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Food and Drink

Sweden - Food and Drink

Swedish cuisine is steeped in history. From the Vikings using techniques like salting, curing and dehydrating meat and fish to last the long winters to the influence of the French using up leftover food in hearty and zesty soups. To this day, Sweden enjoys an amalgamation of foreign foods alongside its own.

When it comes to a national dish the Swedish are certainly renowned for their meatballs (köttbullar) with the main ingredients of pork, beef, bread, eggs and onion creating the base. Local families and their friends have their own recipes so this tends to vary according to who is making it. Meatballs can be found with a generous serving of thick gravy, a cream sauce (gräddsås), or as they are. Sides of lingonberry sauce (rårörda lingon) and mashed potatoes (potatismos) are common. Meatballs are very much a home cooked favourite as well as an essential dish in any restaurant not to mention playing a key role in any smorgasbord buffet (Scandinavian style selection of hot and cold dishes in a buffet style). There are even differences in how the country prefers their meatballs, with the north choosing less pork in theirs and the south preferring a little more fat.

On the sweet side, a traditional favourite dessert is Ostkaka. Ostkaka is a cheesecake or curd cake with an almondy, creamy taste.Traditionally cooked in a big copper pot and served warm, modern day ostkaka is baked in the oven (still warm) and served with whipped cream and various types of berries or jams. This cake has an array of recipes as the home cook finds ways around the unwanted curdling of the milk with substitutions made instead. For royal or important occasions or sometimes even just to indulge a famously consumed cake is the acid green prinsesstårta. Meaning ‘princess cake’ this cake has a green coating of marzipan, yellow sponge, custard and jam filling and is usually eaten with a dollop of whipped cream. The cake can make an appearance in a range of colours due to the occasion so expect red at Christmas, white for weddings and orange for Halloween.

There are several calendar days devoted to certain sweet treats with fettisdagen (fat Tuesday) seeing buns filled with almond paste and cream eaten, the 25th of March sees våfflor (waffles) widely eaten and the 4th of October is Kanelbullens dag (cinnamon bun day).

Traditional savoury recipes:

Swedish meatballs in gravy
Swedish maple salmon
Fried herring in pickling liquor
Swedish rye bread

Traditional sweet recipes

Waffles (Våfflor)
Bilberry tart
Traditional pancakes


Swedish style snaps
Swedish mulled wine (Glögg)

The Swedish adore milk and vast quantities are consumed by both adults and children daily. A popular drink is Filmjölk, which is a yoghurt style sweetened drink. Another non alcoholic drink popular with all ages is Saft, a fizzy drink with fruit syrup. The Swedish are also keen coffee drinkers, ranking 6th in the coffee consumption table per capita. Coffee is drunk not only in the morning but during the all-important late morning and afternoon fika breaks, perhaps accompanied by a pastry. Locals vary in their tastes but a standard strong black coffee is favoured.

With alcohol, the choice is extensive. A speciality is brännvin, which is alcohol distilled from fermented potatoes or grain. An example of this is Absolut vodka. From brännvin comes snaps (often drunk in a shot with fish) or avavit (with added herbs). Natives enjoy drinking sweet cider and lager beer such as Carnegie Porter and Jämtlands Bryggeri Hell. Wine is also a popular choice though prices can be high. It is common for the Swedish to travel to Germany to stack up on affordable alcohol every once in awhile. Individuals must be 18 to drink in bars and restaurants and to buy in stores they need to be 20. Accessible state run alcohol stores called Systembolaget are the places where alcohol is most commonly bought.

Locals tend to drink at home with friends first before heading to bars. The Swedes have a reputation for waiting until the weekend to start drinking, but once the weekend comes they make up for lost time. Evenings can be rowdy and loud, though it must be said that not all Swedes take part in the drinking lifestyle. It is illegal to drink alcohol in the streets. Driving after alcohol is certainly frowned upon. Swedes have many differing opinions on their drinking culture, with some believing the prices do little to discourage addiction and others saying it helps curb alcoholism. Tipping isn’t mandatory in restaurants or bars and when it is done, it is appreciated when done discreetly and subtly. If you enjoyed the meal a 10% tip is fair. For bars, leaving the small change on the tray is welcomed.

Breakfast (Frukost), usually around 7-9am, tends to be simple and satisfy the stomach until lunch (or a late morning fika). Some may sip on Filmjölk, soured milk and a mørrebrød (open sandwich) with cold cuts, Swedish caviar, ham, hard cheese or a spread from whey and butter known as messmör. Others may have rye bread and herrings, yoghurt, cereal or porridge. Drinks come in the form of milk, coffee, tea or various types of juice. Lunch is usually eaten from 12-1PM although some have it earlier. It can consist of fish or meat with rice or potatoes, salad and rye bread. Drinks will be either water or milk and coffee will finish the meal. Dinner is usually eaten around 6-7pm though it can be later. Dinner is anything from a salad to start to a range of foreign cuisines such as sushi, Indian, Thai and more European meals like pizza or hotdogs for mains. Home cooked local meals might be meatballs, stews, pickled fish and potatoes, with sparkling water as an accompanying beverage.

Home cooking (husmanskost) is basic but full of flavour. It brings together locally sourced fruit and vegetables (often forming soups) and the Viking influences of preservation with French style creamy sauces. A main meal at home can mean roasts, seafood, stews and smörgåsbords. Locals also adore fish such as salmon which can be salted, cured with dill, smoked or marinated, plus the ever present Swedish rye bread. Crayfish is very much enjoyed in restaurants and at home with a festival called a crayfish party (kräftskiva) held in August of each year where crayfish is consumed, bibs are worn and the table is decorated with the Man in the Moon theme. Eel is also eaten often. A rather individual delicacy is fruit soup, which comes in the flavours of rosehip and bilberry and is consumed either hot or cold. Sweet and savoury often accompany each other on a Swedish plate. Eating out isn’t as common as eating at home due to the high prices, particularly if wine is consumed too.

Due to The Right of Public Access (Allemansrätten) where the public are free to roam into public and sometimes privately owned land for the purposes of recreation or exercise, having fresh and locally sourced food is an important feature in Swedish cuisine. It’s a popular activity to forage food directly from the ground or tree, with locals picking lingonberries from the forest and creating lingonberry sauce (rårörda lingon) or jam.

The Swedish have an extremely sweet tooth (gottegris) and a variety of large pick n mix selections on display in shops is absolutely normal due to a certain weekly tradition. Saturdays are Lördagsgodis: a day where it is common practice to eat loose sweets and chocolate plus salty liquorice without any guilt. Many adults and children indulge in this tradition, though it must be said that generally the Swedish are active people who eat a varied and nutritious diet alongside such indulgences.

The Swedish also have another food related weekly tradition of Fredagsmys (cosy Friday). Fredagsmys is a family night in with plenty of junk food (Swedish style tacos, crisps or perhaps pizza) and television programmes lined up to watch. Also known as ‘mys’ some locals enjoy undertaking it regularly and others worry about the health implications. Some restaurants may have a special on Thursdays which is the same as school children and the national army eat on that day - yellow pea soup followed by jam and pancakes (ärtsoppa och pannkakor). The tradition is said to date back to pre fasting Catholic Fridays.

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