Before any of the sombre Scandinavian detectives, had arrived on our screens the Brits didn't look to the North except maybe to gaze up at the great Christmas tree sent to London every year from Norway. Unless going skiing why would we go to a colder country than our own? A place of ice and dark forests, home to Santa's frantic mail depot, plus a few Moonmins. ABBA are great but their music travelled to us.
Over the last five years, alongside Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy and The Killing, Noma restaurant shot like an arrow straight into the heart of the restaurant scene, each dish of, lichen, ash, obscureberry, fermented herring or musk ox appearing as replicas of the forest floor or sea bed, an environment on a plate.
British chefs doubled up their nettle picking and Danish chef Rene Redzepi was a superstar. Stealthily, Ikea too had infiltrated pretty much every UK household and while we sat around their bolt together tables on their snap together chairs, under their slot together lamp shades chances are we might be discussing the sexy sultry Sarah Lund. Media, design and culinary spotlights were swung around and gazed towards Scandinavia.
There is life in those frozen wastes everyone realised and this is certainly good news for food television as Mediterranean cooking had been squeezed like a lemon. From a European perspective there was an untapped source of food and travel. I am certainly not the first to cook or film there but as we clipped up our Pele cases to head home a lot of other production companies were arriving.
The Norse tales made my hair stand on end as a child and as a lover of moss, pine needles, fish, fires, fur and ice I had long wanted to travel across Denmark Sweden and Norway. I love countries where the thrill of the city or enjoyable company can be left for vast expanses of nature and that essential feeling it gives me. It wasn't long into filming, that I became convinced that some wild eyed berserker did something in a hedge with a distant relative of mine, it felt like home from home. Mind you, Vikings were not the psychopathic, pyromaniac misogynists they are often thought to be, but mainly peaceful traders who travelled far and wide, laying the foundations for their ancestors who bought home valuable spices that are now deeply ingrained in the cuisine. I was initially surprised by the cardamom rolls or curried herrings that one would not immediately associate with this part of the world.
If I can be general, Scandinavian food is both complex and simple. Like fashion the Northern food is dictated more by survival than trend with a lot to be learnt from tribal Saami traditions. The Southern cities - Copenhagen, Stockholm and Oslo are similar to London, boasting cool cafes, amazing bakeries, delis and fabulous restaurants. With winter temperatures, plummeting frequently to -35 C (the knife stuck to my hand when cooking outside) northern dishes are simple. Chicken pork and beef can't live here so it's all about reindeer and moose, salting, pickling with some reliance found in freezing summers bounty. No room to be patronising about eating Rudolf.
Although foraging is popular throughout the restaurants of Scandinavia, these simple ingredients have become the cuisine for millionaires; all Scandinavians enjoy their natural larder. Come summer, families race to their woodland cabins to pick berries with their children and hunting does not whip up debate, as for many it's a necessity. If you don't fish Norwegians may think you're weird. Scandinavians enjoy their open spaces with gusto and it shows in their soul, in their faces and in their diet.
As I travelled through these three countries I enjoyed wonderful tastes I'd never experienced and incredible produce. Liquorice, cherry wine, haddock, langoustines, beers, cloud berries, salt cures, birch syrup, fermented herrings, cheeses spruce tips, smoked reindeer heart, rhubarb aniseed cake and moose.
The cities are enjoying a booming food scene with very confident cooking, from open sandwiches to restaurant complication. There is still a great tradition of home cooking too and the importance of family meals. Where the populations living in remoter communities rural traditional recipes and cooking techniques are protected and kept alive as a result. In one house our hostess Britta cooked the best fish soup I have ever eaten followed with an exceptional berry tart.
In short, these lands are rich with brilliant producers and produce, excellent coffee and addictive sour dough. The seas are abundant with fish the forests carpeted with berries and mushrooms, the fields full of the sweetest fruit ripened under an all-night sun. The scenery is jaw dropping and I experienced generosity like never before.
There are not enough words here to say everything I want to.
Sometimes it seems as if the winter has taught Scandinavians not to waste precious heat through unnecessary speech. I'm not saying they are quiet; they just have a verbal economy that's deeply effective and beguiling. All in all the Scandinavians are a 'go to' people. Obviously each nation has its own way but across our trip we found a combination of gregarious, funny, carefree, downright wild, serious, generous and thoughtful people.
Maybe the Scandinavia will help the British enjoy herring once more. Spruce up Scandi is here.
Valentine Warner Eats Scandinavia is new and exclusive to Good Food from 16 September at 8pm.
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