Berries, oily fish, and sweets: Scandinavian food is having a moment. But will it last?by Steffi Dellner / March 28, 2012 / Leave a comment
It has taken a while for Scandinavian food to make its way into our kitchens, but recently, the fish-rich, berry-laden diet has repeatedly hit the headlines. First, there was the heralding of New Nordic Cuisine, pioneered by Noma in Copenhagen. Then, last month there was the report from the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet that the Swedish food market alone totalled almost 300 million pounds in the UK last year.
The perception of the Scandinavian cuisine is that it still draws heavily on its Viking heritage, making foragers and fishers of men, women and children alike. Featuring on the menu are pared-down ingredients like wholesome grains and pulses, omega-packed berries, root vegetables and oily fish. Cooking from scratch using seasonal, organic produce was taken for granted long before it was fashionable.
But in Scandinavia itself, the picture is more complex. Morbid obesity in young adult men has increased tenfold since 1969, according to a study by Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute. And last year, Denmark’s concerns about the bulging waistlines of its population led to the implementation of a fat tax of 16 DKK (about £1.8) per kilo of saturated fat on foods with more than 2.3 per cent fat. Then there was last year’s much-mocked butter shortage across the region, which allegedly gave rise to a black market to fuel cravings.
Yet obesity rates are almost half of what they are in Britain. Low in saturated fat, high in fibre, lean protein and full of antioxidants, the Scandinavian diet professes to offer health benefits like reducing the risk for heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Certainly, then, these are among the reasons for the surge of interest in Scandinavian food. And then there’s the taste.
The complex interplay of sweet, sour and salty flavours in Scandinavian cooking lends itself well to the “clean” palate in fine dining rooms across the globe. In this country, Mikael Jonsson’s Chiswick restaurant, Hedone, opened to rapturous reviews last year while Danish North Road in Farringdon received its first Michelin star for its take on smoking, pickling and sous-viding.
There are more accessible options. The Scandinavian Kitchen in Central London, founded in 2007, was among the first outlets to take advantage of the burgeoning trend. “The Scandi clientele tell us that we’re being authentic…The UK local clientele tell us we’re creating a new food culture around them,” says co-owner Bronte Aurell.
Signe Johansen, author of Secrets of Scandinavian Cooking…Scandilicious credits the success of the movement to convenience. “Our climate and culture in Scandinavia is much more like the UK, and the cycle of seasonal fruit and vegetables in Britain is like that in Nordic countries.”
But with many traditional dishes proving a bit of a challenge (methods of preparing fish include pickling, fermenting or soaking it in lye), will the Scandinavian model of eating prove to be more than a passing fad?
As healthy as it is, the Scandinavian diet has another major asset: treats are permitted. In Swedish there is a single word to describe the act of sitting down and enjoying a cup of coffee and a slice cake (“fika”). Cream-filled “Semlor” buns sell out within a few hours at the Scandinavian Kitchen. The key seems to be moderation—traditionally eaten for Shrove Tuesday, the buns are only available for a few weeks of the year. Another word for which there is no translatable equivalent, “lagom,” sums it up—it roughly means “just enough.” And perhaps that goes for the fermented fish too.
Steffi Dellner writes the blog Always So Hungry from her East End kitchen