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Sweden, a Culinary Heritage

Updated on May 2, 2015
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Michael is an English Ex Pat living the good life in Sweden. Self help and clean air can only be a good thing.

Culinary Revolution and Evolution

Perhaps Sweden might not be first on your list of must go to places for an amazing culinary experience, and that's ok. That said, it's not all Swedish chefs Muppet style putting the chicken in the basket and meatballs!

Sweden has been undergoing a revolution in food recently, thanks to a lot of talented people and some amazing creative chefs. That said, we have always eaten well here in Sweden. With a wide range of freshwater and salt water fish available, the eating's healthy too.

Apart from the cakes, more on that later!

Good Looking Food


Raw Fish?

I would like to talk first about Sill, or Herring. Sounds nice doesn't it? Well it is, but the sill I would like to talk about isn't cooked , its pickled raw Herring!

Yes, you heard me right, it is completely and utterly uncooked, and some people may have issues with that. Not me however. I simply cannot get enough of the stuff. We had it for dinner tonight served with hot potatoes and a salad.

Sill is served traditionally at any of the big celebration meals, so we are talking Easter, Midsommer (midsummer) and the julbord at christmas. But why wait, most Swedes will happily tuck into it for breakfast, lunch or dinner whenever the mood takes them.

Now, I feel the need to draw a BIG distinction between surströmming mentioned below, which is also a raw herring dish but fermented for weeks.

Sill is not fermented, it is freshly pickled, this preserves the fish so it is as fresh as the day it was caught (kind of). That being said, it is extremely fishy smelling and tasting, it's a strong flavour, make no mistake!

The sill can be served with various flavour coatings, like mustard, ketchup, garlic sauce, or even with fruit laid into the vinegar used in the pickling process.

It may take a bit of a leap of faith to try that first bite, but I promise you, like the best sushi, this is worth the risk. The texture and flavour are so different it's an experience that everyone should try at least once. Oh, and you can buy it in your local Ikea!

Besides, food needs to be challenging every now and again, else we would all be eating pie and mash or burgers every day!

Sill and Potatoes


Welcome to the Dark Side of Sweden

"Oh dear God NO, don't make me even smell it again, let alone be forced through good manners and etiquette to put it in my mouth..."

The above quote can be heard all across Swedish parties from around the 3rd Thursday in August every year as non locals are plied with far too much alcohol to refuse a sample. Until the smell hits you.

Let's get one thing clear about Surströmming. It is RANCID!

No, really. Let me explain what it is and how it's made, then you can make up your own mind ok?

Herring is caught before spawning in April or May, stuffed into strong brine filled casks for about 20 hours to draw out the blood. After this the fish are gutted (thank heaven for small mercies) and the heads removed. Then, it is back into barrels again with a weaker brine solution, where upon they are sealed in and allowed to ferment (another word for rot in my opinion) at a temperature controlled to about 15-20 degrees c. Until the beginning of July!

Let's put this into context. Your fridge, in which you may well keep fish fresh for a week at tops maybe is set normally to 4 -6 degrees celsius. This fish is effectively rotting at room temperature in sealed barrels!

It is then put into cans in July, where it continues to ferment (oh no, please stop) so much that the CAN'S SIDES AND TOPS BULGE! This stuff is so potent, it deforms metal tin cans to the point that some airlines have banned it as dangerous cargo.

Ok, this fish is so bad that if you want to eat it at a restaurant, they normally only serve it on one night per year, then throw away all the tablecloths and serving aprons. Even people who like it (and there are many sadly) will only serve it outside. One German food critic, Wolfgang Fassbender was quoted as saying:
"the biggest challenge when eating surströmming is to vomit only after the first bite, as opposed to before."

What does it smell like? You sure you want to know?
Imagine a pungent rotten eggy rancid buttery vinegar fish smell.

Mixed with vomit.

Traditionally served in the south of Sweden in a type of flatbread sandwich with onion and potatoes, in case you are interested, and lashing of beer and schnapps, although this does nothing to dull the flavour.

For a laugh, check out famous English Chef Jamie Oliver eating it, a quick bout of GoogleFoo should help you find it :)

Somebody Just Kill Me Already!



Where is Sweden?

Ever Eaten Swedish Food?

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Semlor !!

The Semla or Semlor (plural) is a great traditional bun here in Sweden, most often associated with Lent. Of course, as with all these things the times they are available keep creeping forwards, so you can often get them around Christmas.

But what are they?

