Scandinavian cuisine isn’t likely to win a popularity contest anytime soon. Characterized by stinky fish and mushy pâtés, it’s certainly not the most photogenic food out there. But, boy, is it delicious. Here are seven foods you must try on your next trip.
This little fish is about as Scandinavian as it gets. Sometimes herring goes down easy, like when it’s fried or smoked. Other times, it’s more of an acquired taste, like when it’s pickled or fermented. For a truly Swedish experience, dare to try the fermented kind, surströmming, which boasts a stink like nothing you’ve ever smelled.
Say sorry to Rudolph and dig into this indigenous staple. The Sami, the indigenous people of northern Scandinavia known for reindeer husbandry, have come up with a wide variety of ways to preserve and cook the meat. Try it traditional—cooked low and slow in a stew or smoked and dried like a jerky—or go modern and try it carpaccio-style.
Denmark is the king of open-faced sandwiches, called smørrebrød. Each one is a work of art, piled high with endless combinations of meats, fishes, pâtés, cheeses, veggies, and spreads. Go for the quintessential stjerneskud, or “shooting star,” a duo of deep-fried and steamed white fish, topped with shrimp, asparagus, dill, lettuce, and caviar. Another local favorite is the playfully named dyrlægens natmad, or “veterinarian’s midnight snack,” featuring layers of liver pâté, sliced beef, meat aspic, and raw onion.
4. Rye Bread
Scandinavians love their carbs, and the most cherished of them all is rye bread. Locals eat it dressed up — it’s the most popular base for a good smørrebrød open-faced sandwich — and they eat it dressed down, with just a smear of butter. In Copenhagen, Brød is among the best of the bakeries. Head in at 7 a.m., right when it opens, to snag a loaf hot from the oven.
All IKEA jokes aside, Swedish meatballs are hearty, homey balls of pork-and-beef goodness that should be on any omnivore traveler’s must-eat list. Slathered in brown gravy and served alongside a buttery potato mash, the dish is balanced by a tart touch of lingonberries. Denmark and Norway have their own versions, too, made from different meat blends and rolled into various shapes and sizes.
6. Potato Pancakes
Known in Swedish as raggmunk, literally “crispy donut pan,” potato pancakes are typically eaten with lingonberries and bacon-like fried, salted pork. If you’re in Stockholm, head to Södermalm and check out Made In Sweden for raggmunk that’s as big as a dinner plate.
Belgium may have Sweden beat when it comes to waffle notoriety, but Sweden’s version has a definite cute factor. Heart-shaped and topped with cloudberry jam and whipped cream, Swedish waffles are just as delightful to eat as they are to look at.