It’s only in the last couple of years that Scandinavian food has risen in popularity, but now it is getting global acclaim – especially after Rene Redzepi’s Copenhagen restaurant Noma was named the best in the world.
Sweden, Denmark and Norway are famous for their fresh flavours and foraged produce. From sweet berries to wild game and cured fish, Scandinavian cuisine relies heavily on wild, natural ingredients. Most Scandinavians are great foragers, bakers and preservers, making for a wonderful array of dishes and delicacies. As Scandinavian food writer Signe Johansen says: “There is so much more to our little corner of the world than herrings and meatballs – excellent though they are.”
Daily Scandinavian rounds-up eight delicious reasons why you’ll love Scandinavian food.
The cool waters of the Norwegian, Baltic and North Seas supply an abundance of sweet-tasting fish and shellfish; according to Camilla Plum, author of The Scandinavian Kitchen, these fish are the cornerstones of Scandinavian cooking.
Salted fish (known as clipfish/klippfisk) is a popular Scandinavian delicacy. It is usually made with cod that are gutted and salted as soon as they are caught at sea, then dried when the boats come back to shore. Salted fish is reconstituted by drawing out the salt in a few changes of water – the resulting taste is still quite salty, however.
Gravadlax is a well-known Scandinavian dish consisting of raw salmon cured with salt, sugar and dill. It is traditionally eaten with mustard sauce, rye bread and lots of fresh dill.
Cured fish, particularly herring, is another delicacy strongly associated with Scandinavia, in particular Sweden and Denmark. It is traditionally eaten with rye bread, crisp bread or potatoes, and flavoured with onion, sherry, mustard and dill.
Fermented herring (surströmming), sold in cans, is also popular. Known as Scandinavian rotten fish, due to the strong smell, it’s fermented for 1-2 months before canning, and is banned on some commercial flights as it is believed the pressurised containers could be dangerous.
Jansson’s Temptation is a popular Scandinavian dish that epitomises the cuisine: potatoes, cream and cured fish. Traditionally made with pickled sprats, the dish is now made with anchovies.
The traditional way of serving game and reindeer is with a creamy sauce, potatoes and a berry conserve or jelly such as lingonberry jam.
Meatballs are, of course, the dish everyone associates with Scandinavia – again, Ikea is known for its Swedish meatballs. According to Camilla Plum, this is the ultimate Scandinavian dish, eaten everywhere, every day. The shape and size of meatballs differ across Scandinavia, although most tend to be made from pork and veal. In Sweden, meatballs are usually served with mashed potato and lingonberry jam, whereas in Denmark they are served with pickled red cabbage in winter and creamed kale, potatoes and beetroot.
These feature heavily in sweet or savoury dishes. Although wild blueberries, strawberries and raspberries are popular, there are two berries that Scandinavia is known for. The lingonberry (known as the cowberry in the UK) is perhaps the most well-known and a cornerstone of Scandinavian cooking. They are a staple food in Sweden and are enjoyed with porridge and on toast as a jam, as well as forming the basis of many sauces for meats and other dishes. Similar to cranberries, and quite bitter, these berries need sugar, hence they are mostly eaten in jam form.
The cloudberry is another popular berry, but it’s extremely hard to find (and therefore expensive) due to the conditions it grows in. Found in acidic ground in damp areas such as bogs and marshes, they are almost impossible to grow industrially. Cloudberries have a striking golden appearance and are similar in shape to the raspberry, their cousin. They are mostly bought frozen or as a jam or juice.
Scandinavians have a great tradition of baking – everything from rye bread and crisp breads to cinnamon buns and Danish pastries.
Rye bread is dark, rich bread made with rye, which used to be the staple grain in Scandinavia. It is often used as the basis for open sandwiches (pictured), known as smørrebrød, smørbrød, smörgås, another famed Scandinavian dish. One slice of rye bread is topped with anything ranging from herring to gravadlax to beef. Scandinavian Kitchen, a deli/café based in London, is well known for its beautiful and authentic open sandwiches.
Crispbreads are mainly thought of as a diet snack in the UK, but are a real favourite in Scandinavia and are often used as a base for pickled fish or cheese. Peter’s Yard crispbreads are said to be popular with Scandinavians in the UK, and are made to a Swedish recipe.