Culinary habits of Scandinavians you need to be aware of
It’s not all pickled herring, open sandwiches and meatballs in Scandinavian kitchens. From lacking inhibitions to very specific rules for crisps and sweets, here are some dining-related Scandinavian habits you might not be aware of.
1. Don’t make the cheese into a ski slope
A lot of people will recognise the all-important cheese slicer, which all truly Scandinavian kitchens have at least one of. But not everyone will know exactly how to use it. Whatever you do, when your Scandinavian friend invites you over for brunch, do not slice the cheese block into the shape of a ski slope; it is as close to a mortal sin as culinary behaviours go in the Nordics. The trick is to turn the block of cheese around every now and then and slice from both sides.
2. Fish for breakfast
Alright, we said it’s not all pickled herring, but sometimes it does get fishy in Scandinavian kitchens – and not only at midsummer. How about mackerel on toast for breakfast? Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, many Scandinavians will boast, and so no sugar-coated wheat puffs will do. Healthy fats, wholegrain and protein – what’s not to love? It’ll keep you going for hours, like a real Viking.
3. Tacos – the most Swedish dish in the world
Don’t get us wrong, we’re not pretending to have come up with pico de gallo or guacamole. No, Swedish tacos are actually nothing like the Mexican original – but the corn shells and salsa are enough to make us cling to the word, and in recent years, some people have even started adding fresh coriander and lime. Anyhow, the point of Swedish tacos is less about the culinary experience and more about ‘fredagsmys’, the laid-back couch get-together in front of the TV of a Friday night. Chop stuff, lash it into different bowls and let people help themselves and take what they like. It’s easy, it’s delicious (or delicious enough), and everyone can just chill.
4. Sour dairy
“It’s like yoghurt, but runnier. Like milk but thicker – and sour. No, not gone off, but almost.” If you’ve ever heard a Scandinavian try to explain ‘filmjölk’ or ‘surmelk’ to a non-Scandinavian, you might have been confused, and that’s OK. Suffice to say, milk is not very filling, the live bacteria in products similar to kefir work wonders for your gut, and that’s our case made. Don’t give us sweetened yoghurt, please. We want the sour stuff.
5. Bucketloads of coffee
It’s not just the global happiness and trust indexes that Scandinavians tend to repeatedly top; we’re the best coffee drinkers in the world, too. At least if, like us, you think that more is better (that’s in the case of coffee – don’t go overboard with other stuff). Consuming an average of four cups of coffee per day, Finns are the biggest coffee drinkers in the world, closely followed by Norwegians, Icelandic people and Danes. Now you might begin to understand why most of us prefer filter coffee makers over those supposedly fancy one-espresso-at-a-time machines…
6. We like big bags (of crisps) and we cannot lie
Scandinavians will tut at your lunchbox with crisps, but join them for a Eurovision party and the big bags will come out. In fact, because crisps are not acceptable as a daily snack, it’s often tricky to find snack-size bags in Scandinavia. Instead, you’ll find supermarket shelves stocked with party-size bags – but because Scandinavians can have stingy tendencies and like to pay for their own stuff, everyone will have their own. Sure enough, the Scandinavian approach to healthy eating can be confusing; you frown at my snack bag on a Monday and down a full party bag of your own on a Saturday? But look, if you had salad and coffee for lunch every day during the week, wouldn’t you make up for it in front of the year’s biggest TV event, the Eurovision Song Contest?
7. Saturday sweets
Speaking of Saturday binging, that’s when Scandinavians eat sweets. Yes, the tradition of Saturday sweets means that children learn never to ask for sweets on any other day, while they expect as their God-given, constitutional right to get to choose a handful of favourites from an entire supermarket wall of a pick’n’mix assortment every Saturday.
8. Salty sweets
Oh yes, and sweets are not always sweet, because we’re awkward like that. Salty liquorice is a bit like marmite, but Scandinavians who like it will definitely force you to try some and watch in great anticipation to read your facial expression when the intensity of the saltiness hits. It’s an experience.
9. No inhibitions
‘I’m going for a pee,’ your Scandinavian friend will inevitably announce in the middle of a meal, before leaving the table as if nothing’s happened, leaving you to choke or cry or both. And sure, you can have some nudity with that, if you like – either in the form of a flatmate in nothing but underwear during breakfast or in conversational form with anecdotes from a gruesome surgical procedure or intimate bedroom tales. What’s over-sharing for you is not over-sharing for your Scandi flatmate, but whatever it is, expect to get it with your mackerel on toast.
10. Drink lagom
It was a tiny victory that ensured, during a referendum back in 1922, that alcohol wasn’t banned in Sweden – the key argument being that you can’t have a traditional crayfish party without booze. But the suspicious attitude towards inebriation has remained, and Swedes can only buy alcoholic beverages in a state-owned off-licence with limited opening hours and finger-wagging posters about the dangers of excessive drinking. That’s not to say that Swedes don’t drink a lot; they just work very hard on keeping up the appearance of not drinking a lot. This is done, among other things, by talking obsessively about the qualities of your alcoholic beverage of choice, as though you’re only drinking it because you’re a true connoisseur. A few hours in, you can drop your guard and relax as people will be too drunk to notice.
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