Eight cruises that offer a taste of Northern Europe

Advice

A cruise along the coastlines of Northern Europe provides plenty of opportunity to sample foods that are as diverse as the beautiful scenery and sights along the way. From smørrebrød to – for the truly brave – fermented shark, each country has its own distinctly different cuisine.

Here are eight regional specialities to try on ports of calls in capitals – and one former first city – of the north.

Smørrebrød in Copenhagen

Meatballs, caviar, cold cuts, fish and cheese are among the almost limitless number of toppings that can be heaped onto the Danish open sandwich that has been the lunchtime staple of choice since the 19th century. Today it is served everywhere from snack bars to smart restaurants; with fresh ingredients piled high on slices of rye bread – although smoked salmon is customarily served on white. Fifth-generation family restaurant Ida Davidsen, next to Amalienborg Palace, is in the Guinness Book of Records for having the world’s longest menu listing more than 175 varieties. 

  • Saga’s 16-night A Baltic Fable round-trip Dover cruise from £3,419pp (0808 250 3428; travel.saga.co.uk). 

Smørrebrød

For more than a century the smørrebrød open sandwich has been a lunchtime staple in Copenhagen

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Fermented shark in Reykjavík

Kaestur hákarl has achieved legendary status as one of Iceland’s most notorious foods and visitors tackle it with a mix of fear and curiosity. Shark meat is cured with a fermentation process that involves it being buried underground and then hung for up to five months. The end result has a really strong smell of ammonia, but locals claim the actual taste is very different. Possibly best washed down with a shot of strong Icelandic Brennivín, or schnapps; the less brave can learn about it instead at Bjarnahöfn Shark Museum on the Snaefellsnes peninsula.

  • P&O’s 14-night Norway and Iceland round-trip Southampton cruise from £1,599pp (0344 338 8003; pocruises.com).

fermented shark

Buried underground then hung for five months – best wash down fermented shark with a shot of Brennivín

Kama in Tallinn

A mix of roasted barley, rye, oat and pea flour, kama is a classic ingredient which is almost unique to Estonia. Historically, it was a convenient, non-perishable food that didn’t require baking and could quickly be turned into a filling snack by rolling it in butter or lard. These days it is used to make far more palatable cakes, mousses, desserts and salty snacks. Locals also mix kama with buttermilk or kefir and eat it for breakfast as a type of muesli. 

  • Silversea’s six-night Stockholm to Copenhagen cruise from £3,150pp (0844 251 0837; silversea.com).

Silver Spirit

The Silver Spirit will whisk you from Stockholm to Copenhagen, stopping in Tallinn for some kama on the way

Meatballs in Stockholm

Köttbullar, or meatballs, are quintessentially Swedish and everyone has their favourite recipe (usually their mother’s). Unlike meatballs served in tomato sauce, the Swedish version is made from ground pork and beef, cream, egg and onion, and eaten with creamy mashed potatoes, thick gravy, lingonberry jam and pickled cucumber. Meatballs for People, in Stockholm’s hip Södermalm district, is the city’s first ‘meatball boutique’ serving up different varieties of organic meatballs, ranging from rooster to moose, ox, wild boar, pig, salmon, reindeer, turkey and even vegetarian.

  • Viking Cruises’ 14-night Viking Homelands cruise from £4,590 (0800 298 9700; vikingcruises.co.uk).

Swedish meatballs

You’ll find no shortage of authentic Swedish meatballs in Stockholm

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Fårikål in Oslo

Winning a public vote as Norway’s national dish, this hearty and ultra-slow cooked stew dates back to the 17th century. Simply made with lamb and cabbage flavoured with peppercorns, to preserve the art of preparing the dish properly, Norwegian youngsters are taught how to make it in primary school. Traditionally served in the autumn, the season for its two main ingredients, fårikål is so beloved by Norwegians that it even has its own ‘feast day’ on the last Saturday in September.

  • Fred Olsen Cruises’ 14-night Capital Cities of the Baltic round-trip Newcastle cruise from £1,999pp (0800 0355 242; fredolsencruises.com).

Borscht in St Petersburg

It might have originated in the Ukraine, but nowadays this jewel-coloured ruby red soup is associated with Russia and features on virtually every menu in the former first city. It derives its name from bŭrščǐ, or cow parsnips, a plant found in hedgerows and fields that was the original main ingredient. Beetroot then took over and recipes often include cabbage, potato, onion, carrot and tomato. Served hot or cold, depending on the season, bowls of borscht traditionally come with a generous dollop of smetana (Russian sour cream) and small buns called pampushki.

  • Marella Cruises’ 14-night Best of the Baltics cruise from £2,005 (0203 451 2682; tui.co.uk).

Borscht

Avoid white shirts when tucking into bowls of borscht – the vivid colours may be hard to wash out

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Karjalanpiirakka in Helsinki

Also known by the slightly more pronounceable name of Karelian pies, these pastries originated in Finland’s eastern region of the same name. Designed to fit in your hand and melt in your mouth, the small pies are filled with potatoes, rice and carrots and often topped with butter mixed with boiled egg for a tasty snack or lunchtime bite. For something more substantial, kalakukko are the bigger cousins of karjalanpiirakka – larger in size and made with fish, usually the small herring-like variety called muikku.

  • Oceania Cruises’ 11-night Baltic Revelry cruise from £3,139pp (0345 505 1920; oceaniacruises.com).

Karjalanpiirakka

Karjalanpiirakka might be a hard word to pronounce but it’s easy to understand how they’re delicious

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Jānu siers in Riga

This sour milk cheese is the culinary highlight of the midsummer solstice celebration in the Latvian capital. Eggs and butter are often added to the mix for extra creaminess, whilst caraway seeds give the cheese its recognisable taste and round shape that’s symbolic of the sun. The cheese has been granted EU Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG) status in recognition of its long history, and although it is associated with the solstice it is available year-round and often served as a snack with locally brewed beer.

  • Cunard’s 16-night Baltic Highlights round-trip Southampton cruise from £1,749 (0344 338 8650; cunard.com).

All prices shown for 2020 departures

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