Europe is a wonderful place for foodies to visit, and Scandinavia (Denmark, Norway, and Sweden) is no exception for the value luxury traveler. All three of these countries have regional specialties, but also share common dishes that are favorites with locals and travelers.
Scandinavia is also home to some of Europe’s oldest and most prestigious restaurants. But regardless of whether you’re at a tiny cafe or an old world eatery, check out some of these tempting Scandinavian foods on your next visit.
Thick fruit soups are common to this area, especially in Sweden. Due to the long winters and a lack of fresh fruit being available, fruits were traditionally preserved, then cooked to bring flavors back to life in traditional dishes. Traditional soups are thick, such as rose hip soup and blueberry soup. You’ll find them either hot or cold, and often served before the main course.
It’s not just fruity soups you’ll enjoy on your Scandinavian adventures. The ubiquitous pea soup originated in Swedish cuisine, although Norway and Denmark also have similar versions. A traditional thick soup made from peas with bacon or a small amount of smoked meat for flavoring is standard, but you’ll find other regional variations, such as my favorite, lemon pea soup.
One of the Scandinavian foods you just can’t miss while walking around the streets is smoked salmon. It is a major export for the region and is made in a variety of ways. Usually served with scrambled eggs or made into sandwiches, this traditional fish was a staple of many diets and now is the traditional staple of many tourists.
Seafood is very common here in the north, with lutefisk (lutfisk) being another popular dish. This treat is made from dried cod or ling. Although somewhat a more holiday-type food now, you’ll still finding it sneaking its way onto menus in various ways and means.
Although not a food item, a traditional Scandinavian meal is not complete without a caffeine jolt. All three Scandinavian countries have a strong affinity for the stuff, especially in Norway — they are the world’s leading consumer of coffee! Take note that the typical way to drink it here is black, though perhaps if you’re pining for your cream and sugar you should consider the traditional drink, karsk – coffee with alcohol.
A less common food that makes our sixth spot on the list is geitost or a brown and red cheese. Although it is known as a cheese, geitost is actually caramelized lactose made from goat and cows milk. It is commonly used in cooking and also eaten with bread. A slightly sweet cheese, the rich flavor is a favorite.
Potatoes are a staple in traditional Scandinavian culture for their practicality (the same in other cold, wet climates like Ireland). One great way to have it is enjoying sliced cold cooked potato on buttered rye bread, using mayonnaise or chives for flavor, like an open-faced sandwich. Of course, you’ll also find potatoes sitting right alongside any meat dish, boiled or stewed to perfection.
I love desserts and I would be remiss without choosing some classic sweets to experience. My tip would have to be a slice of Kransekage or the ringcake. This is an almond cake made from smaller and smaller rings stacked on each other, creating and upside down cone. The rings are normally decorated with icing and are typically a special occasion dish (think weddings, New Year’s, etc.), but you’ll find them tucked away in cafes and bakeries as well.
This is where my job gets hard – because I have to recommend something I don’t like! The Scandinavians are rather unknown for their candy specialties – did you know that the surgary treat marzipan was developed in Denmark? (There are multiple countries that say this – I suspect a conspiracy theory at work.) You’ll find it all over and the creations can be quite elaborate. I don’t like marzipan, but I’m in the minority, so dive right in. Another popular candy in Scandinavia is licorice – though I should warn you, like elsewhere in Europe, licorice can be both sweet or salty – if you’re not sure, ask!
The final item on the list is Glogg, the second of our drink items! Glogg is a hot punch typically made with wine, brandy, and sherry along with raisins and almonds – and as it sounds, it is a bit strong. You’ll find it nicely spiced with cinnamon and cloves and nearly ubiquitous around the Christmas season. It can also be enjoyed as an after-dinner digestive, but either way be mindful – it packs quite the punch!
Special thanks to our Scandinavian readers for their help and suggestions.
Flickr CC Photo Credits: fitkitchen, hfb, avlxyz, kalleboo, Håkan Dahlström, zabdiel, adacito, toolmantim, knuton