Moving to another country is definitely the best way to learn about its culture, but you also find it is a great mirror of your own country. For instance, you quickly realise how closely knit food and identity are: I have never met a foreign student who answers ‘my parents’ when asked about what they miss most about home, but ‘good food’ always seems to be common ground.
In Scandinavia, the basic of it all is bread. We do love our bread after all. Not to mention the endless amount of crispbreads you’ll find in a
ny supermarket. It has to be integral, dark, rich – we put rye grain into everything. Just baked goods in general: our beloved Boller, which is best translated to bun, exists in lots of mouth-watering varieties. The Swedish cinnamon bun is probably best known, but I dare say its Norwegian equivalent is a worthy claimant to the Boller throne. And of course, let’s not forget the Danish pastry (which is not called Danish pastry, but Wienerbrød – Vienna bread). In Norway, it is common that breakfast, lunch and the so-called ‘evening meal’ (as dinner is often served between 4-5 pm) are all bread based – which, I realise as I’m writing this, might be a bit too monotonous. So sometimes we might spice it up a bit by replacing bread with porridge every now and then. Ah, the joys of variation…
Speaking of porridge, I was surprised in Latin America when I found out what I thought to be a quintessential Scandinavian dish – Risengrøt – was very common in most countries there. It turns out we weren’t very special after all. Risengrøt is a porridge made of milk and rice grains, traditionally served with sugar, cinnamon and butter. During Christmas, an almond is put into the pot of porridge and the person who gets it wins a pig-shaped marzipan candy. While eating, everyone usually looks suspiciously around at the others, and there is always someone pretending they’re choking on the almond. The tension is real.
Norwegians and Swedes also have the cosy concept of Fredagstaco: Friday taco – every Friday, in front of the same old TV shows: taco ’till you drop. I will say that our tacos are probably nothing like the Mexican real deal – ours are probably completely tasteless by comparison. However, this doesn’t undermine the Fredagstaco itself, which is very tasty. One never questions what other people put into their tortillas: Lentils, fish, mango, banana – there is no judging. Except if you use ketchup, then you’re out.
Anyway, like all other countries with any self-respect, we also have our fair share of scary-looking, not to say scary-smelling, food. Lutefisk, for instance, is cod preserved in lye and treated as a type of Christmas food in Norway. You either love it or hate it (personally, I hate it). Surströmming is fermented herring, which probably takes the prize among Swedish weird foods. Smalahove, literally meaning sheep’s head, is eaten in the west of Norway during autumn, and even makes a lot of Norwegians uneasy. As the name says, it simply is the head of a sheep: burnt, smoked and then cooked for hours. It may look terrifying, but I will tell you: it is a feast for the gods. I am yet to figure out if the Danes have as strange specialities as the Norwegians or the Swedes (I think they’re a little more conventional). But Danes do have the most glorious lunches. And the best beer.
Different festivities throughout the year also have very strong food traditions: the Nordic ‘carnival’, Fastelavn (which normally consists of eating a lot of Boller with whipped cream), the Swedish Smörgåsbord of midsummer and Independence Day, with its abundance of super-traditional foods.
Scandinavian food is definitely to be explored!