In Norway, the pizza appeared as an exotic newcomer in the 1970s. But bread topped with foodstuffs is nothing new in Norwegian history. What the Italians call pizza, the Vikings called bread dish, more than a thousand years ago.

The below video comes from the vaults of the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation – the NRK. Sadly, the audio is in Norwegian only, with no subtitles, but the visuals and our text below will help guide you through an interesting story. Used by permission – all rights reserved.

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

Ethnologist Astrid Riddervold shows us how the ancient Norwegians prepared their very own bread dish more than a thousand years ago – and she calls it the Viking pizza.

The Icelandic historian, poet, and politician, Snorri Sturluson – who lived between 1178 and 1241 – mentioned the bread dish – brauddiskar – in his writings.

Some Norwegian bread history

Ever since the introduction of agriculture, 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 wasn’t until the late 1800s and early 1900s that the oven-baked bread really started to dominate.

Before this period, the flatbread reigned supreme for several hundred years – alongside other grain-based dishes like porridge and lefse (a soft type of flatbread).

More on the flatbread

From more recent history, we know that the Norwegian farm women made large stacks of flatbread – once or twice a year. They baked for several days on end.

The farmer’s wife stored the bread in the storehouse – the stabbur – and it stayed 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 a large quantity of flour. And this came about from around the 1200s onwards, with the broader introduction of larger watermills.

Before this time, the flour had to be ground using simple handmills.

Grinding the grain into flour with the handmill was hard work. A task generally performed by the women.

An interesting fact is that another English word for handmill is quern. The Norwegian word is kvern – which is, in fact, the same word.

A Norwegian handmill - or quern - from Oppdal, Trøndelag. Grinding the grain into flour was hard work, and a task performed by the women. | Photo: Norsk Folkemuseum - digitaltmuseum.no NFL.17568 - cc by.sa.
A Norwegian handmill – or quern – from Oppdal, Trøndelag. Grinding the grain into flour was hard work, and a task performed by the women. | Photo: Norsk Folkemuseum – digitaltmuseum.no NFL.17568 – cc by.sa.

Before the era of the flatbread

Before the 1200s, with only the simple handmill 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.

Astrid Riddervold believes the bread dish was the main grain-based food used in everyday life in earlier 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 – or cured or salted meat or fish.

In earlier times they cooked the eggs in the hot coals and ash of the fireplace.

Good news for all pizza lovers

The bread dish is good 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 we invite family and friends over for a jolly Norwegian feast.

Read more about Norwegian history in The old Norway | and its last army of storytellers

Main photo: sco_asson – adobe stock – copyright. 

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