Swedish Cuisine: Well Preserved for Centuries
GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE
Sweden is the fourth largest country in Europe, the biggest in Scandinavia, with over 15% above the Arctic Circle. Its climate (far warmer than you’d expect in these netheregions) and location are largely responsible for the cuisine. Surrounded by water on almost all sides, it is no surprise that Swedes love seafood. No matter the fish, Swedish chefs can prepare it in innumerable ways – especially salmon and herring.
With long, dark, wintry days, early inhabitants needed to get creative in order to sustain themselves for months on end. They stockpiled food supplies, preserving meat, fish, fruits, and vegetables. The Vikings were the first to develop methods for food preservation: salting, dehydrating and curing. And although modern conveniences like refrigerators and freezers can now eliminate these techniques, Swedes continue to prepare meals in this fashion – as an homage to history – and because it just tastes good!
TRADITIONAL SWEDISH HOME COOKING
Called husmanskost, it is simple in comparison with other European cuisines. What once referred to tasteless porridge and other runny sustenance, today, if you’re lucky enough to be invited into a Swedish home, you’ll enjoy savory stews, roasts and plentiful bounty from the sea.
The ultimate husmanskost is the Swedish smörgåsbord, which is a number of small hot and cold dishes served buffet-style. This collection of various foods presented all at once usualy includes herring, smoked eel, jellied fish, boiled potatoes and something called Janssons frestelse, or Jansson’s temptation – a layered potato dish containing onions and cream and topped with anchovies. The literal translation of smörgåsbord is “bread and butter table” even though you’d be hard-pressed to find either item on display.
DISTINCTIVE DISHES AROUND SWEDEN
Just as the United States has regional dishes, so does Sweden. In Gothenburg, the fish quality is very high thanks to the city’s coastal location on the North Sea. In West Sweden, the cold waters produe some of the best shellfish in the world. Pitepalt, pork-filled potato dumplings, are popular in the far north. Pytt i panna, a fried dish made from diced potatoes and meat, and served with eggs is favored in the southern region. The east coast’s most important food is strömming , a small, silvery Baltic herring. In any of the three locations, no meal is complete without the accompaniment of Swedish rye bread.
THE LEGEND OF LINGONBERRY
The ubiquitous Swedish meatball is truly nothing without a bit of lingonberry sauce. Straight from the vine, these berries are quite tart, so they are often cooked and sweetened before eating. You’ll also find it sauced on top of elk or reindeer steak and even potatoes.
The berry also makes its way into Swedish dessert. The most famous may be the lingonpäron – fresh pears that are peeled and boiled in lingonberry squash and preserved (no surprise there.)
For an authentic, historical take on meatballs and lingonberries, head to the Den Gyldene Freden restaurant located on Osterlånggatan in Stockholm. In business since 1722, the Guiness Book of Records lists it as the oldest existing restaurant with an unaltered interior. We’re sure they dust off the tables daily.
GOTHENBURG’S GODLY FISH MARKET
The Feskekörka Fish Market Hall opened in 1874 in Gothenburg, Sweden’s second largest city. So named for its similar appearance to a church, you’ll find a miraculous array of fish. Buy yourself some fresh prawns and enjoy them by the harbour or edge of the canal. If you’re up early and want to see how the daily catch is sold, check out Sweden’s largest fish auction in the harbour every Tuesday through Friday at 6:30 am.
WANT TO MAKE A TOAST? SNAPS TO IT.
Snaps are a hearty part of the Swedish culinary tradition. Since the 15th century, the most famous snaps (or schnapps) is aquavit. This distinct liquor flavored with spices and herbs – usually caraway or dill – is often drunk during a formal procedure during the meal. Basically, a toast. Served in a small, long-stemmed glass (created by one of several famed Swedish crystal factories), you’ll take a shot followed by a rousing rendition of “Helan Går.”
Sweden is known for its natural beauty, the outward beauty of its people and its boundless social equality. Simple design reigns supreme and reindeer can and does appear on menus. Day is night, night is day, and auroras touch the sky like glow-in-the-dark brushstrokes. You’ll come for all of the above and confront foods that you’d never imagine trying.
And when you do, the salted fish will touch your lips and stay with you forever – like a well preserved memory.