Christmas Food in Scandinavia

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? 😉

Christmas tree

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.

Norway

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.

Ribbe - Norwegian Christmas food

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?

PinnekjøttPinnekjøtt 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

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.

Smalahove

Denmark

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 😀

Flæskesteg

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.

Kalkun

Turkey isn`t the only bird that is put on Danish Christmas tables. Ducks and Geese are involved in the Danish celebrations as well.

gås

Sweden

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!

Julskinka

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.

Julebord

Snaps /akkevitt

Skål!

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18 responses to “Christmas Food in Scandinavia

  • EFM

    I’m soooooo coming to Scandinavia for Christmas – not for the food, just the booze 😉

    • thyra10

      Haha, beer and snaps – you`ll have plenty of that. And possibly a colleague who first falls asleep in his food and then tries to open the broom closet at work with the key to his house. That was one of my colleagues 😀

  • rebelina11

    So… In Puerto Rico we eat a lot of pork (it’s an island and pigs are smaller than cows)and that includes “pernil” for Christmas, which I believe is pork shoulder – I’ll have to ask my mom! 🙂

    We, thankfully, don’t eat any fish that has spent time in lye.

    As for traditional food for Christmas, it’s mostly the regular Puerto Rican dishes that are difficult to make for everyday dinner, plus special drinks like “coquito,” which (as I recall) is made with rum and coconut milk.

    We’re all so darn similar all around! I love these glimpses into other cultures.

    • thyra10

      Denmark and Sweden are pork countries too 😀 Norway is more of a sheep/fish country – at least along the coast line where you don`t have that big farms.

      Yum, now I want some coquito! 😀

      And thank you for the little glimpse into Puerto Rican Christmas. I`ve been to Puerto Rico in December but not on Christmas eve.

  • Liliput

    It’s always so fascinating to hear about other countries’ traditions. I don’t think I’d fare well with most of those dinners as fat and strange textures make me queasy!
    In Canada, most everyone has Turkey, but I must say I find that a bit boring after all these years! One year, we had lobsters because our son had decided he was a vegetarian…until bacon finally lured him away from that. Then we tried a Tur-duck-en. My husband spent all of Christmas Day in our backyard monitoring it on the rotisserie spit in our BBQ, but it turned out to be so heavily laced with garlic that we couldn’t tell the difference between the 3 meats. One thing from my childhood I always make is an English Trifle for dessert. I never get tired of that!
    Whatever you eat for Christmas, I hope you and your family are all together and have a wonderful time! Cheers!!

    • thyra10

      Aaaaw, thank you! And I wish you and your family a lovely Christmas as well!

      I enjoyed hearing about your Christmas cuisine. I love these little bits of information about traditions in other countries 😀

  • fffbone

    For my family, it’s whatever we feel like doing. Sometimes we’ll have baked clams, some seafood salad. Than on to some Italian dish. Or we might BBQ some cheese burgers. Lately we end up with Turkey because I end up with 2 of them. This year I was thinking of doing a sirloin garlic roast. I haven’t made that in a long time. Another time I did a small ham and a turkey.
    Here at least when we shop you spend X amount of money you can get a free ham or turkey.

    I know I couldn’t do the sheep’s head. I bet my son would try it. He eats octopus. In my husband’s family they use to roast a whole baby pig and smoked ell.

    • thyra10

      Thank you for this little peak into your traditions. It sounds really strange in my ears not to be sure what to have for dinner on Christmas Eve. The only people around here who aren`t sure are couples with different traditions. In my family we`ve come to a Solomonic solution: We have my husband`s traditional food on the 23rd and my traditional food on the 24th. On the 25th we eat (a ton of) left overs from both 😀

      I eat octopus too but I would not touch the sheep`s head. My husband has a couple of male friends that cook for each other and a couple of times one of these friends made the sheep`s head. Without going into details, I can tell you that the taxi ride home was a tough one for my husband and that part of said sheep`s head ended up at the side of the road after the taxi driver had to make a daring stop because my husband got sick. He claims it was the snaps and not the sheep`s head but I`m not so sure 😉

  • fffbone

    I forgot to say Happy Birthday!! Have a great day!

  • Juicy

    Thank you for sharing – One of my familys traditions was eating huge quantities of shrimp with special recipe cocktail sauce. If you didn’t have tears running down your cheeks from the horseradish, we would have to adjust !
    Have a wonderful holiday season ! I’ve just gotten hit with our cold weather. It was 50 degrees yesterday and a cold front came in and now it’s below zero – will stay that way for several days. Guess I’ll have to snuggle up in front of the fire and read !!

