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Release peace: the magazine

Release peace: the magazine

Analysis & Background Stories on International Affairs

The Cultural & Historical Significance of Swedish Food Culture..and Tips Where to Embrace it

Article by: Winnie Axworthy

Savouring Swedish Cuisine

Pickled herring, miniature lobsters that come with their own special songs, coffee and a pastry shared with a good friend: these are the small, and not-so-small, moments of celebration that characterise food culture in southern Sweden. The act of naming a moment, the accompaniment of a song, and the preservation of certain food for special occasions, all add a quiet sense of ceremony to both the everyday and the more anticipated events in Swedish life. Food is embedded within the nation’s culture, and its unique combination of openness and tradition creates a cuisine that is comforting yet extraordinary.

Food Through the Winters

Swedish cuisine was traditionally shaped by the long, harsh Scandinavian winter. These frosty seasons meant that preserving food was essential. Those who could afford to, would salt and smoke their foods, especially fish. Pickling, drying and fermenting were other common methods of preservation which are still popular today. Due to Sweden’s geographical position on the Baltic Sea, as well as its many rivers and lakes, fish has always been an abundant source of food and has become an intrinsic feature of Swedish food culture. Gravlax, literally translating to “grave” or “pit salmon”, was traditionally cured by farmers by burying the fish in the sand above the tide line of a beach and leaving it there for a few days to cure in the salty sand and partially ferment. Today, gravlax is cured with a mixture of sugar and salt and the fermenting stage is removed. In addition to gravlax, other cured fish products such as sill, pickled herring and smoked Swedish salmon have become so popular and tied to Swedish identity that they are eaten not only in the cold and barren winters but throughout the summer.

Feasting Festivities

Just like countries all around the world, Sweden has dishes that are typically eaten at certain annual events. Some of the largest celebrations in Sweden include Christmas, Easter and Midsommar (the celebration of the longest day and shortest night of the year). The latter festival is celebrated with flower crowns for all, dancing, sill, gravlax, smoked salmon, potato salad, summer berries and lots of snaps (or schnapps). Snaps is the country’s preferred distilled liquor from potatoes or grains. Drinking it is a right of passage woven into the Nordic country’s history, particularly given the idyllic growing conditions for barley, rye and wheat, rather than grapes. The beverage is the spirit of the Midsommar party as it is accompanied by several songs and games. In fact, The National Museum of Sweden has recorded over 12,000 Swedish drinking songs, highlighting the Swedish love for communal celebrations that everyone can get involved in.

A Fika a Day…

Food and celebration are inseparable in many cultures, but in Sweden even the smallest of meals become celebrations. The Swedish fika may on the surface be compared to a simple coffee break, but this small ritual is given much importance in Swedish society; in some cases, it is made a condition in unionised employment contracts. The crucial element of the fika is the safe, cosy and relaxing atmosphere that accompanies it. The introduction of coffee to Sweden in the 18th century brought about one of Sweden’s most dear cultural phenomena: fika. The word fika is thought to have initially been a play on kaffi,  the old word for coffee, after the product’s introduction to Sweden in the 19th century.

Core Foods and International Influences

Meat, fish and root vegetables form the traditional core of Swedish cuisine as these are the foods that were consistently available. Swedes value husmanskost, known as comfort food, to help them fight the harsh winters. But Swedish cuisine has always been open to international influences. When potatoes arrived in Europe from South America in the 18th century, they quickly became an integral element of cooking in Sweden. Meatballs from Turkey and creamy sauces from France inspired the iconic Swedish meatballs which are now -not least due to IKEA- known throughout the world.

The Special Food Culture in Sweden’s South

Blekinge is a region located in the south of Sweden. Popular dishes here include Raggmunk, a batter composed of grated potatoes, milk, flour and eggs that is fried in butter for the ultimate crispy texture. Alternatively, the region is known for Kroppkaka, a traditional Swedish boiled potato dumpling, most commonly filled with onions and meat. Blekinge is known for having a proud culinary culture with an increasing focus on sustainable cuisine based on local produce sourced across water and land.

If you want to experience local food culture yourself, locals recommend Cafe Mandeltartan, which is located in the heart of Blekinge, adjacent to Brunnsparken and the picturesque Ronnebyån. It offers Swedish Fika, Blekinge Style. Here, you can indulge in a delightful array of freshly baked buns, cookies, cakes, and pastries. Whether it is lunch or brunch on the weekends, each dish is prepared with an extra touch of love and dedication to the craft.

International Inspiration and Swedish Flavours

Sweden’s tradition of global seafaring and its decades-long embrace of a multicultural society has contributed to its cuisine as well. One particular culinary experience in Blekinge, the restaurant Kai, draws its inspiration from the vast expanses of Asia, with a special focus on Japan. Led by Tokyo-trained chef Robert and his skilled team, Kai crafts a unique Nordic-Japanese kitchen, incorporating predominantly top-tier Scandinavian ingredients. While the cooking techniques may differ from what you’re accustomed to, you will find the majority of familiar ingredients gracing your plate, offering a delightful and harmonious fusion of flavours.

For a Swedish-Italian affair, the Berg Family warmly invites you to embrace the countryside ambience and savour the taste of Italian red wine at Astensmåla Mat & Vingård. This charming establishment embodies the concept of thoughtfully curated dishes, drawing inspiration from the bountiful forest and fertile land that surrounds their ancestral farm, dating back to 1770. Astensmåla proudly embraces the spirit of “agriturismo” in the Blekinge style, where guests can indulge in a delightful array of flavours, creating a truly captivating experience in a serene and inviting setting.

Off the Trodden Path

Whether sampling local flavours or exploring the blend of international and local ingredients, some corners of the world outside the big cities we all know might have more to offer than you think.


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