Scandinavia--Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and Finland--is blessed with five distinct, yet related, cultures.

Learn about the stories behind the legends, about the countries, and most of all about the people.


"We sailed our ships to any shore that offered the best hope of booty; we feared no fellow on earth..."
Saga of Arrow-Odd

What is Gjetost?
A town in Sweden.
Brown goat cheese.
The word for "hello" in

Roasted fish.
The word for ghost in

Correct answer?
OSLO - Norway

Clustered around the head of the 68-mile-long Oslofjord, Oslo is probably the most spacious city in the world. Its 175-square-mile metropolitan area consists of over 75 percent forests and five percent water. Its fine deep harbor, Pipervika, stretches into the heart of the city and from it leave ferries to Denmark and Germany.

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Feature: Stavanger
Featured City: Oslo
Food: The Great NordicDiet
          Swedish Semla
          Norwegian Cuisine
          Canned Sardines
History: The Round Tower
Arts:   Vigeland Park, Oslo
          Georg Jensen
People: Henrik Ibsen    
News: Happiest Countries          

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Scandinavian Cuisine—
A Communion With Nature

by Bob Brooke

The Scandinavians, widely known as brilliant designers, have designed and crafted items for the beautification of the table–porcelain, silver ware, crystal, linen. What isn’t widely known is that they’re excellent cooks as well. It should stand to reason, however, that a people who care so much about the way a table looks would also care about the food that’s put on it. The Scandinavians do.

Then why is their cooking relatively unknown? The Scandinavians are in a way themselves to blame. Having industrialized late and thus begun to emerge from a background of rural poverty only within the last century, they still tend to see their native cuisine in humble terms.

So what is Scandinavian cuisine? It’s many things–fish, pork and poultry, as well as beets, potatoes, cucumbers, dill, parsley and horseradish, broiled, baked, and smoked apples. The cooking is pure and simple. Foods taste of themselves.

Scandinavian ingredients come from the sea, a fresh-water lake, or even the earth. And some, like the lingonberry or the mushroom, don’t only come from the forest, but bring a breath of pines or birches to the table with them. It’s this palatable communion with nature that makes Scandinavian food appealing.

Scandinavian food is romantic. There’s something about the fairy tale-curds and whey, porridge, and fruit tarts. The distant past clings to it. Descendants of the Vikings today consume some of the dishes the Vikings ate. The Vikings loved oysters and mussels. They savored mutton, cheese, cabbage, apples, onions, berries and nuts, and all these continue to be staples of the Scandinavian diet. The Vikings raised chickens and geese. They hunted wild birds, elk, deer and bear, just as their modern counterparts do. Even a few of the more esoteric tastes of the Vikings live on. The Norwegians insist that a whale steak properly marinated and broiled can taste as good as beef. Some Swedes rave about smoked horseflesh, which they refer to as "hamburger" and buy thinly sliced.

To cook the Scandinavian way is to re-create the past. For hundreds of years many of the recipes being used today weren’t written down but handed down, like folk ballads, mouth to mouth, memory to memory. Who can begin to trace the evolution, much less approximate the age of a dish like herring salad, eaten for so long and so thoroughly enjoyed that it’s now found not only throughout Scandinavia, but wherever Scandinavians have gone?

Scandinavia’s isolation inevitably helped spawn many local dishes and traditions. Out of the far North has come one of the greatest Scandinavian delicacies, cured salmon. Prepared with sugar, salt, white pepper and dill, this moist, tender, springlike dish is now also relished in Denmark.

In addition to the isolation of Scandinavia and the isolation of Scandinavians from each other, something much more elemental has been at work to determine the character of the food and cooking, and this is climate, especially winter. Even today winter continues to be the one inescapable fact of life in the North. The season comes early and lasts long, and, worst of all at least from a contemporary standpoint, it is dark-drearily so. For centuries, the thinking of the people was shaped by it, and they devoted their energy during the short, hectic growing season to making sure that they’d live through the winter. If many of the foods of the area have a salty or smoky taste, or are pickled or dried, it’s largely because of winter. The preservation of foods was the only kind of life insurance, all important to survival.

The Vikings very early learned to smoke, dry and salt their meats and fish. And in acquiring the means to tide themselves over the barren winter, they also found the means to make their extensive journeys by sea. They took supplies of nonperishable foods with them, in particular dried cod, which wasn’t only an excellent source of protein but could be traded abroad.

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Every year about 95 000 people die in Sweden and, according to the law, everyone must be buried. There must be room for everyone in the cemeteries, therefore the future needs of space have to be predicted. Because of this funerals must be part of the planning process.

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News from Norway
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from the SR International 
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News from Iceland
from The Iceland Review
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In the early Middle Ages, driven by famine at home and the promise of wealth to be had in other lands, the Vikings set out from Scandinavia to conquer parts of England, Ireland, France, Russia, and even Turkey. Bolstered by their successes, the Vikings pushed westward, eventually crossing the North Atlantic and founding settlements in Iceland, Greenland, and Newfoundland in Canada.
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