Food history | the «Viking pizza» | Norway

In Norway, the pizza appeared as an exotic newcomer in the 1970s. But bread topped with foodstuffs is nothing new in Norwegian food history.
Even the Vikings ate pizza - or what they referred to as bread dish. | Photo: sco_asson - adobe stock - copyright.
By LA Dahlmann

Norway’s new national dish

In today’s Norway, people eat pizza like never before. Jokingly, it is said to be Norway’s new national dish.

Ethnologist Astri Riddervold (1925-2019) told us how the ancient Norwegians prepared their very own bread-dish more than a thousand years ago – and she calls it the Viking pizza (see video-link below).

The Icelandic historian, poet, and politician, Snorri Sturluson (AC 1178-1241) also mentioned the bread-dish – brauddiskar – in his sagas.

Some Norwegian bread history

Ever since the introduction of agriculture, in Scandinavia around 2400 BC, the Norwegians have been eating bread in one form or another.

Today, the oven-baked yeast bread is the most common variation. The Norwegians mainly eat healthy, wholegrain bread, full of taste and slow-burning carbohydrates.

It was not until the late 1800s and early 1900s that the oven-baked bread really started to dominate. Before this period, from the 1200s and onwards, the flatbread reigned supreme – alongside other grain-based dishes like porridge and lefse (a soft type of flatbread). The time before the 1200s was the age of the Viking-pizza, see more below.

The flatbread

On the old Norwegian farm, the women of the house made large stacks of flatbread – once or twice a year. They baked for several days in a row. The bread was stored in the storehouse – the stabbur – and it remained edible for a year and more.

The introduction of watermills

A prerequisite for making a whole year’s consumption of flatbread in one go was access to large quantities of flour. And this came about from around the 1200s onwards, with the broader introduction of larger watermills. The watermills were managed by the men on the farm.

Before this time, the flour was ground using simple hand-mills. Grinding the grain into flour with the hand-mill was hard work. A task generally performed by the women. An interesting fact is that another English word for hand-mill is quern. The Norwegian word is kvern – which is, in fact, the same word.

Before the era of the flatbread

Before the 1200s, with only the simple hand-mill at hand, the women prepared just enough flour to bake the bread needed for the day.

In connection with the excavation of the Oseberg Viking ship and other finds, the archaeologists unearthed round, flat, metal pans with a long handle. These are believed to have been used to prepare the bread-dish – or the Viking pizza. See an example in the linked video below.

Astrid Riddervold believed that the bread-dish was the main grain-based food used in everyday life in olden times. The Italians base their pizza dough on wheat, but the Vikings used barley or rye.

Topping

Just like with the pizza, the mistress of the old Norwegian farm topped the bread with whatever food she had available. It could be cheese, eggs from wild birds – for example, the seagull – cured or salted meat or fish, and so much more. Back then, they cooked the eggs in the hot coals of the fireplace. See Astrid Riddervold’s pizza-topping in the linked video below.

Excellent news for all pizza lovers

The bread-dish is excellent news for all of today’s pizza lovers. By eating bread topped with whatever we have at hand, we simply continue an ancient tradition – observed by the Vikings and beyond. Maybe something to think about the next time that we invite family and friends over for a jolly Norwegian feast.

A Viking-pizza video in Norwegian

The below video-link leads to the vaults of the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation – the NRK. Sadly, the audio is in Norwegian only, with no subtitles. But the visuals and the text above should help guide you through an interesting story.

Link to external video: Vikingpizza – Pizza på gammelmåten

Sources: nrk.no – ethnologist Astri Riddervold and reporter Ebbe Ording | norgeshistorie.no.