Each Nordic country has their own breakfast traditions and ways of greeting the day. A firm belief in the importance of coffee unites the Nords, but their taste in brekkie varies widely from country to country. Here’s the lowdown on how each Nordic nation does the most important meal of the day.
The Swedes start off each day with a strongly brewed coffee. Breakfast in Sweden is a low-key affair – a simple bowl of cereal or berries with milk or filmjölk (a soured milk that’s somewhere between milk and yoghurt) will suffice, and some people will skip breakfast entirely and wait until it’s fika-o’ clock to have something a bit more substantial.
If you’re after something a bit heartier, then get ready for…open-faced sandwiches! Your base layer is normal a rye bread, or knäckebröd – crispbread. Classic Swedish toppings for an open-faced sandwich (never put that second slice on, that’s mad) are mild cheese, ham, cucumber and peppers. However, the most Swedish sandwich topping of all is Kalles kavier. This is a tube of ‘cavier’ – smoked cod’s roe – which is available in all good Swedish supermarkets. I became hooked on its salty, fishy, smokey goodness the first time I stepped foot in Sweden and it’s remained a firm personal favourite ever since (and an excellent hangover cure post-Crayfish party). Kalles kavier tastes great on top of rye or knäckebröd, and I’ve been told goes fabulously with hard-boiled eggs.
Contrary to rumours circulating the internet, a traditional Finnish breakfast isn’t ‘coffee, and shot of vodka and a cigarette.’ Rather more wholesome, riisipuuro (rice porridge) is a classic breakfast in Finland, and a nice warming way to start the day. Riisipuuro is normally served with a knob of butter on top, and a sprinkle of sugar or cinnamon. Naughty.
Like Sweden, open-faced sandwiches are also a firm Finnish fave – this is usually a slice of cheese, cured meats, and tomato on a slice of dark Finnish rye. Sometimes cucumber or lettuce is thrown on for good measure.
Of course, all of this is washed down with at least one cup of coffee – Finns are the world’s biggest coffee drinkers according to recent findings, guzzling a whopping 12kg of the stuff each per year.
The Danish breakfast is a sweeter affair – mini breakfast rolls with butter, jam or cheese, or porridge. The Danes love a good porridge for breakfast – so much so that a hipster porridge bar is thriving in Copenhagen. Porridge varies from risengrød (a rice porridge served with butter and cinnamon sugar) to Øllebrød (a super traditional porridge made from leftover rye bread and beer). Find an Øllebrød recipe here.
Another popular Danish breakfast food is ymerdrys (a sort of crumble made of blitzed rye bread and brown sugar), which is sprinkled on top of ymer (a sour yoghurt). Ymerdrys can also be jazzed up with nuts, berries and orange peel.
And of course, we can’t talk about Danish brekkie without mentioning Danish pastries… Oh, the pastries. They’re known as Wienerbrød in Denmark, which actually means ‘Viennese bread’ – they were first introduced to Denmark by Austrian bakers in the 1800s, and Denmark hasn’t looked back since. Wienerbrød come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and can be a simple mixture of sugary, buttery flaky goodness, or an indulgent custard-filled, icing-topped extravaganza. These pastries are eaten for breakfast in Denmark, but not normally everyday; they tend to be a treat at the weekend or on special occasions (which does makes sense, as otherwise everyone in Denmark would be the size of a house).
With its majestic fjords and high water-to-land ration, Norway tends to be a bit more fish-focussed for breakfast (and rightly so, with easy access to such fresh produce). Smoked mackerel and pickled herring are not unusual, and smoked salmon frequently makes an appearance on top of open-face sandwiches with slices of hard-boiled egg (which can also be topped off with ansjos – Norwegian anchovies, mmm). Fish-tastic.
The wide variety of tasty cheeses at the Norwegian breakfast table is impressive too – ranging from Jarlsberg (a sort of mild, Norwegian ‘Swiss’ cheese) to Brunost (a ‘brown’ cheese that has a sweet, caramel-y flavour and tastes great on toast with juniper berries) to Nøkkelost (which is a warm, spicy cheese flavoured with cloves and cumin).
And while you may see cured meats like ham or salami to go with your rye or lefse – a traditional Norwegian flatbread made with potato – what you won’t see is fried bacon, or heavy egg dishes.
Compared to their Nordic brethren, Icelanders have a surprisingly dairy-heavy breakfast. Everyone’s a big fan of mjolk (milk) with cereal or muesli, rye with creamy butter and cheese, or a special Icelandic yoghurt with berries or nuts.
The Icelandic yoghurt in question is Skyr – a cultured dairy product which is technically classed as a cheese. Skyr is sort of like Greek yoghurt with its rich, tangy flavour and smooth texture. It’s naturally fat-free, high in protein and low in sugar, which means it’s crazy healthy and therefore is now being heralded as a new, exciting ‘Viking superfood’ and popping up on a supermarket shelf near you.
Icelanders top up their wholesomeness levels with Hafragrautur – oatmeal porridge – which is finished off with raisins or sugar, and sometimes a nice dollop of skyr.
And breakfast is finished off with a shot of lysi, or cod-liver oil; as a country who spends a half of the year in darkness, Iceland is very aware that it needs to get its vitamin D from somewhere else that ain’t the sun, which is where cod-liver oil comes in. This fishy liquid gold is a great source of vitamin D, as well as vitamin A and omega 3s, and has a million health benefits. It’s taken by young and old alike; in Icelandic schools and nurseries, a spoonful of lysi is part of the daily routine. What an impressively healthy way to start the day.