The icy waters, deep forests, and short growing season of Scandinavia provide the fish and berries, cabbage and rye that give shape to its cuisine; there are gastronomic adventures and utter delights at the table in Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Iceland.
To understand food in Finland, you have to understand that although most of the population lives in urban settings nowadays, there’s still a bit of forest in every Finn. Reindeer with lingonberry jelly; fried vendace from the lakes of Savo; wild duck with chanterelles; crayfish fresh caught from a crystal clear lake; these are classic Finnish combinations. Influences from neighboring countries add dishes such as smetana, (a type of sour cream) blinis, and the imaginative use of mushrooms hail from the East. On the other hand, from the Western comes the method of salting fish, the popularity of meatballs, sweet bread and German brewing techniques, as well as large scale cheese production.
What many of us associate with food in Sweden is the Smorgasbord, which has been popular continuously since the early 1700s. The Smorgasbord is a beautiful collection of delicacies meant to be eaten in a special order on several clean plates. “You can pick out a non-Swede by the way the person loads everything onto a single plate” . Oops; guilty! Fabulous traditional Swedish ingredients, such as Kalix bleak roe, various local cheeses and lobster are not to be missed. In addition, in Sweden you’re as likely to have an Iranian kebab, or sushi as you are to have Swedish mainstays such as meatballs or filled cabbage rolls, so variety in dining will never be an issue.
If you’re looking to try a few typical Icelandic goodies in Iceland, try hangikjot, smoked lamb usually eaten in sandwiches, and for a protein boast either skyr, a delicious yogurt-like food, or hardfiskur, which is dried fish in strips. For those with a sweet tooth there’s Icelandic chocolate, licorice, and the popular chocolate-licorice combo, Opal candies and snudur - which somehow sounds like what it is: frosting covered pastries. If you’re in Iceland during the holiday season, take a sip of orange soda mixed with malt and a bite of laufabraud, a fried flat bread (homemade is best). And when you’re in town, don’t forget to try a traditional hot dog with all the fixins’ and some delicious soft ice cream.
Anything called a cloudberry just begs to be tasted, doesn’t it? Norway serves them up with whipped cream, mmmm, but let’s begin at the beginning. Breakfast might be porridge made from natural sour cream, served with butter, sugar and cinnamon, or you might have salmon with your eggs. Salmon in many guises will grace your table, whether it’s fresh, dry-cured, marinated or fermented. The famous lutefisk is dried fish softened in water and lye, then cooked and served with potatoes, bacon, mushy peas and mustard; once a Christmas dish its popularity is prolonging its season. Lamb ribs smoked over birch wood or simmered with cabbage and peppercorns will stave off hunger on a cold day. Be sure to sample brunost – that’s the brown cheese with a sweet, yet somewhat sharp flavour with notes of caramel.
Denmark is blessed with happy cows who produce a prodigious amount of soft cheeses such as
Havarti, sometimes plain, sometimes flecked with dill and heaven in your ham sandwich. Traditional regional specialties that reflect foods available in days gone by are worth seeking. Try egg rolls from Limfjorden, omelets Funen style and cabbage sausage in Southern Jutland. One of the finer dishes in the small fishing community of Skagen consists of pan-fried plaice with a mixture of cranberries, cowberries or gooseberries; when it’s hard to grow vegetables, berries become your “greens”. Onion-stuffed eel rolls from Limfjorden, or sparerib stew made with porter and aged for three days, spicy pickled eggs, or a thick, tasty Ærø island pancake with honey and mashed apples. In Copenhagen, fuel your sightseeing with smørrebrød, the city’s famous open-face sandwich that comes with any number of savory toppings.