At the very moment when the New Nordic movement began trending, I was interviewed on a local radio station about Scandinavian food. I spoke about the flavors of Scandinavia: of seafood, fish, wild berries and mushrooms, dairy, pork, poultry, game, reindeer, barley and rye, root vegetables and potatoes. I mentioned that centuries of trade introduced aromatics like cardamom, caraway, anise, allspice, nutmeg, citrus, almond, saffron, and ginger to the mild, delicate herbs (think dill and parsley) that anchor Nordic flavors. I informed him that the Northland experiences short growing seasons and long winters and that means pickling and curing have reached artistic heights. I cited Denmark’s Noma, the 42-seat restaurant where securing a reservation is nearly impossible, at the time celebrating the second of her three year reign as the World’s Best Restaurant.
The interviewer wasn’t listening. Didn’t he hear the excitement in my voice as I described the exquisiteness of a cardamom bun or perfectly cured gravlax? No, he insisted that Scandinavian flavors were synonymous with decay. “Tell me more about lutfisk. Tell me about the rotting herring that comes in a can,” he prodded.
After the interview I wrote a rebuttal that began: Nordic food is not consistently white and bland, and some people love lutfisk.
Many Minnesotans suffer from a belief that what our grandparents ate for Christmas Eve every year is the summation of everyday plates across Scandinavia. Admittedly there are some foodstuffs that outsiders (and insiders) might consider to be strange. The aforementioned lutfisk is generally enjoyed by older folks during the holidays (if prepared well the gelatinous lye soaked cod brings to mind flaky lake walleye or whitefish) and fermented Baltic herring (surströmming) is packed in a can that must be opened under running water due to the gases that escape. But what comes to mind when I think about Nordic food? The beauty and simplicity of local seasonal cuisine.
Nordic cuisine is dynamic; balanced in color, flavor, and texture; and here in Minnesota often dreadfully misunderstood. During my interview we barely touched on the many Midwestern food traditions that can be traced back to Scandinavian immigrants. From fika (afternoon breaks of coffee and a baked treat) to gravlax (the cold cured salmon is a menu darling across the Twin Cities), from spritz cookies to Dairy cooperative; Nordic traditions are so woven into our mainstream customs that they no longer attributed to the Scandinavians who imported them.
Nordic food marries modern influences (such as French technique, travel, wealth, politics, and immigration to a tradition of local seasonal ingredients, and clean simple flavors. Out of this marriage was born the New Nordic movement. New Nordic is the Scandinavian equivalent of France’s Slow Food movement. Not only does it emphasize Northland ingredients, it promotes healthy living, sound ecological practices, and animal welfare.
Translating a New Nordic state of mind to Midwestern palates takes some planning, but it quickly becomes a pleasurable routine especially during the throes of summer gardening and farmers markets. In our house we eat out less and cook more. We prepare local sustainable fish at least twice weekly and add lots of local, seasonal, and pesticide-free vegetables to our meals. Simplicity allows the flavors of the season to shine. We are eating less meat but better quality, typically purchased direct from the farmer or from reputable butchers. Breakfast and lunch mean salads or leftovers and smörgås (open-faced sandwiches) on rye.
New Nordic has progressed from an impossible reservation at Noma to an accessible purposeful way of life.