Today is the first Sunday in Advent and it`s also the 1st of December. Christmas is right around the corner and I`m sure that what`s on everyone`s mind is what Scandinavians eat for Christmas. Right? 😉
To understand the Christmas food in the three Scandinavian countries you have to know a little about the financial and agricultural history here. I can sum it up in two sentences: Denmark was a country with rich farms and an abundance in food and Norway was a poor country with small farms where people had to make do with what they had. Sweden was both.
You usually know where people come from in Norway from what they eat for Christmas. If they come from the eastern part of Norway, chances are they`ll eat Ribbe, which is pork with a lot of fat on it and everyone making Ribbe will always bite his or her nails down to the sockets because that fat needs to be crispy or Christmas is ruined. Weeks before Christmas there`ll be articles in newspapers and shows on TV teaching people how to make crispy fat on their Ribbe. The Ribbe comes with sausages and meatballs and you eat it with potatoes and either a type of sauerkraut or with red cabbage.
When I came to Norway I was a bit shocked that they served sausages, meatballs and fat with hardly any meat on it for Christmas. It didn`t seem very Christmasy to me – it was every day food, really. That was when I was told that Norway used to be a very poor country and tradition is tradition (so shut up).
I later learned that I was lucky to end up with in-laws who ate Ribbe. If I`d married a man who`d grown up in other parts of Norway, I might have been forced to eat Pinnekjøtt – which means stick-meat. Yeah, that sounds delicious, right?
Pinnekjøtt is sheep meet that has been dried for ages and probably salted too. It looks grey when you start cooking it and it looks almost as grey when you eat it. And the smell…. If you ever have Norwegians move into an apartment building where you live, just pray that they don`t eat pinnekjøtt. It stinks!
The fun thing is that Pinnekjøtt-lovers will defend that ugly, stinky Christmas dinner and claim it`s the best food you can ever have. They are not as hard ball defenders of their Christmas food as the Lutefisk lovers, though. They are a different breed.
Americans who`ve grown up in states like Minnesota or North Dakota will probably know about Lutefisk. All I can say is “I`m sorry!”. What is it with people who`ll take perfectly good fish, dry it on stocks for months and then put it in lye? And then they`ll call it Christmas food?? This is an especially common Christmas dish on the west coast and in the Northern part of Norway.
Lutefisk is served with pea stew, bacon, potatoes and sometimes brown goat`s cheese. Lutefisk lovers will tell you that it`s all the things you eat with the lutefisk that are good. Then why eat the lutefisk?
So if you thought I`d covered Norwegian Christmas craziness, unfortunately you would be very wrong. A small but very loud group of people will eat Smalahove for Christmas. Smalahove is sheep`s head. No, you do not need to go change your glasses. People around here eat sheep`s head for Christmas. You`re served one half of a sheep`s head and that is supposed to make you feel all Christmasy. Yikes.
Let us leave the Norwegian Christmas food and go to a place where Christmas means eating the best food you`ll ever get. Me prejudiced? Nooooo. Everyone knows Denmark has the best Christmas food in Scandinavia and that has noooothing to do with the fact that it`s the Christmas food I grew up with 😉
If Danes are asked what they think is the most traditional Danish Christmas food they`ll probably say Flæskesteg. It`s not that unlike the Norwegian Ribbe as it`s also pork and it also has a (thinner) layer of fat on top of it – fat that needs to be crispy or the seven sins of Christmas will be cast upon the Christmas dinner cook (or at least he or she will suffer the evil eyes of the family). Flæskesteg is eaten with red cabbage and brown potatoes. “What are brown potatoes?” you ask. That would be boiled potatoes that are rolled in sugar while fried, thus giving them a caramel layer. I said Danish Christmas food was good – I never said it was healthy 😀
In my family we unfortunately had to leave the Flæskesteg behind as my grandfather came to suffer from heart problems and Flæskesteg was just too fat for him. We started eating what so many other Danes eat for Christmas, namely the Turkey.
Turkey is eaten with a lot of good stuffing, Waldorf salad and potatoes.
Turkey isn`t the only bird that is put on Danish Christmas tables. Ducks and Geese are involved in the Danish celebrations as well.
I have never celebrated Christmas in Sweden but everyone in Scandinavia knows about the Swedish Julskinka – Christmas Ham. We usually eat it at other times in December because it`s just so very good. The Swedes both boil it and put it in the oven with a layer of mustard and brown sugar. Yum!
They may have more than this dish for Christmas in Sweden but I haven`t been able to find any other. Not for Christmas eve, at least. For all the Christmas dinners and lunches Swedes will have through out December there are hundreds of items you need to buy, produce and consume. There`s herring in many varieties, meat balls, salads, lever paste, sausages, ham and so many other things that you`ll be guaranteed a very full stomach if you try to taste it all. The Swedes call it Julbord – Christmas Table.
The Christmas Table tradition before Christmas isn`t just a Swedish tradition, though it`s called Christmas Lunch in Denmark. It`s a Scandinavian tradition. We`ll meet colleagues and friends, other parents from the kids` football team, neighbors and relatives and what we`ll do is eat and drink. Especially the latter. And there is one thing we`ll drink in December and never in any of the other months of the year: snaps. Snaps is strong and since we only drink it in December, we`re not really used to it. It`s not a pretty sight and unfortunately you`ll see it every night in December – drunk people trying to make it home, wearing their finest dresses and suits (but there might be puke on them), trying to get a final kiss from that equally drunk colleague – or just anyone, really.