”As Nordic chefs we find that the time has now come for us to create a New Nordic Kitchen, which in virtue of its good taste and special character compares favorable with the standard of the greatest kitchens of the world.”
-New Nordic Kitchen Manifesto
Back in 2004, a group of twelve Scandinavian chefs developed and signed the New Nordic Kitchen Manifesto in an effort to both preserve and advance the unique food culture of the Nordic region. It contains ten major focus points:
The aims of the New Nordic Kitchen are:
1. To express the purity, freshness, simplicity and ethics we wish to associate to our region.
2. To reflect the changes of the seasons in the meals we make.
3. To base our cooking on ingredients and produce whose characteristics are particularly in our climates, landscapes and waters.
4. To combine the demand for good taste with modern knowledge of health and well-being.
5. To promote Nordic products and the variety of Nordic producers – and to spread the word about their underlying cultures.
6. To promote animal welfare and a sound production process in our seas, on our farmland and in the wild.
7. To develop potentially new applications of traditional Nordic food products.
8. To combine the best in Nordic cookery and culinary traditions with impulses from abroad.
9. To combine local self-sufficiency with regional sharing of high-quality products.
10. To join forces with consumer representatives, other cooking craftsmen, agriculture, fishing, food retail and wholesale industries, researchers, teachers, politicians and authorities on this project for the benefit and advantage of everyone in the Nordic countries.
This manifesto not only elevated the restaurant landscape in Scandinavia (think Noma in Denmark or Fäviken in Sweden), it also brought international attention to the fact that a diet rich in Nordic ingredients could be good for you. For many years, the Mediterranean Diet has received countless accolades for its health benefits. But for the many people who don’t live near the Mediterranean, following a diet that is largely based on the local produce of that particular growing region is unrealistic and not an environmentally sound practice. The so-called Nordic Diet provides a cold climate alternative: Still rich in plant-based foods, whole grains and fatty fish, but with more focus on the nutrient dense root vegetables that grow well in the north. So what might one expect to eat in Scandinavia if one were interested in eating local, nutrient-rich foods?
- Root vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, mushrooms and hearty greens. Beets, carrots, celery root, parsnips, rutabaga, turnips and potatoes are among the common varieties of root vegetables and tubers grown in the northern regions. You will also find brussels sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli. Cabbage is plentiful as are dark leafy greens such as kale, spinach and chard.
- Whole grains. The Nordic region is known for its rye consumption, particularly in the form of dark rye bread, but barley, spelt and oats are commonly enjoyed as well. Not only are whole grains ground into flour and baked into delicious breads, they are also enjoyed as creamy breakfast porridges or cooked simply and served in salads or hearty grain-based bowls.
- Fish and seafood. Surrounded by the sea and freshwater lakes, Scandinavians enjoy a diet rich in local seafood. Salmon, cod, herring, shrimp and mackerel are among the most commonly available choices.
- Wild game. Scandinavians are more likely to enjoy reindeer, moose, elk, venison and game birds on occasion than we are here in the United States. Conventionally raised meat and poultry are eaten in moderation.
- Berries and Other Seasonal Fruit. Antioxidant-rich blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and raspberries grow seasonally in the north, as do the more exotic cloudberries and lingonberries. Apples and pears are readily available in the fall, and rhubarb is plentiful in the spring.
- Rapeseed (Canola) Oil. This is one area in which the Nordic diet differs from the Mediterranean diet which focuses solely on olive oil. Rich in Omega 3’s and neutral in flavor, canola oil is a popular choice in Scandinavia.
- Cultured Dairy Products. Filmjölk (a pourable yogurt like kefir) and skyr (Icelandic yogurt) are a couple of examples of fermented dairy products available in Scandinavia. They are typically enjoyed with porridge, granola or muesli at breakfast.
- Pickled foods. Pickling is a popular way to prolong the shelf-life of seasonal vegetables and is quite popular in this region that has a relatively short growing season.
- Legumes. Dried whole yellow peas are the core ingredient in a traditional Swedish Pea Soup, but lentils, beans, chickpeas and split peas are also commonly consumed.
- Fresh herbs and exotic spices. Dill is a well-known staple of Nordic cuisine, but you will find other fresh herbs as well: Thyme, tarragon, parsley, rosemary and marjoram, just to name a few. Scandinavian cooking and baking also boasts its share of exotic spices, most notably cardamom, cinnamon and curry powders of all kinds. It is believed that the Vikings brought these unusual spices north after encountering them on their eastern travels.
As far as food preparation is concerned, Scandinavians tend to value simplicity. There is generally one main course served family style, and foods are likely to be simply prepared, letting the true nature of the ingredients shine through. Thanks to the concept of hygge which runs deep in Nordic culture, there is also a commitment to cooking intimate meals at home with friends and family instead of going out.
Finally, there is a Swedish concept called lagom which loosely translates to “just the right amount”. As applied to food, this means that Scandinavians tend to seek balance, both in what they decide to eat and how much. We Americans are quick to take the extreme route when it comes to diet, attempting to cut out certain ingredients entirely. “I’m giving up gluten,” we might say, or “I’m going sugar-free.” In the Nordic countries people are more willing to accept that there is a middle way, a lagom way of eating that makes room for the nutrient dense ingredients AND the occasional indulgence.