Traditional Nordic Food

The Nordic region consists of the countries of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden and is probably best known for its pickled herring and meatballs, which are enjoyed by people around the world. However, there is much, much more for people to enjoy about Nordic food. This article will provide you with everything you need to know about traditional Nordic food.

Pickled Herring

A trip to the Nordic region wouldn't be complete without trying some pickled herring, which is one of the most famous traditional Nordic food items. Pickled herring is enjoyed all year round; however, it is especially popular during the Christmas period.

Pickled herring can be served in the following ways:

  • Sursild - Popular during the Christmas period
  • Glassmestersild
  • Tomatsild - Herring in tomato sauce
  • Rommesild - Herring in sour cream
  • Sennepssild - Herring in mustard
  • Kryddersild - Herring in spices.

Pickled herring in the Nordic region tends to be less sharp than pickled herring found in other European counties, as the brine it is pickled in is sweeter.


Meatballs are another popular traditional Nordic food. Its popularity has expanded across the world, partly due to meatballs being a staple in IKEA restaurants worldwide. Nordic meatballs can be made with pork, beef, veal, or any combination of the three; however different Nordic countries use different varieties. In Sweden, traditionally pork and beef are used for meatballs. In Norway, beef is predominantly used for meatballs, and in Denmark, a mix of pork and veal is often used for meatballs.

In Denmark, boiled meatballs are a classic comfort food, served either with a curry cream sauce or with celeriac. Even the size of traditional Nordic meatballs varies between the different Nordic nations. In Sweden, traditional meatballs are small in size, whereas in Norway they are larger.

Across the Nordic region, meatballs are often served with boiled or mashed potatoes. Lingonberry jam (which is similar to cranberry sauce) makes a great accomplishment to Nordic meatballs. Any leftover meatballs can be added to sandwiches for an excellent lunch.


Smorgasbord is an array of small warm and cold dishes. Traditionally smorgasbords start with fish, before moving onto cold meats, then onto warm dishes, before finishing with cheese. When visiting the Nordic region if you are offered a smorgasbord you should give plenty of time as traditional smorgasbord lunches can take hours.

Dishes that make up a smorgasbord are not set, so there is great variety to be found. However, there are some traditional Nordic foods that is more commonly used.


Fish in general is hugely popular in the Nordic region, due to the plentiful supply in the surrounding waters. Salmon is no exception to this rule, with Scandinavian salmon known around the world for its luxurious taste and strong orange color. In Scandinavia, salmon is often cured or smoked. Gravadlax is a famous traditional Nordic food, which is dill-cured salmon.


During August, Nordic countries celebrate crayfish. People hold large parties and eat bowls and bowls of crayfish, which are washed down with aquavit (a strong Swedish spirit). This tradition began in Sweden because the crayfish harvest was limited to the late summer.

Today, the crayfish harvest is no longer limited to the late summer, however, traditional crayfish parties continue as a celebration of Nordic culture. Traditional drinking songs (called snapsvisa) are often sung during crayfish parties.


Pork is an extremely popular and important meat in southern Scandinavia. One type of pork is Flaeskesteg, which is roasted pork and it is eaten with heavy and dense gravy and caramelized potatoes. Flaeskesteg is the Danish version of a British roast beef dinner. It is also very popular for Danish families to have Flaeskesteg for lunch on Christmas Day.

Sweet Treats

Nordic food isn't just about meat and fish, traditional Nordic food includes a wide range of sweet treats as well. Nordic baking is becoming more and more popular all across Europe and across the world.

Cinnamon buns are hugely popular in the Nordic region. Traditionally called Kanelbullar, they can be eaten throughout the day, but they are often consumed with coffee. A traditional Nordic food in Sweden is a kladdkaka, which is a sticky chocolate cake, adored by locals and visitors to Sweden.

To conclude

There are plenty of delightful foods to discover across the Nordic region so that no matter your tastes, you are bound to find plenty to enjoy during your next visit.