A friend once thought it looked like a butter sandwich! Which in all honesty isn't too far from the truth :)

Ok, serious head on now.

It is a cardamom flavoured bun. You cut off the top, making a hat, scoop out the centre and mash it up with almond paste and a little milk. Stuff it back in the hole, top it with about 2 inches of whipped cream and put the hat back on. Dust with icing sugar and eat, om nom nom.
Oh, and if you want old skool tradition, serve it in a bowl of warm milk (no, really).

Serve with coffee and a coronary specialist on hand, just in case you understand. No one has ever died from eating a semla, although...
Ok, apparently King Adolf Fredrik of Sweden died in 1771 after eating lobster, caviar, champagne, smoked herring and 14! helpings of a variant of this dish.

Still, gotta laugh!

Joking aside, they are seriously addictive!



Coffee and Fika!

It's true! Having moved here nearly 5 years ago I realised that most Swedes had a special relationship with coffee. It's a social thing, often centred around easting and drinking together at certain times of the day, called Fika.

When you take Fika, expect coffee, cake, small cookies and lots of conversation! It really is a wonder the people aren't fat here, perhaps its in the genes?

So I had this feeling that we had a LOT of coffee every day here, but now I have the facts to back me up. Sweden, per capita, is the 6th biggest consumer of coffee in the world.

Here are the cold hard facts from Wikipedia on the top 10 consumers of coffee and how much per person they consume:

  1. Finland 12.0 kg
  2. Norway 9.9 kg
  3. Iceland 9.0 kg
  4. Denmark 8.7 kg
  5. Netherlands 8.4 kg
  6. Sweden 8.2 kg
  7. Switzerland 7.9 kg
  8. Belgium 6.8 kg
  9. Canada 6.5 kg
  10. Bosnia and Herzegovina 6.2 kg

In case you are wondering, Italy is 12th, America is 26th and Great Britain is 44th!

Looking at the top ten, it is clear to see that Scandinavia dominates this chart, with 5 of the top 6. I would like to point out that the data is a little out of date, but I could not find more up to date information, so the positions may have changed around a little.

Now the burning question is why is it so popular? To be frank, I have NO BLOODY IDEA!! If anyone has any information on this I would love to hear from you, as it is bugging me not to have the definitive answer!

Coffe is so Important!



Kladdkaka is a great Swedish speciality, kind of like a soft squidgy chocolate cake, really thin but incredibly rich that is served with whipped cream or ice cream. It is absolutely one of my favourites and I decided one morning, seeing as I was at a loose end, to attempt to bake one myself.

Here, presented to you dear reader are the results and the recipe!

100 grams of plain flour
2 eggs
2.5 deciliters of sugar
4 level tablespoons of cocoa powder
100 grams butter, salted
Extra salt to taste (not for me though).
2 teaspoons of vanilla sugar or vanilla drops
100 grams dark chocolate (the best you can buy, 70% or so is good)

Ok, this is really easy!

1. Set oven to 175 C
2. melt the butter slowly until liquid and allow to cool
3. Melt the choccy in a hot water bowl
4. Sift the flour, cocoa and vanilla sugar together into a bowl
5. Add the 2 eggs, sugar, choccy and cooled but still liquid butter and stir together, taking care not to overwork the mixture!
6. Add the mix to a prepared 24cm spring sided cake tin. By prepared I mean coat it with butter and then breadcrumbs to stop the cake sticking.

Bake for between 15 and 25 minutes, depending on how "kladdig" or sticky you want it to be. This is not a normal sponge, it does not rise much at all, and if you poke it with a skewer it should not come out clean.

I love this dish, give it a try to see how you get on !

My Very Own Kladdkaka


Emmy Eats IKEA - a Swedish food haul

In Conclusion

Despite a few nasty smelling bits and pieces Swedish food is for the most part amazing, you really owe it to yourself to try some.

Thanks for taking the time to read, I love interaction so don't forget to leave a comment and share away on your preferred social networks!


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    • srsddn profile image

      Sukhdev Shukla 

      6 years ago from Dehra Dun, India

      Michael, I happened to make a short tour of Norway, Sweden and

      Denmark long back in 1992 as a student. Since we were in a group we cooked for ourselves most of the times but I still remember eating a Burger (may be a different name there) which proved to be too big for me and I had to struggle to finish it. Being so cold countries these three consume a lot of coffee and I remember having enjoyed my stay and the taste of coffee. Thanks for reminding me of those days. Voted up.


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