Hygge with a haimishe twist
How Scandinavian Jews dine out on local traditions
HYGGE MIGHT be the latest trend for us. But to the Jews who have lived in Scandinavia since the 16th and 17th century, it’s nothing new.
Pronounced hoo-ga, hygge describes the Danish lifestyle that involves indulging in all the good things (tasty comfort food, scented candles and cosy blankets — you get the idea) that bring contentment to your life.
In Scandinavia, Jewish cuisine has taken on plenty of local flavours that will certainly bliss you out. Explains Silja Vainer, a Danish lecturer in Jewish cooking and food customs: “Nordic cooking is all about salting, smoking and pickling. It was a way of preserving foods for the winter. Salting and pickling are very familiar in Jewish cooking too. A typical old Nordic dish is to salt cod, hang it to dry then leave in water for 10 hours, then boil and eat it with a strong mustard sauce.”
Vainer adds that because it can be difficult to find kosher meat in Denmark, fish has become a huge part of the kosher kitchen. “We make lots of salads and dishes with fish — white and salmon. We have adapted dishes that have mussels in them, and use pollock instead, or herring or carp.”
Eva Fried, author of Scandinavian Food in the Jewish Kitchen, agrees, saying: “Fish appears on the Shabbat and festival table. In salad starters we use herrings, add anchovies to an egg salad and we make a Russian style sillsalad [fish salad] with herrings, potatoes, beetroot, apples, onions and pickled cucumbers.”
In Sweden, the haimishe menu is similar. “Sweden is big on two things that work well for Jews — herring and salmon,” says Stockholm-based kosher caterer, Fanny Gorosch. “The fish can be salted, fried, baked or smoked, pickled or marinated. You can find over 30 different flavoured herrings — dill and onion, roe, crème fraiche, sweet mustard, classic style with red onion, carrots and bayleaf, and matjesill [pickled herring]. They have had their own type of chopped herring here for hundreds of years.”
That Jewish favourite, salmon, is also popular in Sweden and appears in many forms. Says Gorosch, a Jewish family fridge will always contain smoked lox and herring and it’s also a favourite at any simchah. “We serve salmon a million ways. I am amazed at how quickly the smoked salmon and cream cheese bulkies [challah-like bread rolls] disappear at a kiddush. We often serve a traditional smorgasbord as well.”
It’s not all fish. As with Jewish cuisine around the world, observant eaters have integrated local produce and adapted local, traditional recipes. Fried explains: “We eat latkes all year round, with lingonberries, and as Swedish meatballs are traditionally made with a sour cream sauce, we substitute with a dairy free alternative.”
According to Vainer, Friday night chicken also has a Scandi slant: “On a Friday night we may have chicken with Nordic vegetables like carrot, parsnip, celery and turnip. We make a marinade from local buckthorn berries and add wild ramsons [similar to chives] to our dishes. We also make Nordic-style challah with wholemeal or spelt flour.”
Festival foods have also been adapted. “At Chanukah we may serve a traditional Scandinavian winter dish — roast duck with an apple and meat filling — together with a salad of celery, apples, walnuts and mayonnaise. In Jewish homes you will find the traditional Nordic gingerbread biscuit in the shape of a dreidl.”
Denmark is known for its cutting-edge chefs. Kosher food blogger Anne Weimar has looked to contemporary Scandinavian cuisine for inspiration, borrowing from the trends for homegrown or forest foraged wild leaves and flowers, nuts, berries and mushrooms in the recipes she shares in her blog New Nordic Kosher Kitchen.
“My inspiration for the blog are Danish chefs [like Claus Meyer René Redzepi of Noma] who revolutionised our understanding of cooking. They have allowed me and other Scandinavian Jews to rethink and even reinvent kosher cooking, by being more open to the idea of integrating modern techniques and using locally grown ingredients.”
Even classic Jewish dishes get a makeover. “In winter I would make a cholent using local root vegetables — I add noodles instead of beans. I combine local smoked cheese with salmon and fennel, or serve poppy seed-crusted salmon. Being kosher here is about being creative, a dialogue with the culture you are in.”
Kosher caterer Fanny Gorosch (left) says herring and salmon are big with Swedish Jews