he stands by. It’s also one of the very few brands to be found in the frozen aisle. This is the first lefse I tried in Norway so it’s the lefse I associate the ‘proper’ taste with – I may be a little biased here!

My Review: I found it a little soggy when first biting into it, but I was told by Sean it was because we didn’t let them defrost enough. I love the taste – it’s super creamy and buttery and cinnamon-ey – they don’t skimp on the ingredients. This is what I buy whenever I want a snack. It’s so so good. 4.5/5

Sean’s Review: Most traditional tasting lefse (at least for the west coast) closest thing to what has been served traditionally in my family. Filling is excellent, with right amount of cinnamon and sugar added. 4.5/5

Where to buy: Avaiable in all supermarkets. You can also buy individual packets at kiosks (defrosted).

Klenning Lefse with Brown Cheese

Near the fresh breads / 19 NOK at Kiwi / Shop link

Ingredients: Plain flour / margarine / milk / brown cheese

“Klenning” is a type of lefse found in Trøndelag, and the brand “Berthas” is likely what you’ll buy in stores as it is the clearly dominating brand in supermarkets. When it’s in a little packet like the one seen above, it’s often called “Turklenning”, meaning you grab it and take it with you on a hike (tur=tour in English).

This lefse comes with small pieces of brown cheese from the cheese brand Synnøve.

My Review: I love the brown cheese inside the lefse. It adds a really special sweetness to the bread, and there’s not enough brown cheese that it’s overpowering. I was really surprised by how good this was. 4.5/5

Sean’s Review: Brown cheese sticks out, and like the potato lefse (below), sticks out since it is the only one on the list that has a unique flavor to it with enhanced sweetness in lieu of the more traditional cinnamon

Klenning Lefse with Sugar and Cinnamon

Near the fresh breads / 19 NOK

This is the ‘normal’ version of the Turklenning lefse. It’s a standard lefse and in many ways similar to the Vestlandslefse above.

My Review: It’s a fine, typical lefse. It’s lighter on the sugar than Vestlandslefse, and fairly forgettable (I originally forgot to include it in the article). It’s a safe bet for those who are unsure if they’ll like lefse. 3.5/5

Sean’s Review: Nothing in this lefse that sticks out, or detracts, just ultimately a generic lefse. There is a variant with cinnamon that is preferred over this. 3/5

Lefsegodt

Near the fresh breads / 15 NOK / Comes with two pieces

Ingredients: made with plain flour

This lefse has a more sandwich texture; you can see in the photos above how much thicker it is compared to the other lefse I tried. It does look like it should have a cakey texture in some recipes I found online (see here), but this particular lefse is more bready. It takes inspiration from the “tykklefse” (see recipe here) On the packet you can see it says “Norske lefse tradisjoner”, meaning it is inspired by more traditional methods of making lefse.

My Review: I found it to be too similar to bread, and the thickness of the lefse almost hid the butter and cinnamon underneath. I also found it to be very heavy; I don’t know if I could finish a whole one. 3/5

Sean’s Review: Bland, and consists of mostly bread. Good snack if the goal is to fill yourself up quickly, but otherwise – pass. 2/5

Buy on Norwegian food store

Lefse Roll made from Potato Lefse

Near the fresh breads / 39 NOK at Coop supermarket / Shop link

Finally, a potato lefse! This was the only one I could find in my local supermarket and I was eager to try potato-based lefse. On the packet you can see “en smak av Lierne”, meaning it was inspired by the lefse in Lierne, a region in Trøndelag in central Norway.

Putting “Lefserull smurte potetlefser” returns many results for savoury recipes, including lefse with salmon and lefse with ham. The recipes look delicious, but it is something I would associate more with flatbread or tortillas. I may need to try making these recipes to see if it works.

Now, onto what I thought:

My Review: I really wanted to like potato lefse because it seems so popular in the United States, but I found this really hard to eat. I found the potato lefse starchy and really glue-like. However, there wasn’t really any flavour coming from a filling, so I was left with eating cold, dense potatoes. It was my least favourite of them all. 2/5

Sean’s Review: Rubbery texture, bland taste. Stands out from the other lefse types since it is made out of potatoes. Cinnamon variant exists for this, would highly recommend over the generic non-spiced variant. 3/5

Lefse in Restaurants

Bakeries & Cafes

Lefse is not available in every bakery; typically it is found in more traditional bakeries or small cake shops. Here are some:

  • Steinstø Fruit Farm – Hardangerfjord. They have a small cafe where it has been reported there is lefse available there.
  • Leveld Lefsebakeri – Ål, Eastern Norway. I mean it’s right there in the name – they have lefse alright! Website here
  • Trygstad Bakery – Røros. This one has been reported to have lefse. Website here
  • Joridslefsebakeri – Stokmarknes. Website here
  • Haneslefsebakeri – Kristiansand. Website here
  • Engers Lefsebakeri – Gjøvik. Website here
  • Hollunds Lefsebakeri – Tertnes (just outside Bergen). Website here
  • Håjen Lefsebakeri – located in Slettehaug, but also appears at the farmers market in Western Norway. Website here

Kiosks/Ferries

  • Lefse can be bought in most kiosks and petrol stations and on board most ferries

Restuarants

  • I couldn’t find any restaurants with lefse on the menu. If you know of any, let me know!

Important Words to Know

Here are some Norwegian words you’ll come across when seeking out lefse:

  • Lefserull = rolled up lefse
  • Kanel = cinnamon
  • Potet = potato
  • Med = with (e.g. Lefse med kanel)
  • Tur = tour/travel. Often refers to small packets you take on a hike or little snack packs
  • Sukker = sugar
  • Brunost = Brown Cheese (the brand is Synnøve Gudbrandal)

Conclusion

I hope this article has been useful in discovering lefse in Norway, and hopefully you’ll be able to try some on your visit.

Building this list: if you know another type of lefse that can be found in stores, please reach out to me so I can add it to my list!

Sources

Here are some additional websites I used for gathering information:

Emma Vestrheim

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EMMA VESTRHEIM

Hey, I'm Emma! I'm a tour leader in Scandinavia and local guide in Bergen Norway, and have been for the past four years. These articles are inspired by my job and professional experience.

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