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What is a Smorgasbord? Learn the Rules of the 300 Year Old Swedish Tradition

Updated on March 12, 2011

Smorgasbord Etiquette

What is a Smorgasbord? Learn the Rules of the 300 Year Old Swedish Tradition

If you are thinking about enjoying a smorgasbord while visiting Sweden or a traditional Swedish restaurant, there are some rules of etiquette that you may enjoy acquainting yourself with so you will appear worldly. Since I am not a meat/poultry eater, I got it all wrong. Still, there was so much to pick from so you will not go hungry.

Thanks to a magazine picked up on an airplane, the Swedish smorgasbord has been explained and deconstructed.* However, this magazine was obtained after the meal.

The smorgasbord is a 300 year old Swedish tradition. This national meal is an immense feast often indulged in for celebrations. The literal translation is “sandwich table” but the meal itself is much more than sandwiches. Generally, it is considered a four to six course meal.

In addition to the order in which the meal is eaten, each course requires a clean plate.

Instead of appearing to be a rank tourist, you can easily look like you know what you are doing if you don’t pile your plate with everything you see. Take your time and start correctly with the first course:


Start with the herring. There are many kinds. I like the pickled kind with onion, mustard, and dill. Some versions have carrot and cumin. Add sour cream and other accompaniments like boiled potatoes, sharp cheese and nice crisp brown bread. Drink it with a shot of Sweden’s favorite libation: aquavit (a schnapps-like liqueur flavored with herbs). Then follow with s Swedish beer.


Next is seafood. A personal pleasure. The gravalax is marinated salmon with mustard sauce and dill. There is also smoked salmon with a bit of lemon juice, and smoked eel which is quite tasty. The black roe is eaten with sour cream and onion. I can’t do the anchovies (anywhere on earth) and there is also shrimp.


This is where I began to fall apart a bit because I am not a reindeer eater, or a consumer of any kind of meat or poultry. But there are a lot of vegetable salads to enjoy as well as egg dishes. For the meat eaters you can now enjoy pate, all kinds of cold cuts, beef, chicken, pork, lots of ham, and smoked reindeer. But while the others scarf down lots of meat, it’s at this point where you can have more aquavit and/or beer.


More meat, more meat, and more meat. This is where you have the well-known dish - Swedish meatballs served with loganberries. Also all sorts of main dishes and warm meats. There are spare ribs, ham, and a casserole with potatoes, onions, and anchovies.


Here you will find an assortment of cheeses including brie.


My favorite part - desserts. Lots of ice cream is available as well as cake and fresh strawberries.

End with lots of black coffee and a chilled digestive called punsch.


*American Way (June 15, 2008)

The Swedish Flag


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    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      I'm so glad you enjoyed reading this Shweta chitnis. It's kind of nice knowing what is coming so you save room for something later that you may really enjoy eating.

    • profile image

      Shweta chitnis 

      6 years ago

      Thanks for elaborating on smorgasbord, I am enriched by the info. Next time I visit SWeden I can eat at ease.

    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Thanks for commenting Tina. I value your opinion here. Thank you too for the additional information. I tell you, my cousin was up for the feasting. My favorite would be courses one, two, five, six and six again and again.

    • thougtforce profile image

      Christina Lornemark 

      6 years ago from Sweden

      You have done a great job describing the Swedish smorgasbord! I look forward to my first smorgasbord for the year soon:) The big smorgasbord with family in our homes are eaten on Christmas Eve but we eat smorgasbord several times before Christmas also. We usually start around 1 Sunday of Advent when the restaurants start to serve smorgasbord or a smaller sort called Jultallrik (in English Christmasplate).

      My favorites are course one and course two, and especially the different types of herring.

      Thanks for describing the Swedish smorgasbord so well!


    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      You're welcome David9999! Thanks for commenting!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Thanks for the refresher!

    • justmesuzanne profile image


      9 years ago from Texas


      My Pleasure, as always!


    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Oh, I love that buffet stuff justmesuzanne.

      This way I can eat what I want - and I'm a slow eater - love to eat and take my time and read something and yes do it right with the salad and or soup and then on and on - and there is always, I mean absolutely always room for dessert.

      Why rush through life - and a meal?

      Thanks for stopping by!

    • justmesuzanne profile image


      9 years ago from Texas

      Well, I doubt if I will ever go to a smorgasbord, but it is interesting to know that there is a method to it. We have a couple of "all you can eat" kind of places here that are actually quite excellent. On the rare occasion when I can take myself to one, I always really enjoy having the meal in a very leisurely manner starting with soup & salad, followed by veggies, then by meat, then fruit, then dessert and coffee. I am usually there for well over a couple of hours. I take a book! I watch the tables all around me turn over several times as people pile their plates high with everything, shovel it in and leave in rapid succession. I always think what a shame it is they are spoiling their experience so. :)

    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Thanks Mandybeau. I think I'd like to write more about food and food traditions. Stay tuned!

    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      You're welcome einron. I love traditions involving food!

    • einron profile image


      9 years ago from Toronto, Ontario, CANADA

      Thought smorsgasbord is a huge dish of various delectable food. It is nice to know about the tradition. Thanks.

    • mandybeau profile image


      9 years ago

      In New Zealand they put the whole lot on a table at once, even sometimes dessert. When they first came out years ago, they were brilliant, now there are only a few places that do a half decent one.

      There is one place marble in New Plymouth, where they had about 20 sorts of gateaux, this one was unbelievable. It is also good for people that do not like certain foods. but prefer others. Great hub...

    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Hi VS - I love these food traditions from around the world. If we start one here I think it should be something like 'end every meal with a piece of dark chocolate.'

      In Korea, there was always a sspread - and I know one of the customs is for the eldest to eat first. I like that!!!!

      Glad you stopped by!

    • VioletSun profile image


      9 years ago from Oregon/ Name: Marie

      Wow, I would be full after the first two courses, LOL! Interesting read on the Swedish Smorgasbord tradition.


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