Nordic Food Culture

"Food culture [is] very special because it is also the most important cultural manifestation that we have, because we all have to eat.” - Magnus Nilsson, author of The Nordic Cookbook.

When Magnus Nilsson, head chef at the Michelin-starred Faviken restaurant, 400 miles north of Stockholm, was first asked to write a Nordic cookbook, he was against it.  "The Nordic is a geographical region, not really a cultural region," he said. "It's too big, and too varied." (It includes Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden and several groups of autonomous islands.)

He eventually agreed to do it and says that he learned a lot from his trips across the region, lessons that would greatly influence the menu of his award winning restaurant in Sweden. "Growing up in this remote part of Sweden, everything that has shaped food culture in the area is also a big part of the way I run my restaurant." Over 700 pages long, The Nordic Cookbook could have been a series of Nordic cookbooks. In writing the book, Magnus wanted people to understand each Nordic culture through its food. "It was very important to me that it's not just some recipes put in a nice book. It's a document of food culture the way it looks today in the Nordic region, but also how it used to look." 

Reindeer blood pancakes reveal, for example, that the Sami people of northern Scandinavia live in a cold, unforgiving landscape. They needed to make use of every part of the animal, including its blood.

(Nordic items clockwise from top left: sugared cloudberries; Norwegian thick salt-pork pancakes, waffles; thick oven-baked pancake; blood pancakes; pancake torte/Erik Olsson)

On the other side of the region, Denmark has an open-faced sandwich called Smørrebrød. It's a slice of buttered rye thickly layered with a range of toppings including deli cold cuts, smoked eel, pate, pickled herring, mackerel, cucumber, boiled eggs and rich sauces. "They really say a lot about Denmark as a country, being the gateway in trade between the Nordics and mainland Europe. It's also a really rich agricultural region," says Magnus.

Additional Reading and Resources

The Nordic Cookbook

A Chef's Table

Jenkins, Allan (22 January 2012). "Magnus Nilsson: the rising star of Nordic cooking"The Observer. Retrieved 15 September 2012.

Ulla, Gabe (24 April 2012). "Chef Magnus Nilsson on the Story of Fäviken" Retrieved 15 September 2012.

"Q&A: Chef Magnus Nilsson"Qantas. 1 October 2011. Retrieved 15 September 2012.

Moskin, Julia (24 August 2011). "New Nordic cuisine draws disciples"The Seattle Times. Retrieved 15 September 2012.

Palling, Bruce (9 November 2010). "Top 10 Young Chefs in Europe"The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 15 September 2012.

"The Mind of a Chef: Episodes." PBS. Retrieved 15 September 2012.