New Nordic food movement

How to eat like a Scandinavian

"Most of our customers are of Scandinavian descent, and some are first-generation," says Nordlie. "But anyone would feel at home here. We're also known for our Italian pie, which is baked in a flaky crust, with vegetables, artichokes, black olives, and cheese."

Café Finspång (Midtown Global Market)

MAIBRITT SYSE AND SIBBAN JOHNSON, childhood friends who grew up on the same street in the village of Finspång, Sweden, came here to work with In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre. Syse arrived in 1983, and Johnson followed soon afterward. In 2006, they opened the café to bring a small taste of Scandinavia to the city's celebrated ethnic bazaar.

The Midtown Global Market celebrates Minnesota's Somali, Hmong, Middle Eastern, and Latino immigrants; it would be a shame to leave Scandinavians off the list.

Save room for dessert at Cafe Finspång 
in the Midtown Global Market
photo by City Pages
Save room for dessert at Cafe Finspång in the Midtown Global Market

Syse explains the concept behind smörgås, or smørrebrød in Denmark.

"You want to see what you put on a sandwich, so you leave it open-faced," he says. "The more you have on it, the prettier it looks. When you put bread on top, you have no idea what's in between."

Pickled herring is a must, Syse explains. When you sit together and eat, especially in Denmark, you start with the fish, then follow with cheeses and meats. But you never mix different kinds of meats. Subsequent smørrebrød courses often involve lettuce, shrimp, or cucumbers.

Other popular items include strawberry cakes, salt licorice, lefse, Anna's ginger snaps (the latest trend in Sweden is to top them with blue cheese), Fat Tuesday cardamom bread between Christmas and Easter, cucumber salad, Juusto cheese (which the Finns grill, bake, or fry and then dip in their morning coffee), Söderblandning tea, and chocolate balls made with oatmeal and liqueur.

While New Nordic might be avante-garde to some, it's nothing new for Johnson. Her father hunted moose, deer, rabbit, and pheasants while she was growing up; her mother forced her into the forest to gather blueberries, lingonberries, and chanterelle mushrooms. Her grandmother owned an earth cellar built in the 17th century where she would store potatoes, berries, and preserves.

"I wasn't surrounded by processed foods, so the real flavor was always right in food," Johnson says.

To her, the expression "New Nordic" touches on another current trend in Scandinavia: the influx of immigrants from outside of the homogenous Nordic region.

"In Scandinavia in the last 30 years, we've had lots of immigrants come: Chileans, Somalis, and others," Johnson explains. "The food changes with the immigrants that bring it to our country. People in general gain a wider picture of the foods they enjoy."

The cultural intermingling has led to some interesting culinary experiments.

"We have our own take now on tacos, or on Somali food," Johnson says. "Let's try tacos with lingonberries or something like that. Why not?"

Churches, community centers, and homes

ANY DISCUSSION OF NEW NORDIC CUISINE inevitably leads to the Copenhagen restaurant NOMA and its executive chef, René Redzepi, who has won the Restaurant magazine award for best restaurant each of the last three years. Redzepi uses only food native to the Nordic region, forcing him to forage for delicacies in Denmark's forests or North Sea coastline. What he pulls out of the ground and adds to his menu are often items that went missing from Scandinavian kitchens decades ago.

Minnesota boasts a climate similar to that of the Nordic region, and its four seasons and bountiful meadows, forests, lakes, and rivers make it ideal for local foraging expeditions.

"In the Minnesota state constitution, there's basically a right to forage, and an open-door policy for mushrooms, wild ramps, and things like that," says Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl, the former City Pages food critic who now reviews restaurants for Mpls-St. Paul magazine. "If there's a restaurant that has 'locavore' ambitions, they'll use foragers."

According to Moskowitz Grumdahl, the most authentic Nordic cuisine around is probably found in people's homes, or in church basements.

With that in mind, attend a Syttende Mai (May 7: Norway's Constitution Day) party or a Julebord Christmas buffet dinner (first Friday in January) at the Mindekirken Norwegian Memorial Lutheran Church. Or check out a cultural event at the Danish American Center on West Mississippi River Parkway. If you're lucky, you might encounter æbleskiver — rolled-up apple pancakes.

Vær så god! (Bon appetit!)

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