The head chef at one of the world’s most remote restaurants, Fäviken, in central Sweden, Nilsson wrote this book to set the record straight about Nordic cuisine: the food of Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands. But he took some persuading.
In the introduction, he writes, “A book like this is not only impossible, it doesn’t make sense, I heard myself saying to the publisher who pitched me the idea. I don’t consider myself to be Nordic; I am, in fact, Swedish or possibly Jämtlandian. I think most other people living in the Nordic region feel the same. We identify ourselves with the country we are from, not with the region that place happens to be considered part of. We don’t like them becoming all lumped into one … [Eventually] I decided that the purpose of the book, in fact, had to be the same as the reason I was initially so put off by the idea of it. I decided to write the book and to make its mission to explain how similar our Nordic cultures really are, but also how they differ, how everything is tied together by our mutual history and our present culture and how it can all be tracked through the food we eat. Food is an undeniable and unavoidable marker of culture and society.
“I realised that most of what has been published in English on Nordic and Scandinavian home cooking really sucks. Most of the time the food … is a vague reflection of something that is a bit restauranty and central European in style, but
with lingonberries added … almost none of them supply context. They don’t aim to explain the why and how, or even the when of things.”
Explain he does – for 768 pages – and along the way shows there’s far more to Nordic cuisine than lingonberries. I was fascinated to learn that Scandinavians preserve eggs by packing them in ash. “The alkalinity of the ash would act on the protein of the egg a bit like on a thousand-year-old egg in Asia, slowly curing it.”
Before reading this book, I worried it would be limited to ingredients we’d have to forage, fish, hunt or shoot, which, while common in other parts of the world, would be difficult to find in Hong Kong.
So I was pleasantly surprised to find many dishes that we can cook in Asia. OK, maybe not those containing seabirds such as puffin and fulmar, or whale meat (his recipes call for pilot whales, which are not endangered, although the squeamish will want to skip the chapter on marine mammals, in which he describes a whale hunt in the Faroes). But there are plenty of useful recipes, such as split pea soup; roasted eel; salmon poached on the bone; Icelandic shrimp salad; chicken in curry sauce (“curry powder was introduced into the Danish kitchen in 1828”); seared brisket with onions; Danish thick cream pancakes; Swedish sugared sweet pretzels; and Norwegian Christmas bread.