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What is Swedish food? More than meatballs…

September 3, 2013
Swedish Bread Basket
Swedish Bread Basket

A tempting Swedish bread basket

Historically, homestyle Swedish food was a simple meal of hearty meat or fish served with potatoes–perfectly suited for long, cold Scandinavian winters.

Now, there is certainly more variety, and Swedish chefs are making their mark in culinary circles around the world.

However, apart from the Swedish meatballs and inventive dishes at upscale restaurants, have you ever wondered about some of the traditional foods you might discover on menus and on food shop shelves in Sweden?

Here is a sampling of some of the memorable tastes from our recent visit to Stockholm:

Crayfish

If you visit Sweden in August, you’ll soon realize that it is the start of crayfish season, which is greeted by Swedes with great enthusiasm—so much so, that people often organize lively crayfish parties called kräftskiva. Because of the cold northern waters, the season only lasts a couple of months. Crayfish look and taste like little lobsters although they have far less edible meat.

Tasty Crayfish

Tasty Crayfish

Lingonberries 

These tart edible berries are very popular in Sweden, used in sweetened jams, juice, liqueur, and even vodka. Lingonberries are also served as a side dish with reindeer meat. They taste somewhat like cranberries and are supposedly nutrient-rich. Dr. Oz has called them the new superfruit.

Lingonberries: The new superfruit

Lingonberries: The new superfruit

Sausages

Sausages have been popular in Sweden since the time of the Vikings. Vendors sell them on street corners, and they’re part of the traditional Christmas dinner. The ones pictured here were on display in Ostermalms Saluhall, a giant market and food hall in Stockholm that has been in operation since 1988.

Sausages at the Ostermalms Saluhall market

Sausages at the Ostermalms Saluhall market

Crisp Bread

More like a crisp cracker, this hard bread is very popular in Sweden, where it is called knackerbrod. Eaten there since 500 AD, it is inexpensive and has a long shelf-life. You may be familiar with Rye-Krisp, a brand that is popular in the States.

Vika-brod, one of the brands of Crisp bread sold at NK Stockholm

Vika-brod, one of the brands of Crisp bread sold at NK Stockholm

Herring 

Herring is plentiful in the Baltic Sea and if you take a trip to Stockholm, you’ll find them salted, smoked, fried, pickled and au gratin. Pickled herring is often served with potatoes and sour cream.

Herring at the market

A barrel of herring at the market

Falcon Beer

Available since 1896, Falcon is one of the most popular Swedish beers. It has a rich malt taste and because it’s alcohol content is less than 3 percent, it’s often consumed at lunch. Carlsberg took over the Falcon Brewery in 1996.

Falcon beer

Falcon beer

Cinnamon Buns (Kanelbulle)

Sweden claims to be the source of origin of the first cinnamon buns, called Kanebulle. The sugar-coated pastry is so popular that Kanebulle Day is celebrated in Sweden on October 4 each year.

Swedish Cinnamon Buns (kanelbulleI)

Swedish Cinnamon Buns (kanelbulleI)

Shrimp Salad

Given that Stockholm is part of an archipelago with 20,000 islands, it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that seafood and shellfish dishes are ubiquitous. Shrimp salad in Sweden is heavily laced with mayonnaise, seasoned with white pepper and paprika, and topped off with fresh dill. It may be served open-faced on pumpernickel bread.

Shrimp salad with mayonnaise and dill

Shrimp salad with mayonnaise and dill

Swedish Gummy Fish

Whether you buy them in the supermarket or IKEA, Swedish fish are gummy candies in the shape of fish that originally were made in Sweden (and are still eaten there) but it’s likely that the ones you are eating now come from Canada. The fish, which are usually red, have “Swedish” embossed on their side.

Swedish gummy fish

Swedish gummy fish


Other articles about Stockholm, Sweden on More Time To Travel:


A link to this post and other fun food posts appear on Marcia Maynes’ Foodie Tuesdays.