    • thyra10

      I just love horseradish. Maybe not in the amounts that would make me cry but still 😀

      And a wonderful season for you as well. We`re just waiting for the snow. We`ve had small amounts but we want more! The kids are staring out the window every day, hoping that today is going to be the day of snow.

  • Ooshka

    I’m a little late to this – but hey, it’s not quite Christmas yet! That was really interesting – I wouldn’t have picked ham as being so common in Sweden. We eat a lot of glazed ham, either hot or cold (as, of course, in NZ our Christmas is in summer). My mum remembers that in her childhood they didn’t have a refrigerator and the shops were shut between Christmas and just after New Year’s day so she ate a lot of ham sandwiches!

    Other than that, roasts are very common here. Not so much turkey, but lot of roast chicken, sometimes lamb or beef or pork. Basically we just shove everything in the oven and walk away very quickly. It’s hot and no one can be that bothered cooking! There is more of a move towards casual meals, and picnics and barbecues etc being the big meal at Christmas (as it’s just about being together more than the food), but when I was young the full roast dinner (roast meat, veges and gravy) was pretty much standard.

    For dessert we still do the English style steamed puddings, with all the fruit in them, although they’re hard to enjoy in the heat sometimes. But we eat a lot of pavlova, which is a big meringue with lots of cream and fresh fruit, particularly strawberries which are always in season right in time for Christmas (see, we organised that well!), and a fruit salad is usually on offer as well.

    • thyra10

      Sorry for the late reply – I`ve been traveling with very little or no internet connection *gasp*

      All kinds of pork dishes are popular in Scandinavia. Denmark was a major exporter of bacon to Great Britain and probably still is. I love glazed ham but these days we have to be careful when to serve it as we have several friends who don`t eat pork meat for religious reasons.

      The thought of Christmas being hot is just to hard to get through my brain since I`ve never been to the southern hemisphere. I`ve been close enough to have been in countries where there is no difference between summer and winter but I`ve never been to a country where summer is winter … uh … where christmas is in the summer.

      I can imagine how the puddings are better in cold weather and even then they can be a bit too much. I once baked an English Christmas cake that was supposed to be baked a month in advance and for seven hours at 50 degrees celcius – wrapped in newspaper. It was delicious but cakes really don`t last a whole month in our house so it probably would have been better if we`d been able to keep our hands off it.

      I hope you had a lovely Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your family!

  • Caro

    Hello!

    First of all, excuse my poor spelling and my inability to translate to english!

    The Sweden part of this Scandinavian Christmasdinner menu is poorly detailed, of course it’s excused since you never had the chance to enjoy the Swedish “Julbord” (poorly translated to “Christmastable”).

    I was brought up with both a traditional Irish and traditional Swedish Christmas experience. Similar to your solution on how to get all that good stuff on the table during Christmas, we celebrated the Swedish version on the 24th and the Irish on the 25th! I’m almost 30 today and we still do it that way!

    So for the Swedish “Julbord”. I think the most important dish that was left out is “sylta”. I can’t bring myself to eat it, but it’s a common guest on the table every year in many families. It’s pressed meat, served cold. I for one don’t understand how we swedes can treat meat in this way, and the gelatinous goo that covers the whole dish is not appealing to me, but my mother loves it! There are several variations of “sylta” including “pressylta” and “kalvsylta”.
    Another common dish is different variations of salmon. Once again, something I’m not particularly fond of. “Gravad lax med hovmästarsås” roughly translated to “grave salmon” is cured salmon served with a mustardsauce. Also smoked salmon is commonly found on the Christmastable.
    We inherited the “lutefisk” from Norway. Shame on you! 😉 Although most young people don’t touch this one with a 20-foot-pole, the older generation still seem to enjoy it! The difference is how we serve it. In Sweden that white gooey fish (“lutfisk” in Swedish) is served with white sauce (bechamel base) and boiled potatoes. Actually, I think us swedes serve everything with boiled potatoes during Christmas. Come to think of it, swedes tend to eat boiled potatoes to almost everything all the year around.
    On to the above mentioned “julskinka”, the Christmas ham. Yes we boil it, then we coat it with mustard and shove it in the oven. But hey, why let anything go to waste? The broth from boiling the ham is made in to: “dopp-i-grytan”, how do I even start translating this!? Roughly “dip-in-pan”. Add som veggies to the broth, for example carrots and some “kålrot” (a cross between turnip and cabbage). Let a “julkorv” (Christmas sausage, not similar to any other sausage I can think of at the moment) rest in there until its warm. Scoop it all up and serve separately from the broth. The swedes thought it was an excellent idea to dip “julvört” (a kind of Christmasbread) in it. Guess what? I don’t like this one either. 🙂
    RIght so, I’ve covered a few more dishes, by strange coincidence the ones I don’t eat! The ones I do eat are the ones you mentioned above. Meatballs, “prinskorv” (small sausages, sometimes cut at the ends to resemble little pigs feet), many other kinds of sausages, sill (a type of herring yes, but I wont give you the full story on it.. ) in all the different sauces you can imagine.
    I almost forgot! “Janssons frestelse” which would be something like “Janssons temptation”. The name of this dish has nothing to do with whats in it! Its a potatoe gratin with anchovy. This one I actually love.

