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Northern Lights

February 2012

By Quentin Clarke, London

This may make you laugh, but the British have always envied Mediterranean Europe’s style and relaxed way of life.  Now that that dream seems to be imploding, however, we’re looking north.  Traditionally viewed as Europe’s dourest region, Scandinavia is having a ‘moment’ and not just because the national mood increasingly recalls the films of Ingmar Bergman.
The cultural—and, more specifically, culinary—shift is best represented by Copenhagen’s Noma, which is stealing the title of the world’s best restaurant from Spain’s El Bulli.  London’s next-best thing is Soho coffeehouse Nordic Bakery, founded by Finns Jali Wahlsten and Miisa Mink.  The Nordic Bakery Cookbook, released in 2011, was one of the year’s most talked about cookbooks – something of a feat considering the dominance of ingredients that haven’t traditionally inspired gastronomy, including rye bread, pickled herring, and rhubarb.

Scandinavia’s also made serious inroads into our cultural life.  The late Stieg Larsson (Swedish author of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) enjoyed ubiquity reminiscent of JK Rowling’s fame.  Furthermore, brilliant Danish TV series The Killing spearheaded a flash fashion trend that had Londoners sporting thick, patterned wintry jumpers.  Gudrun & Gudrun, the obscure Faroese label that provided the original jumpers for the show’s cast, now can’t keep up with consumer demand as their inventory has apparently being snatched up by certain high-street retailers.  Since 2010 we’ve even hosted an annual Scandinavian Show—an event previously reserved for the likes of France and Italy—that showcases the region’s best food, design, and music.

So why this trend?  The countries appear (with the exception of Iceland) to have retained a degree of economic independence from the rest of the world, and a generous welfare system.  Without wanting to overstate it, these are all qualities that particularly resonate at the moment.  There are no better role models for an austere future.

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