  • Reply
    Cathy Sweeney
    September 3, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    There’s a restaurant we like in Michigan that has Swedish Pancakes with lingonberries — love them! Great to know that Dr. Oz calls then a superfruit. Waiting for my chance to visit Sweden so that I can sample some of these dishes. I’d even try crayfish (not normally something I’d like), perhaps with a Falcon beer.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      September 3, 2013 at 2:38 pm

      You’re pretty funny, Cathy. It almost takes like lobster so I don’t think you’ll NEED the beer although it’s not a bad idea on its own:-)

  • Reply
    noel
    September 3, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    That’s great to see other local specialties, I love lingon berries mostly from Ikea jams and that shrimp salad looks great, would love to have some cyber samples please!

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      September 3, 2013 at 3:30 pm

      I’ll drink a virtual Falcon beer to that, Noel!
      Ikea is the land of Swedish meatballs:-)

  • Reply
    Mike
    September 3, 2013 at 4:40 pm

    I’m with Noel on this one, Irene! I want a sample of everything. Well, I would try the herring if it was fried. I did raise my eyebrows there. But, the rest of the food looks amazing. And yes I know of Rye-Krisp. I wonder how much difference there is between Crayfish and crawdads. The shrimp salad spread over bread would be the one I would want to try first! Just line ’em up 🙂

  • Reply
    Sand In My Suitcase
    September 3, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    The gummy fish are cute! They’d be great for nibbling on while at the movies… Seriously, though, the crayfish would be what we’d eat at every chance if we visit Stockholm.

  • Reply
    Patti
    September 3, 2013 at 7:43 pm

    We found something similar to those cinnamon buns in Paris, but I don’t remember what they were called – but I liked them!

  • Reply
    Neva Fels
    September 3, 2013 at 9:30 pm

    It’s interesting that everyone thought of IKEA in relation to the lingonberry picture, but then so did I. Beautiful pictures and can’t wait to try some fresh fish, but I’ll leave the gummy fish for the grandkids.

  • Reply
    Marcia
    September 4, 2013 at 10:50 am

    Funny thing about names. What we call crayfish (or janga) in Jamaica are small, about 2 inches long, river fish that we steam with lots of salt and healthy dose of pepper or use to make soup. Our lobster is a larger crayfish.

    I’ve had the gummy fish but it’s likely those were from Canada. I’d love some of that shrimp.

  • Reply
    Amy | Club Narwhal
    September 4, 2013 at 11:07 am

    What a great list! I would love to visit Sweden (though all I know about its food is from IKEA–this definitely helps clear things up :).

  • Reply
    Alexandra
    September 5, 2013 at 8:09 pm

    Just back from Sweden. You forgot to mention many Swedes hunt and freeze the bounty. Also that they often cook with sour cream. We had moose soup with dumplings, which I do not recommend, and a delicious dish of smoked reindeer. I thought it was interesting to see the many types of pickled herring available, sold in different sauces, mustard, tomato and onions, etc.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      September 5, 2013 at 8:13 pm

      Hope you had a wonderful trip, Alexandra. Sounds like you ate some interesting and exotic dishes!
      Best, Irene

  • Reply
    Jackie Smith @travelnwrite
    September 6, 2013 at 3:50 pm

    While it all looks fabulous, I’d like to order the bread basket for my main course and the cinnamon buns for dessert!

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      September 6, 2013 at 4:04 pm

      Jackie,
      I’ll sit at your table.:-)
      Best, Irene

  • Reply
    Yolande Lim
    September 7, 2013 at 6:33 pm

    Reading this in the middle of the night got me VERY hungry!

  • Reply
    Michele {Malaysian Meanders}
    September 8, 2013 at 11:36 am

    I wonder how Swedish crayfish compare to Cajun crawfish boils. Not as spicy, I assume. I think I would really enjoy the Cinnamon Buns and ligonberries. And I adore Swedish fish, although I’m not quite sure where the ones I eat are from.

  • Reply
    Eva
    April 17, 2014 at 9:30 am

    And here comes the dull one…..I’m sorry to say that the picture with the lingonberries isn’t lingonberries. It’s red currant or vinbär in Swedish. Just saying. Sorry for that 🙂

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      April 17, 2014 at 9:50 am

      You may well be right! Thanks for helping make a tough differential diagnosis:-)

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