I recently (May 2015) returned from a whirlwind 10 day tour around some parts of Scandinavia, a wondrous part of the world.
As a whole-food vegan, I try to avoid refined foods, vegan or not. In Scandinavia I was able to eat mostly wholefood as well as vegan – but it took some thought. Here are my experiences as a vegan traveling in Sweden, Denmark and Norway.
What I did with ‘fika’
Before travelling to Sweden many people had told me about ‘fika’. I’d heard that every day the Swedes stop work and sit around eating pastries and other sweet treats. I knew that was one delightful Swedish tradition I was going to miss out on.
Sarah (my 22 year old daughter whom I was visiting) took me to have fika. She said that after indulging in far too many pastry-filled fika’s when she first arrived in Sweden, she had asked more of the natives how they handled all these sweets in a country where overweight people are few and far between. “Oh, we don’t eat sweets every day”, they told her. “Maybe once a week. And traditionally, children ate no sweets except on Saturday. For a daily fika, we pause, we sit down with friends and have a cup of tea.”
We rode our bikes a couple of kilometres to the cafe for fika. I found they do it properly – no takeaway cups – a proper sit down at a table with tablecloths, china, loose-leaf tea. This was the case both in the country as well as in Stockholm, a modern Western city. Young people and the elderly, both men and women, enjoy fika.
One of the favourite teas in Scandinavia is rooibos tea (red tea) from South Africa. Soy milk is common in Scandinavia also. And that’s how I did fika – rooibos tea in a lovely tea cup, sometimes with a tiny dry shortbread biscuit on the side.
I had however, heard about Kanelbullar, THE epitome of Swedish cinnamon pastries. I decided I’d have one on my last day. Sarah and I shared one in the old city of Gothenburg by cobble-stone streets. I loved every sweet mouthful. I was a bit sorry to be leaving the next day so I couldn’t eat another – but that was the plan!!!
Breakfast in Scandinavia
Here are a list of the good, healthy things available for breakfasts – both in hotels as well as grocery stores:
- Sugar-Free muesli – based on whole grains of all sorts.
- Salad vegetables
- Vegetable soups
- Linseeds, sunflower seeds, pepitas, sesame seeds (these people sure like seeds – a wonderful addition to anyone’s diet)
- Fresh fruit
- Whole grain breads. More about these in a minute.
- Soy milk
Many cheeses and types of fish were also available for breakfast as well as Liverwurst (liver paste).
Oh, the Breads!!!
The word ‘whole grain’ in Scandinavia means just that – ‘whole-grain’. It’s not white bread with few wholegrains mixed in – the bread is fully of wholegrain, literally. And so many types. Even in hotels, wholegrain breads of many many types FAR outnumbered the white bread offerings. In every sandwich shop, they were making the sandwiches of true seedy artisanal bread – the sort we pay a lot for back home. And it was dirt cheap!
I bought this loaf of ‘sprouted wheat bread’ (above) in a grocery store in Copenhagen for under $2.. In Australia, it would cost over $10.
The other bread I really liked was Swedish hardtack, or knackebrod. It is largely hard, pressed grain like a very hard, dry Ryvita. I took some of the local variety on the plane trip home and munched on it dry during layovers.
Lands of fish and cheeses
Fish eating is an intrinsic part of Scandinavian culture.
Finding a lunch or dinner option that did not include herring or some type of fish was not easy. In fact, I even had to use www.happycow.net in Oslo to find anywhere selling vegan food options. This is a website that uses your location to find vegetarian food outlets in the local area.
A sandwich shop in Copenhagen made me a huge vegetarian sandwich on a seedy bun, taking off the cheese (as asked), replacing butter with avocado, and meat with 5 types of vegetables including pickled cucumbers. I put it in my bike basket and rode down to the harbour, ‘Nyhavn’, to eat it.
Leaning on the stone walls I took my first bite. Out gushed a large mouthful of eggy mayonnaise – with something unusual in it. It was pickled herring. You just can’t get away from the fish in Scandinavia!
Organic Food in Denmark
Denmark is one of the most ecology-minded countries in with the world. Wind farms are everywhere. The government, has subsidised organic food to meet widespread public demand.
When eating out, most Scandinavian food I saw in regular restaurants contained a lot of cheese, egg, veal, processed meats, fish, but few vegetables or legumes. The seeds and wholegrain were the healthiest part of the menus.
Since beans and greens are the main part of my diet, what did I eat?
In lots of ethnic restaurants (Arabic, Indian), juice bars and vegan cafes.
A Scandinavian treat
All across the Baltic countries including Finland, the Netherlands, Russia and northern Germany, you find a very unusual treat: Salted licorice! Liquorice is ‘salted’ with the acquired taste of ammonium chloride that gives it a tang.
Goodbye to Viking territory
All in all, it was a wonderful, memorable holiday and the friendly Scandinavians seemed happy to share the startling beauty of their countries with people who spoke hardly any of their languages (me, not Sarah who has passed her Introductory Swedish course now).
And coming from a part of the world where multiculturalism is slowly but surely turning everyone’s hair to brown and black (those being the dominant hair colour genes), it was amazing to see populations where the majority of people had hair that was light blond or red. I really felt I was in Viking country.
I’ll leave you with something lovely I found in the Baltic Sea: