What’s your answer to the question, “what is your favourite cuisine”?
You might imagine a slightly charred, tomato & mozzarella-laden Neapolitan pizza, drizzled with olive oil.
It may be a rich, fragrant sauce embracing chunks of yielding lamb on a fluffy mound of Indian basmati rice spiked with cardamom pods and cloves.
Perhaps you’re transported to a Cornish seaside village where you’re breaking a wooden fork into a crisp piece of battered haddock, with chips doused in malt vinegar.
For many, there will be a new contender for the top culinary experience. It’s a sticky swirl of sugary cinnamon dough with a strong black coffee. An ornate heart-shaped waffle with fresh berries and whipped cream, or perhaps a plate of deliciously savoury meatballs with buttery mash potatoes, tart lingonberries and slithers of sharp dill-pickled cucumber.
The Nordic New Normal
Nordic cuisine is enjoying a huge rise in popularity across the world. Cosmopolitan high streets are still lined with Italian style pizza joints, Japanese sushi bars, and Spanish bodegas, but you are now far more likely to also notice the sweet smell of freshly baked cardamom buns as you turn the street corner and pass by a sleek new Scandinavian bakery.
Particularly in Europe and the United States, the increasingly popular Scandinavian concepts of Fika and Hygge have driven this change, where the comfortable, relaxed atmosphere matches the rise in popularity of the global wellness movement. Rather than an espresso and a flapjack, people are opting to relax with a slightly longer coffee and a sweet cinnamon bun to savour.
If coffee, cakes, pastries and waffles are the gateway foods to the New Nordic way of eating, for many the next stage takes a more savoury route. Scandinavian cafes and restaurants are now offering meatballs, smørrebrød, and the kind of hotdogs you might have only seen in the service stations of the E4. It’s true that these traditional favourites have been available for quite some time in the buffets of the flat packed world of Ikea (although an 89p hotdog hardly seems a sufficient reward after successfully navigating the Nordic furniture labyrinth) these dishes are now hitting the mainstream.
Scandis Leading The Way
Scandinavian cuisine’s great escape from the ban-maries of industrial park furniture stores to the dining tables of Michelin star hungry gastronomes, is a true ‘rags-to-riches’ story.
‘New-Nordic cuisine’ is arguably having the same type of impact on the global food scene as that of ‘French haute cuisine’ and ‘Spanish molecular gastronomy’. Noma in Copenhagen, has been regarded by culinary in-the-knows as one of the best restaurants in the world for the past decade. It’s pioneering founder Rene Redzepi is definitely one of the most forward-thinking and inspiring chefs around today.
Whilst the region is adorned with an ever-growing collection of Michelin stars, a sign of a rise in quality and international recognition, it’s that impact upon gastronomy across the world which is most impressive. The principles of nordic cuisine are being adopted by many chefs across the globe, particularly in the Northern hemisphere. Chefs who were trained to cook with rich and indulgent classical French techniques, are now opting to take a lighter touch.
Foraging and fermentation are the latest buzzwords of the industry. Plenty of restaurants in both rural and urban environments are seeing the value in gathering hyperlocal ingredients, accentuating their dishes with berries, weeds and even insects from the back garden. Pickling and fermenting some of this produce brings an extra punch of flavour and sharpness. Acidity has always been present in many different cuisines, but lacto-fermentation is perhaps the trendiest technique since cooking sous vide.
Every Cuisine Has Its Home Comforts
Of course, it’s worth pointing out that Nordic cuisine isn’t entirely the health-conscious utopian diet that people might often think. Denmark and Iceland are beaten only by France for the prize of ‘countries that eat the most butter’. If you’ve ever had your bread buttered by a Dane, this won’t come as a surprise. They have a word – Tandsmør – to describe spreading the butter so thick upon a slice of bread that you leave behind teeth marks.
On the whole however, nordic food is all about locality and quality of produce. Eating and preserving the food available in your immediate environment, and taking your time to do so. At the rare times that it’s not optimum for the body, you can rest assured it’s perfect for the soul.
So whether you’ve added meatballs & mash to your weekly meal-plan, you enjoy Fika with friends on a Saturday afternoon, or you are a chef experimenting with ancient Nordic preservation techniques, it’s safe to say that Nordic food culture is a goldmine of culinary inspiration.