New Nordic might be the distinguishing food trend of the first decade of the 21st century, but this trend has been a long time coming. "To understand today's Scandinavian cuisine, you have to know our history," says Scandinavian food expert and native Norwegian Anders Husa. "Traditional Scandinavian cooking was designed for a poor society. It was characterized by a heavy use of potatoes, cabbage and cheap cuts of meat, and depended on techniques like drying, salting, curing, pickling to make the food last throughout the year. It was piles of grey, brown and orange-colored food served in big portions."
Of course, this is a world away from the meticulously sourced and plated dishes that helped Noma earn the moniker "World's Best Restaurant" four times. But the jump from sustenance to sophistication wasn't direct. "[Traditional Scandinavian food] lost to 'world cuisine' that arrived from France, Italy, Spain, Japan and such when our economies improved," remarks Husa.
International cooking is now a hallmark of dining in Scandinavia and not just in the big cities. You can even find Michelin-starred omakase restaurants in small Norwegian cities. In fact, Husa comments that high-quality, traditional food is becoming increasingly scarce. "Don't expect to taste the ultra traditional food, unless you are ok with mediocre restaurants charging premium prices for bad cooking."
So where to go? Husa shared with us his Scandinavian dining hit list to make sure you eat nothing but the best the region has to offer.
Pjoltergeist — Husa's top pick for restaurants in Oslo is Pjoltergeist, a chef's hang out that serves a Icelandic ingredients cooked with Asian techniques (think seared whale drizzled with soy sauce). You drop by for a seat at the bar or book ahead for the tasting menu. The name is a play on the English word "poltergeist" and the Norwegian word "pjolter," meaning a drink made from soda water and cheap whiskey. At the bar you can try an upscale pjolter, the closest you'll get to traditional food at this restaurant.
108 — Husa dubs 108 "the most contemporary Nordic expression available." The restaurant is headed by two former Noma chefs, and the World Ranked restaurant was their neighbor before it relocated. But while the insistence on local ingredients and experimentation is alive and well, 108 is more of an everyday spot than Noma was. Choose from a selection of smaller tapas-style plates, like tender braised oxtail topped with pine, and sharing dishes, such as roast lamb shoulder doused in smoked butter and elderflower capers. Be sure to save room for dessert, which leans heavily on fresh berries when in season.
Gastrologik — From the blonde wood interior and stoneware plates to the attentive service and careful platings, Gastrologik offers a thoroughly Swedish experience. How is that different from Norwegian or Danish? Look forward to dishes such as fermented potatoes with lumpfish roe and white asparagus porridge. Finish your meal with chemex coffee and spirits brewed in house.
Substans — Take a day trip from Copenhagen to visit this Michelin-starred restaurant in Denmark's design-savvy second city. Creative head chef Nicholas Jørgenson is the current leader of Denmark's culinary team and helps curate a menu that shows off Danish produce. In fact, 90-100% of the produce used on any given night is organic. Sit yourself down at a rustic wood table in the warm slate colored dining room filled with natural light. You'll want seconds of the crisp, chewy bread slathered with fresh butter and squash compote.
Sabi Omakase — Over the course of a three-four hour intimate omakase dinner, this unassuming restaurant in Norway's third largest city reveals itself to also be one of the country's most exciting dining destinations. With only nine seats, one chef and one sommelier, it's a highly personalized experience. Head chef Roger Asakil Joya proudly shows off the fish of the day, and you'll enjoy seven or so drinks paired with the meal. And unlike other sushi restaurants, the fish isn't imported—it's caught fresh nearby.
Anders Husa writes the blog Foodie Stories where he documents his travel dining at the best restaurants in Scandinavia and around the world. Stay up to date with his adventures and get recommendations on where to dine next by following him on Instagram @andershusa.