    I suppose you need to google these dishes to find out what they really are. At least now you know what to google. 🙂 I probably forgot something important, but no worries, others will remember.

    To finish this off: Swedes will enjoy a snaps, or twenty, any time a year! We take every chance to drink snaps. I think we make up holidays to have a reason to drink snaps!

    Cheers! (or SKÅL! as we say in Sweden)

    • Ippi

      Well, many of those dishes are part of the Christmas Table in Finland as well.

      Sylta: I like it. My father loved it.We call it syltty, alatoopi or tytinä. (the last name translates into “wobbling.”). Google thinks it’s called Head Cheese in The US and Brawn in the UK. Syltty is often used as a Xmas dish, but it’s not

      Gravlax (salmon cured with dill, salt and sugar) and smoked salmon: These are very popular on the Finnish Christmas Table. Smoked salmon MUST be cold smoked, not hot smoked, as a Christmas dish. They are very yummy.

      Lutefisk is a traditional Xmas dish here as well. And when I say traditional, I mean anybody serving or eating it is quite probably over 80 years old. I don’t much care for it, but I don’t find it disgusting/revolting as most people say they do.

      Boiled potatoes are eaten all the time in Finland as well, but only on special occasions like Xmas they are peeled before boiling as opposed to peeling them yourself during the dinner (some, like me, don’t bother peeling them at all.) Supposedly they they lose less nutrients and vitamins if boiled unpeeled. Boiled potatoes – eaten 5 times a week. Peeled boiled potatoes – Xmas delicacy. 🙂

      Christmas Ham: 30 years ago finding a household without one would have been a Christmas miracle. Now some people have a Christmas Turkey instead, but most people are sticking to the Ham.
      It’s not boiled or dressed before putting into the oven in Finland and the usual way is to leave it in the (relatively cold) oven overnight. The mustard dressing is added when it’s well done. Turn the heat up in the oven and bake 15 more minutes.

      The melted grease (which you get quite a lot) is often poured into a large bowl and refrigerated. It’s used for making gravies, or even as butter-like spread on bread.

      Meatballs and sausages, while very popular, are not Xmas dishes here. Neither is “Jansson’s temptation”, but I love it, too.

      Pickled herrings (preferably several different flavors) MUST be served as Christmas. Unflavored pickled herrings are eaten together with ROSOLLI, which is a kind of boiled beetroot salad (with many other ingredients, like a raw onion, boiled potatoes and carrots, apples, a pickled cucumber (gherkin).) Sometimes hard boiled eggs are served on the side as well. The dressing is made of whipped cream, vinegar, salt and sugar. Sounds bizarre, but it’s actually great. You seldom find a Finnish Christmas Table without rosolli.

      Other popular Finnish Christmas dishes are root vegetable casseroles: sweetened or unsweetened potato casserole, carrot casserole and rutabaga casserole. Almost every Christmas Table in Finland has at least one of these.

      The Christmas Day breakfast is traditionally rise porridge
      served with fruit or raisin soup, which is thickened with potato starch (thickened fruit/berry soups are called KIISSELIS* in Finnish), or alternatively with cinnamon, sugar and milk.

      *Wikipedia: Danish rødgrød is a very similar dish to a kiisseli.

      Huh. I sure wrote a lot.

  • Annie

    I think pinnekjøtt smells lovely (and tastes great). I’m from Western Norway though. It brings back great memories from my childhood and makes me feel all Christmassy. I reckon a lot of people from Western Norway feel the same. I don’t know what I’d think about if it I hadn’t grown up with it though!

  • Hj

    Reading through all this and being in shops and all… Scandinavians aren’t meant to be vegetarians. 😭

    As a vegetarian i found it a bit hard to find food in stores. But traveling from Copenhagen to Århus, i had an amazing vegetarian Sandwich.
    Funny, an indian Guy told me in that Highway Restaurant that after years living in Denmark he gave up on his vegetarian diet. He turned “danish”.

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