Understanding Matpakke—Norway's National Packed-Lunch Obsession
We could all save a little money if we ate like the Norwegians do. As the BBC reports, the Scandinavian country's humble matpakke is not just a meal, but a way of life.
A matpakke (pronounced maad-pukk-eh) is a packed lunch that often contains a stacked open-face sandwich with layers of fish, meat, or cheese on several thin slices of whole-wheat bread. Sandwiches wrapped in parchment paper—sometimes with messages like "ha' en god dag!" (have a good day) written on top—are a common sight in school cafeterias across the country.
This national tradition continues well into adulthood, with many worker-bees choosing their tried-and-trusted matpakke over fast food. (The fact that Norway has the most expensive McDonald's branch in the world, where a Big Mac meal will set you back $23, might have something to do with that.)
In fact, the Norwegians take their matpakke so seriously that 30 percent of citizens have brought one on a plane in their hand luggage, according to an Expedia survey of 4000 people that was spotted by Norwegian news site Thor News.
While it's certainly practical and pragmatic, the average matpakke isn't exactly a gourmet meal. "In Norway, you're not supposed to look forward to your lunch," Ronald Sagatun, who runs a YouTube channel about Norwegian culture, says in a video. "It's kind of a strict thing. It's easy to make, easy to carry around, easy to eat, but it should be a disappointment."
So why do so many Norwegians continue to pack such a specific lunch if it's not especially tasty? Part of the explanation is that it's rooted in Norwegian tradition, history, and culture. According to Thor News, the tradition dates back to the '20s, when the government introduced a free "Oslo Breakfast" to schools in the capital in an attempt to encourage healthier eating habits. The government lacked the necessary funds to introduce the project nationwide, but many families started preparing the meal at home. It consisted of two to three cups of milk, half of an apple or orange, dry biscuits, and a granary loaf with butter and whey cheese.
Nowadays, the matpakke is viewed as a way of being resourceful, independent, and responsible—and it's unlikely to go away anytime soon.