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NORDIC COUNTRIES

special feast without any connection to religious tradi- tions is held every August when crayfish are in season. Crayfish parties are merry events that involve paper hats, special plates, and lots of singing and drinking. The cray- fish are boiled in dill and served cold. Swedes eat more crayfish than most people in the world. Most of the cray- fish are wild, but there is an increasing farming industry in addition to the importation of about 3,000 tons of cray- fish every year.

The Icelandic Thórablót in January is named after the Norse god Thor (Thunder). Blót was a religious cer- emony that involved offerings to the gods and reputedly much eating and drinking. The food is hákarl (sour buck’s balls), boiled sheepheads, and hangikjöt (smoked meat of lamb).

Christmas Celebrations

The one occasion in which the Nordic population as a whole still maintains traditions is Christmas. At this time people eat large quantities of meat. Many baked items are prepared exclusively for Christmas and are called Christmas cakes, of which there are seven required types.

The traditional Christmas meal is generally served on Christmas Eve, but the food is very different from country to country. In Denmark the traditional main dish was goose, as in Hans Christian Andersen’s story “The Little Match Girl.” In recent times, duck has been sub- stituted for goose, but the stuffing is the same: apples and prunes. Dessert is a sweet rice pudding made from rice boiled in milk, with almonds and whipped cream added. Christmas Day in Denmark involves different traditions, but very often roast pork is served.

In Norway there are regional differences: roast rib of pork with sauerkraut is served on Christmas in the east, boiled cod is served in the south, and lutefisk is served in the north. The specialty of the west is pinnekjøtt (stick meat), a dried, salted, and sometimes smoked rib of lamb, which is put in water during the night so some of the salt is extracted and placed above steam for several hours. Tradition says that during the steaming process the long ribs should rest on sticks of birchwood. It is served with mashed turnips. Boiled potatoes accompany all the afore- mentioned dishes.

In Sweden julskinka (Christmas ham) is obligatory, but it is only one of the dishes served at an expanded smörgåsbord. Swedes eat lutefisk and rice porridge during the Christmas period. Another traditional element of this feast is the vörtbröd, which is dipped in the broth where the Christmas ham has been boiled, and a special hard Christmas bread that is a little softer than the crisp rye

knäkkebröd.

Julskinka is also a main dish in Finland on Christ- mas Eve, but there it is often smoked in the sauna. In ad- dition, the table holds sausages and the traditional oven-baked dishes in earthenware, called “boxes.” These

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boxes contain liver, potatoes, turnips, and so forth. This kind of meal is also typical for weddings and other big events, although the julskinka is then often replaced by a roast of elk or other game. Dessert is a thick soup of dried fruits, also a very popular dish in Finland. Before this rich meal the Finns eat a hot lunch with lutefisk and rice por- ridge. In the southeastern part of the country, the pirogs will be on the table for Christmas.

On Christmas Day in Iceland the traditional dish

hangikjöt is served and eaten cold. On Christmas Eve in Iceland people have no set tradition, but loin of pork and grouse are fairly common dishes.

Toward an International Cuisine?

Since the start of the twenty-first century, many old Nordic traditions have begun to change. Food con- sumption and food habits in Nordic countries today have been strongly influenced by international trends such as fast food, ethnic cuisine, and gourmet-restaurant culture. This development is a break from what was, until the late twentieth century, the general fare for the majority of the people in this region.

The use of minced meat is no longer limited to meat- balls, as it is eaten with spaghetti, in lasagna, on pizzas, in tacos, and in pita breads. This trend also implies a re- duction in the consumption of boiled potatoes. However, there has been an increase in consumption of pommes frites (fried potatoes) and potato-based snacks. This has partly to do with the strong increase in fast food (so-called “street kitchens”), where earlier only hot dogs were sold, but which now offer hamburgers, grilled chicken, and other dishes.

Different types of fast food or ready-made dishes are also being used for the main hot meal, served in the af- ternoon after parents come from work and children from school. In Sweden and Finland they also eat hot meals for lunch, either in cantinas, cafeterias, or street kitchens. Many Danes and Norwegians, who earlier enjoyed their lunches of open sandwiches, are now choosing hot fast food or cold salads for lunch. Open sandwiches are also being challenged by new varieties made from French baguettes or Italian ciabatta. Whereas the extravagant open sandwich had to be eaten on a plate with a fork and knife, the baguette and ciabatta sandwiches, with fillings of ham, cheese, or shrimp, can be taken away and eaten while standing or walking; at the same time, these sand- wiches have more substance than the original, less sub- stantial English sandwiches.

Drinking habits are changing in the direction of a more southern European style. Alcohol is still important for festive situations, but wine consumption is increasing rapidly compared to consumption of beer and strong liquor. Coffee is still brewed and drunk in the same way (what is often called American coffee), but new coffee bars are growing up all over, offering cappuccino, cafe latte, and espresso.

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