Try These 10 Foods On Your Next Trip To Scandinavia

Forbes April 12, 2024

Lifestyle

Try These 10 Foods On Your Next Trip To Scandinavia

While culinary tours are typically synonymous with Southern Europe, Scandinavia presents a curious dining experience for visitors.

Scandinavian cuisine is marked by its straightforward yet inventive use of ingredients, intertwined with the region's cultural identity and natural environment.

From the distinctively tangy Norwegian brown cheese to the hearty satisfaction found in simple comfort foods, Scandinavian cuisine demonstrates an ability to elevate basic ingredients into tasty meals.

If you’re planning a trip to Scandinavia, here are 10 foods to keep an eye out for. These selections, readily available in both food markets and restaurants, promise a true taste of the Scandinavian kitchen.

 
Norwegian Brown Cheese

Due to its easy availability, unique flavor, and iconic status, trying Norwegian brown cheese (brunost) is an absolute must when visiting Norway. This culinary curiosity isn’t actually cheese, rather it’s a by-product of the cheese-making process.

Brunost boasts a distinctive caramel-like sweetness, a result of the slow simmering process that caramelizes the sugars in the cow’s or goat's milk whey. This process not only imparts a rich, sweet flavor but also gives the cheese its characteristic brown color and fudge-like texture.

 
Cinnamon Buns

Discover the joys of Swedish fika by ordering a cinnamon bun, Scandinavian style. These soft, sweet pastries are swirled with a generous helping of butter, sugar, and cinnamon, creating a comforting treat that pairs perfectly with a cup of strong coffee.

Swedish Cinnamon buns known as kanelbulle.

Each country has its twist on the bun, but each version is fluffier than its American counterpart. They also tend to be topped with crunchy pearl sugar rather than drizzled in sweet icing.

 
Smørrebrød

Enjoyed across the region but particularly savored in Denmark, the once humble open-faced sandwich (smørrebrød) has become a culinary masterpiece in recent years.

Although homemade versions remain relatively simple, order one in a cafe and you’ll enjoy something increasingly complex.

Dense, dark rye bread is buttered then adorned with a vast range of toppings, from pickled herring and shrimps to cured meats and beetroot, resulting in an explosion of Nordic flavors.

 
Arctic Cod

Venture above the Arctic Circle where the waters are cold to find Arctic cod, known for its delicate, flaky texture and pristine taste. A staple in Scandinavian seafood cuisine, Arctic cod is often served poached, with a simple accompaniment of boiled potatoes and melted butter.

The best variety, skrei, is a seasonal dish available only between January and April when the fish swim from the Barents Sea to the Norwegian coast.

Award-winning Norwegian chef Roy Magne Berglund explained that the cold, clear waters makes an “easily recognizable difference” to the firmness and flavor of the fish.

 
Meatballs

Beloved by IKEA regulars throughout the world, Swedish meatballs are Sweden's contribution to the world of comfort food.

The small meatballs—typically made of mixed pork and beef, and lightly spiced—are served with creamy mashed potatoes, lingonberry jam, and a rich gravy.

In Norway, you’ll find the larger version known as kjøttkaker, which literally translates as ‘meat cakes’. Smaller than burger patties but larger than meatballs, they are served and enjoyed in a similar way to Swedish meatballs.

 
Cured Salmon

Sampling cured salmon (gravlax) helps you understand the history of Scandinavian resourcefulness. This method of preservation, dating back to the Middle Ages, enhances the salmon's natural richness while infusing it with the subtle taste of dill.

A plate of gravlax, cured salmon.

Enjoyed on its own, atop dark rye bread, or as part of a festive smörgåsbord, gravlax is a true taste of Scandinavia. It can often be found on breakfast buffet selections in hotels across the region, or in most grocery stores.

 
Hot Dog

The Scandinavian hot dog (pølse) is the street food of choice across the region. Served in a soft, freshly baked bread or in a flat, pancake-like lompe, the pølse provides a quick and inexpensive way to sample the local cuisine.

Although simple ketchup and mustard toppings are common, the joy of the pølse is discovering the various toppings favored in Scandinavia. These include remoulade, crispy fried onions, pickles, and even shrimp salad.

 
Herring

Herring (sild) holds a place of honor in Scandinavian kitchens, especially in Sweden and Denmark, where it’s pickled, smoked, or cured and served as a key component of any traditional feast.

Each country boasts its own variations, from the sweet and sour pickled herring of Sweden to Denmark's curried herring salad. In grocery stores, you’ll find pickled herring (sursild) in jars.

Rich in flavor, herring is also a strong link to the region's past while still a modern staple that continues to inspire modern chefs.

 
Cloudberries

In the northern reaches of Scandinavia, the elusive cloudberry (multe) grows in the wild, ripening under the midnight sun. These amber-hued berries are both tart and sweet, and often turned into jams and desserts.

Fresh cloudberries and blueberries set on a table for wedding guests.

Treasured for their scarcity and distinctive flavor, cloudberries are a luxurious taste of the Scandinavian Arctic wilderness.

Find them on restaurant menus (’cloudberry cream’ is a popular dessert) or in grocery stores. They are sold in tubs—fresh or frozen depending on the season—and as cloudberry jam.

 
Salty Licorice

For a palate seasoned with the sweetness of American red licorice, the bold, bracing world of Scandinavian salty licorice is an unexpected shock to the system.

This traditional Nordic treat, known as salmiakki, veers far from the sugary cherry or strawberry flavors familiar in the U.S.

Instead, it’s made from the licorice root itself and flavored with a sharp, salty bitterness that Scandinavians find surprisingly addictive.

Sold in grocery stores near to the candy, Scandinavian salty licorice comes in various shapes, from small diamonds to fish, and its texture ranges from soft and chewy to hard and gritty.


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