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Mary Novakovich

Award-winning journalist and travel writer

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9 Strange and Quirky Scandinavian Dishes

Maybe it’s the climate. Maybe it’s the fascinating mix of landscapes and endless miles of coastline. Whatever the reason, the Scandinavian and Nordic countries have come up some pretty offbeat flavours that you’re unlikely to find anywhere else. Award-winning travel writer Mary Novakovich gives a rundown of the nine strangest, quirkiest types of food you’ll find in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Denmark.

1. REINDEER

Banish all thoughts of Christmas as you tuck into some of the healthiest and tastiest meat you can eat. Reindeer meat is lean, full of protein and tastes wonderful – especially when cooked slowly so it falls apart on your fork. Add a hefty portion of mash for true Scandinavian comfort food. Finns love reindeer, while Swedes are just as likely to roast an elk or moose.

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2. SMÖRGÅSTÅRTA (SANDWICH CAKE)

Is it a cake or a sandwich? Well, it’s a savoury combination of the two. The Swedish smörgåstårta is made up of several layers of bread and fillings including pâté, smoked salmon, cured meats, prawns and eggs. This huge concoction is then intricately decorated with anything from hard-boiled eggs to tomatoes to olives, plus plenty of mayonnaise. Cut it into slices and invite your friends round.

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3. BRUNOST CHEESE

There’s a sweetness to Norway’s favourite cheese that’s unmistakable. But if you boil whey, cream and milk for hours until the mixture becomes caramelised, it’s not surprising that there’s a sugary taste to this brown-coloured cheese. Slice it on top of fresh waffles in proper Norwegian style.

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4. KALVDANS

Its name means “calf dance”, but the closest thing to dancing this Swedish dessert gets is a slight wobble in the dish. Unpasteurised colostrum milk – the first milk a cow produces just before giving birth – is boiled with water and left to become more solid, rather like an Italian panna cotta. What used to be a simple dish is becoming a delicacy, thanks to the scarcity of the milk that gives it its distinctive colour and consistency.

5. RAKFISK

You’ll need a strong nose – or a feeble sense of smell – to appreciate this Norwegian contribution to fish cuisine. Rakfisk is trout that’s been salted and left to ferment in water for months at a time. It’s then eaten raw with a dollop of sour cream – not one for the faint-hearted.

6. CRAYFISH PARTIES

Come summer, all eyes are on these colourful crustaceans as they come into season and everyone’s in a festive mood. Massive quantities are boiled, cooked simply with dill and eaten at crayfish parties throughout the summer. The Swedes call these raucous events kräftskiva, where the beer flows and everyone sings silly songs. Their neighbours in Finland saw how much fun the Swedes were having and came up with their own version too.

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7. HANGIKJÖT (SMOKED LAMB)

Icelandic sheep that spend their lives roaming freely through the scented countryside end up on the plate in deliciously smoked form. After being hung for a while, the lamb is then smoked in wood and sheep’s dung, giving it a fabulously rich flavour. It’s a staple part of the Christmas feast, and sometimes comes double smoked and tasting rather like prosciutto.

8. AQUAVIT

This fiery spirit is found all over Scandinavia, with each country adding its own twist. Distilled from potatoes or grain, the alcohol is flavoured with herbs and spices. Caraway is the favourite, but others include fennel, cinnamon, cardamom – even amber in one Danish distillery. Whatever their flavour, they all pack a powerful punch.

9. NYPONSOPPA (ROSEHIP SOUP)

Swedes usually serve this vitamin-packed, fruity soup as a dessert – either hot or cold. It’s not very sweet, which is probably why people pile whipped cream, almond biscuits or ice cream on top. For many, the flavour harks back to the days when everyone would plunder the hedgerows in the autumn, foraging for bright red rosehips.

Fancy tasting some of these curiosities for yourself? Best Served Scandinavia creates specialist tailor-made holidays to Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Denmark and Greenland.