Scandinavian Food Culture

What to Expect From Food in Scandinavia

Smörgåsbord with pickled herring and snaps
••• knape/Getty Images

What exactly is Scandinavian cuisine and what is typical food in Scandinavia? No, it's not just plain old fish. It’s a wide variety of fish and meats, like pork and poultry, as well as beets, potatoes, cucumbers, broiled, baked, and smoked apples, and much more food. Just like Scandinavian design, the Scandinavian cuisine sticks to basics.

Scandinavian Ingredients and Basics

In Scandinavia, many food ingredients come from the sea (e.g. a Norwegian whale steak), a fresh-water lake, or even the earth.

There's even a bit of Scandinavian history behind Scandinavian food: The Vikings' meals always contained oysters or mussels, sometimes with some mutton, cheese, cabbage, apples, onions, berries, and nuts.

When you're ordering food in Scandinavia, fish is usually least expensive. In regards to meat, there is a lot to choose from as well. Deer, elk, and bear meat are always available. If you're traveling through Sweden and suddenly feel both hungry and adventurous, try some smoked horsemeat innocently called "hamburger".

Or, take a look at Thorrablot: Iceland's Midwinter Feast, for the more courageous eaters among us.

If you're visiting Norway or Denmark, have some cured salmon in a good restaurant. Smoked salmon is a popular Scandinavian delicacy. Try some fiskepudding for dessert!

It is very common in Scandinavia to eat a little more salt than in other parts of the world. Keep this in mind when ordering food in Scandinavia.

Salted or smoked meat and fish were the two ways to keep meat fresh during long, dark Scandinavian winters, and the tradition has survived to this day.

Scandinavian cuisine includes the Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian, and Danish cuisines. Since the countries are grouped together, the food culture is very similar.

Of course, a major role is played by the fish, but also reindeer meat and vitamin-rich Cloudberry belong to the basic ingredients.

Food in Denmark

In Denmark, actually, everything must include fish. The national dish is Torsk, cod with mustard sauce and boiled potatoes. Smorrebrod is typically Danish open sandwiches: A dark rye bread is topped with various fish and meats, add to that an egg and a spicy sauce, and you have your Danish sandwich. As for confectionery, the Danes are very creative. For example, there are small sweet donuts, gingerbread or the popular kransekake: a multi-layered cake in a ring shape, made from baked marzipan. Decorated sweet pastry with a glaze of egg white and powdered sugar.

Food in Norway

In culinary terms, Norwegian herring plays a major role in Norway. This is very inexpensive fish in this region and is therefore used in various ways. Popular as well are stockfish and clipfish, both of which can be attached to sticks and stood up to dry. The actual type of fish on those sticks may be saithe, haddock or cod, for example. The national dish of Norway is also a dried fish - the so-called lutefisk, which is, however, additionally put in a special liquor made of birch ash, where the consistency resembles jelly.

The lutefisk is then served with bacon, potatoes, and a puree of peas.

Food in Sweden and Finland

And what about the Swedish cuisine? Köttbullar (meatballs) or minced pork are among the favorite dishes. A particular specialty of Sweden is elk meat. It is very low in fat and is used in goulash or steak.

The Finns finally, love the meat from reindeer and combine it for example with a fruity cloudberry sauce and fresh chanterelle. Also very popular are Pierogi: dumplings filled with salted rice pudding.