The Scandinavians and Norwegians generally , are widely known as brilliant designers, have designed and crafted items of table-porcelain, silver ware, crystal, linen. What isn't widely known is that they're excellent cooks as well. It should stand to reason, however, that a people who care so much about the way a table looks would also care about the food that's put on it. The Scandinavians do.
Then why is Norwegian & Scandinavian cooking relatively unknown? The Scandinavians are in a way themselves to blame. Having industrialised late and thus begun to emerge from a background of rural poverty only within the last century, they still tend to see their native cuisine in humble terms.
So what is Norwegian & Scandinavian cuisine? It's many things-fish, pork and poultry, as well as beets, potatoes, cucumbers, dill, parsley and horseradish, broiled, baked, and smoked apples. The cooking is pure and simple. Foods taste of themselves.
Scandinavian and Norwegian ingredients in particular come from the sea, a fresh-water lake, or even the earth. And some, like the lingonberry or the mushroom, don't only come from the forest, but bring a breath of pines or birches to the table with them. It's this palatable communion with nature that makes Scandinavian & Norwegian food appealing.
Scandinavian food is romantic. There's something about the fairy tale-curds and whey, porridge, and fruit tarts. The distant past clings to it. Descendants of the Vikings today consume some of the dishes the Vikings ate. The Vikings loved oysters and mussels. They savored mutton, cheese, cabbage, apples, onions, berries and nuts, and all these continue to be staples of the Scandinavian diet. The Vikings raised chickens and geese. They hunted wild birds, elk, deer and bear, just as their modern counterparts do. Even a few of the more esoteric tastes of the Vikings live on. The Norwegians insist that a whale steak properly marinated and broiled can taste as good as beef. Some Swedes rave about smoked horseflesh, which they refer to as "hamburger" and buy thinly sliced.
To cook the Scandinavian and the Norwegian way is to re-create the past. For hundreds of years many of the recipes being used today weren't written down but handed down, like folk ballads, mouth to mouth, memory to memory. Who can begin to trace the evolution, much less approximate the age of a dish like herring salad, eaten for so long and so thoroughly enjoyed that it's now found not only throughout Scandinavia, but wherever Scandinavians have gone?
Scandinavia's isolation inevitably helped spawn many local dishes and traditions. Out of the far North has come one of the greatest Scandinavian delicacies, cured salmon. Prepared with sugar, salt, white pepper and dill, this moist, tender, springlike dish is now also relished in Denmark.
In addition to the isolation of Scandinavia and the isolation of Scandinavians from each other, something much more elemental has been at work to determine the character of the food and cooking, and this is climate, especially winter. Even today winter continues to be the one inescapable fact of life in the North. The season comes early and lasts long, and, worst of all at least from a contemporary standpoint, it is dark-drearily so. For centuries, the thinking of the people was shaped by it, and they devoted their energy during the short, hectic growing season to making sure that they'd live through the winter. If many of the foods of the area have a salty or smoky taste, or are pickled or dried, it's largely because of winter. The preservation of foods was the only kind of life insurance, all important to survival.
The Vikings very early learned to smoke, dry and salt their meats and fish. And in acquiring the means to tide themselves over the barren winter, they also found the means to make their extensive journeys by sea. They took supplies of nonperishable foods with them, in particular dried cod, which wasn't only an excellent source of protein but could be traded abroad.
Written by Tony Reed