10 weird Nordic foods you’ve probably never heard of
The Nordic diet is one of the healthiest and tastiest in the world, and each country has its own mouth-watering specialities. That said, there are a few, shall we say, unusual, dishes that you’ll either love or hate…
From salted liquorice and fermented fish to buttermilk soup and sandwich cakes, here we give you our favourite quirky, unique and downright weird Nordic dishes to try next time you’re headed north.
1. Salmiakki – Finland
‘Salmiakki’, or salted liquorice, is popular throughout most of the Nordic countries, but it’s a favourite in Finland.
Flavoured with ammonium chloride, the sharp tang of salmiakki is certainly an acquired taste, and can be experienced in traditional sweet form, or in other food like ice cream, cakes and even meat dishes.
You can also try the unusual flavour in ‘salmiakki koskenkorva’, which is essentially a pitch black, salty liquorice vodka drink.
Tip: Got a sore throat? Salmiakki has anti-inflammatory properties. It’s said to have originated in pharmacies who manufactured their own cough medicine.
2. Smörgåstårta – Sweden
Smörgåstårta is a savoury sandwich cake originating in Sweden and traditionally eaten at family gatherings.
It’s made up of layers of white or rye bread, alternated with fillings of pâté, smoked salmon, cured meats and prawns. It’s then ‘iced’ with mayonnaise or cream cheese and cut like a cake to serve. Anyone for a slice?
3. Smalahove – Norway
Not for the faint of heart, ‘smalahove’ or sheep’s head, is a traditional Norwegian dish that’s usually eaten around Christmas.
The head is torched, salted, smoked and dried. After boiling for three hours, it’s served with mashed swede, potatoes and sometimes a sausage on the side. It’s usually washed down with a glass or two of ‘aquavit’, Scandinavia’s spice-infused, signature spirit made from grain or potatoes.
Tip: If you feel like braving a smalahove, be sure to munch the ear and eye first, as they’re the fattiest parts and should be eaten warm.
4. Pulled oats – Finland
Finland is ahead of the vegan game with this unusual yet tasty Nordic dish. Pulled oats is a high-protein meat substitute prepared from fava beans, peas, and – you guessed it – oats. This healthy and environmentally friendly alternative has a consistency resembling that of pulled pork.
The start-up Gold&Green Foods came up with the idea back in 2015 and it immediately took off, with the first official batch selling out at the largest department store in Helsinki in only 11 minutes. Since then this organic, plant-based product has grown in popularity throughout Finland.
Tip: Try the pulled oat sandwiches at Paulig’s corner café in Helsinki. They’re delish.
5. Wild berries – Sweden, Finland & Norway
Nordic folk love spending time in the great outdoors. And why wouldn’t they? The landscape is nothing short of spectacular. And thanks to what’s known as ‘everyman’s right’, they can roam the countryside freely (sometimes even on privately-owned areas), as long as they show it due respect.
The ‘right’ applies to natives and tourists alike, which is great news for you, as you can wander through the forests and planes, picking as many berries as you can stuff in your pockets. That said, there are some restrictions that apply to picking cloudberries in Norway.
Here’s what to look out for in the wilderness:
Cloudberries: Cloudberries look like small, orange raspberries, but taste like sour apples. They’re known as ‘Arctic Gold’ due to their colour, rarity and expensive price-tag.
Tip: Want to try them? Enjoy a little cloudberry caramel tart or order a bowl of ‘multekrem’ – a mouth-watering Nordic dessert consisting of cloudberries, whipped cream and sugar. The dreamy mixture is served with ‘krumkake’ (crispy wafer-like cookies).
Lingonberries: These small red berries taste similar to cranberries but are not quite as tart. They’re most commonly used in jam and eaten with red meat dishes such as meatballs, venison roasts and meatloaf. But they’re equally delicious in desserts.
Tip: Fancy a healthy, berry-licious breakfast? Try this tempting lingonberry caramel oatmeal recipe at home (which can be made with cranberries if you’re low on Nordic fruits).
6. Rakfisk – Norway
You’ll need a feeble sense of smell for this one… A Norwegian delicacy, ‘rakfisk’ is trout that’s been salted and left to ferment in water for up to a year.
Eaten raw, it’s typically sliced and served with ‘lefse’ (flatbread), red onions, sour cream, potatoes, and a mustard-dill sauce.
Once you get past the unusual odour, rakfisk is mild in taste, slightly salty, and a bit tangy. Definitely a Nordic food worth trying.
Tip: If you get a taste for rakfisk and happen to be in Fagernes on the first Saturday of November, you can eat it to your heart’s content at the Norsk Rakfiskfestival.
7. Koldskål – Denmark
Wondering what to have for dessert in Denmark? Order a bowl of ‘koldskål’, or cold bowl.
Best described as a cold buttermilk soup, this sweet dessert is popular in summertime and consists of buttermilk, eggs, sugar, vanilla and lemon. It’s served with fresh berries and small, round biscuits called ‘kammerjunkere’.
8. Harðfiskur – Iceland
If you like beef jerky, chances are you’ll like the Icelandic version: ‘harðfiskur’. Wind-dried fish (usually cod, haddock or seawolf) is served with lashings of Icelandic butter and is usually eaten on-the-go. It’s a handy, protein-filled snack to fill a hole during a busy day of sightseeing.
Tip: There’s no shortage of things to see in Iceland. For inspiration, check our breathtaking experiences in Iceland post.
9. Kalakukko – Finland
Kalakukko, or fish-rooster, is a traditional loaf-shaped fish and pork pie from the Savonia region of eastern Finland. The hearty, filling pie consists of fish (typically vendace, a small-boned lake fish) and pork fat, stuffed in a loaf of dark rye bread.
Kalakukko is often thought of as the go-to packed lunch, as it’s basically a complete meal.
10. Gamalost – Norway
Like your cheese? We dare you to try ‘gamalost’. The name means ‘old cheese,’ and by old, we mean 1,000 years.
A staple of the Viking diet, they believed it had medicinal properties and would nibble on it during long voyages to provide energy and prevent colds. They also plastered it on their wounds to aid healing.
Tastewise, it’s sharp, slightly bitter, and is typically served with bread or crackers.
Taste the Nordics with Norwegian
These are just a few of the many weird and wonderful Nordic foods you can try in the Nordics. And if you’re headed to Norway in particular, you could hire a car and head around the country trying all the local delicacies. Check out the best routes in our road trips in Norway post.
Don’t forget, you can earn CashPoints on your flights with Norwegian and use them towards your next tasty adventure abroad. Bon appétit!