A Scandinavian love of food

Photo by Eva Holm

The Scandinavian Community Centre’s annual feast is approaching and Carina Spencer, the Centre’s president, shares a few memories of childhood fare.

Spencer, who first came to Canada as a visitor from Sweden in 1996, moved to Vancouver after marrying her Canadian husband. Although her family is what she misses the most from home, Swedish food and culture is a close second, along with the gender equality provided in Scandinavian society.

Favourite dishes

Spencer’s favourite Swedish dish is an old traditional meal: blood pudding. It is made out of pig’s blood, rye flour, onion, and large pieces of bacon amongst other ingredients. Blood pudding is not available in Vancouver at all, and Spencer can only find it when she goes back home. It is one of the first dishes she has whenever she is visiting Sweden.

“Either you love it or you hate it – and I’m one of those people that love it,” she admits. Even though Vancouver is a city that has a lot fresh produce and food, blood pudding is a dish that cannot be made the same here as in Sweden.

Spencer jokes that she gets carbohydrate poisoning when she goes home due to the amount of rye bread she eats. “I miss the baking and the rye breads we have in Sweden,” she says.

Along with their love of bread, another important aspect of Swedish culture is coffee. Sweetened and milky coffees have become more popular amongst the younger population; however, coffee is traditionally drunk black in Sweden. Known as fika, most Swedish people have their coffee multiple times a day along with some biscuits and cookies.

As for desserts, Spencer enjoys apple-based desserts with a vanilla sauce. However the most popular Swedish dessert, usually served with coffee, is kanelbullar – a cinnamon bun topped with pearl sugar.

A common meal that Spencer cooks is Kassler loin, which is a smoked pork loin, made with a cream sauce, green pepper, wedged potatoes and cheese.

Due to Scandinavia’s location, people there were not able to have the diverse variety of foods many tropical countries did. Most of their traditional dishes were made with potatoes and salted meats that made the food easier to preserve during the winter seasons.

“A lot of Scandinavian traditional dishes are very heavy. We used a lot of potatoes and fish in the old days for the base,” Spencer explains.

Another Nordic meal that is very common in the community is open-faced sandwiches. “We never put the other piece of bread on top,” she says. “Shrimp sandwiches are the most common; these are even available in IKEA!” she says.

Scandinavian food in Vancouver

There used to be some bakeries but not anymore. The only remotely Scandinavian restaurant is Scandilicious Foods on Victoria Drive,” says Spencer.

Created and inspired by Anita Cotton’s Norwegian heritage, Scandilicious Foods serves Norwegian waffles with a North American twist. What started as a small waffle food truck on Commercial Drive has transformed into an all-day breakfast menu. With many gluten-free and vegan friendly options, Scandilicious Foods has quickly become a hotspot for all Vancouver foodies.

Swedish Crayfish party. | Photo by Stefan Lins

They have both savoury and sweet waffles. Appealing to North American culture, they have the “Hangover Helper” (eggs benedict on a waffle) and they appeal to the Scandinavian community with their “Den Beste” (waffle with cream cheese, smoked salmon, lemon dill sauce, red onion capers and fresh dill). They reiterate the importance of coffee in Scandinavian society with their own in house coffee brand: Mjolnir.

On top of their waffles, Scandilicious Foods also has Norwegian meatballs, which are made with spices that differ from Swedish meatballs. This dish is served for lunch with mashed potatoes, gravy and a Swedish lingonberry jam.

Spencer also mentions a candy store, Karameller on Mainland Street. Admittedly, the Swedish community is lucky because they can buy some Swedish foods at IKEA, and the Finnish community can order their favourite food items through an online store; but the rest of the Scandinavian communities are not as lucky in Vancouver.

“We’re lacking in Scandinavian restaurants,” says Spencer.

The Swedish Crayfish Party

Swedish people have been eating crayfish since the 1500s but the celebration aspect started in the 1800s. It started as a luxury food for the rich and then became more for the common people,” says Spencer.

The Crayfish Party is an end-of-summer celebration with funny hats, bibs and alcohol, where crayfish is boiled in a brine (salt water and dill). Traditionally, the crayfish is put into the boiling water alive.

“It’s a way of gathering with friends and celebrating at the end of the summer.”

Local Nordic population

The population of the Nordic countries together is about 25 million people and with a low immigration rate, the Scandinavian community in Vancouver is quite small. “We blend in with the rest, we’re not a big group like the Chinese or East Indian communities,” says Spencer. With language classes (for both children and adults) and traditional festivals, the Scandinavian Community Centre in Burnaby creates the most access to Scandinavian culture in the Lower Mainland.

“Our purpose is to keep our traditions, our heritage and our language. It is also important for people who are interested in Scandinavian culture. They are welcome to come and participate in our centre.”

This year, as the Centre celebrates Finland’s 100th Year of Independence, it exists to bring together the Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Icelandic and Danish peoples together to preserve their culture and way of life.

For more information, visit www.scandinaviancentre.org