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Dissecting the delights of the Swedish Christmas smorgasbord

Dissecting the delights of the Swedish Christmas smorgasbord

Published: 20 Dec 2010 10:19 GMT+01:00
Updated: 20 Dec 2010 10:19 GMT+01:00

Does anybody actually eat pig's feet? Why do Swedes think of porridge as a delicious holiday treat? Contributor Clara Guibourg reveals the essential components of a seasonal Swedish smorgasbord.

Are you thinking of taking on the challenge of preparing your very first Swedish Christmas dinner - the traditional buffet-style "julbord" - but don't quite know where to get started?

Or perhaps you're just feeling increasingly baffled at the office?, as your colleagues have started to bandy about distressingly bizarre phrases such as "Jansson's frestelse" which in no way convey that they denote a foodstuff of any sort.

Either way, after reading the following guide to the must-have dishes and drinks for the Swedish festive season, you'll hopefully feel as though you're beginning to find your feet.

The mechanics of a julbord are actually fairly straight-forward - you're going to be making your way to the buffet table at least three times, or more, depending on how roomy your trousers are. Fish dishes are the focus of your first foray, cold cuts which include the "julskinka" centrepiece feature in your second, and the warm dishes of the third round are sure to require a loosening of your belt a notch or three.

Inlagd sill (pickled herring)

Generally speaking, pickled herring tends to find its way onto Swedish buffet tables no matter the season or holiday being celebrated, and thus Christmas is no exception.

The pickled herring is one of the first dishes you'll be digging into, and will most likely come flavoured in a number of different inventive ways, from mustard and dill for traditionalists, to lingonberries and oranges for the more adventurous among us.

Julskinka (Christmas ham)

The Christmas ham. The evening's main event, which is so popular it even comes in a tofu version for vegetarians who can't bear to miss out.

"Julskinka" is also the only dish on the julbord to have spawned a second dish of its own: "dopp i grytan", which loosely and somewhat unexpectedly translates to "dip in the pot". This is usually eaten directly after the ham, and is bread dipped in the stock that the ham was cooked in.

Grisfötter (Pig's trotters)

This is exactly what it sounds like. I'm sure that there are several families in Sweden who love nothing better than digging into this delicacy every Christmas, but your author is not among them them. Pig's feet? Yuck.

Sylta (Brawn)

This dish translates to either brawn or head cheese, depending on which side of the Atlantic you call home. Either translation sounds pretty grim, but what it refers to is a meat dish prepared by mixing boiled meat with its broth and leaving it to harden. Not nearly as bad as it sounds, and usually eaten together with beetroot salad.

Köttbullar (Meatballs)

Swedish meatballs may come mass-produced from market leader Mamma Scan at the supermarket the rest of the year, but no self-respecting Swedish family is going to be serving anything other than home-made, home-rolled "köttbullar" come Christmas dinner.

Janssons frestelse (Jansson's temptation)

Despite the mysterious-sounding name, this dish is nothing more exotic than a potato gratin, with some onion and anchovies thrown into the mix.

Risgrynsgröt (Rice pudding)

Serving porridge as a Christmas treat might seem distressingly meagre, but don't let the name fool you! The fact is that this rice pudding is delicious, and a steady favourite on Swedish Christmas tables.

If you really want to go all out on Swedish holiday tradition, pop an almond in the porridge pot - the more superstitious among us claim that whoever gets it in their bowl will be married before the end of next year.

Julmust (Root beer)

This soft drink's unique taste stems from its flavouring with malt, hops, and several other spices, which give it a taste reminiscent of root beer. Be warned, however, it's not for everyone!

"Julmust" is usually only available at Christmas and it is perhaps this exclusivity which makes it so popular. For one month of the year, Sweden's Coca-Cola consumption drops by 50 percent as people throughout the country stock up on the seasonal alternative.

The question of why julmust has such firm supporters during the holidays, only to be forgotten the rest of the year is best avoided as dinner conversation. Furthermore, "påskmust", served at Easter, has an uncanny resemblance in taste, texture and colour.

Snaps (Schnapps)

Don't be coy. You already know what this is. A steady intake of shots of vodka or akvavit is the social lubricant that's going to keep a five-hour dinner with the in-laws a pleasant affair. Tradition also demands that these shots be accompanied by increasingly raucous choruses of snapsvisor, or drinking songs.

Don't feel quite ready to start cooking up a storm? Don't worry, there are plenty of options. Believe it or not, IKEA's got a julbord with all the essentials. If you dare to brave the crowds, the double whammy of Swedish furniture giant and Swedish Christmas food can be yours for just 149 kronor ($22).

Paul Rapacioli (paul.rapacioli@thelocal.com)

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Your comments about this article

15:42 December 20, 2010 by StockholmSam
Sounds fine except that Julmust is NOT root beer. Julmust is Diet Pepsi disguised as Christmas Coke! Root beer is fab!
16:12 December 20, 2010 by JulieLou40
Root beer tastes like bloody Germolene!
19:35 December 20, 2010 by Fen_72
Risgrynsgröt & almond thing worked for me... I was over here for Xmas, and we were planning to tell the soon-to-be in-law's my Swede had proposed... and I "received" the almond.

Guess it might have been a set-up!
00:01 December 21, 2010 by Da Goat
Remind me not to go to traditional Christmas dinner in Sweden as there is hardly anything I like there! well not for Christmas anyhow.
15:05 December 21, 2010 by Tennin
I love Julmust and Påskmust. Though I have to admit the first year I was here I stockpiled on them so I had it for months after, and it sort of lost its novelty.
17:32 December 21, 2010 by maxbrando
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
20:29 December 21, 2010 by Carol E. Olden
We used to have smorgasbords when I was a child at church during Advent and not only did they contain a large varierty of foods, they had a tradition of making rosettes, which are a pastry made by dipping a rosette iron into a specialized batter then dipping the batter coated iron into hot oil to fry the batter, then once the batter was fried after it came off the iron into the hot oil to fry, then taken out of the oil when done and rolled in powdered sugar.Tasty!
10:16 December 22, 2010 by xmfclick
@maxbrando : I was just going to suggest that you lighten up a little, but the moderators got there first. There's no need to be rude on sites like these -- it's just a light-hearted article in an on-line newspaper, for heaven's sake.

Every country has its own traditioinal food and drink, and a jolly good thing too. How boring would it be if we were all the same? Here in Bulgaria, for instance, they love a soup made from pig's intestines, livened up with a garnish of garlic marinaded in vinegar. Can't stand it, myself, but I'm not going to get all bent out of shape because someone else says they love it.

Anyway, maxbrando, I hope you've calmed down a bit. Go and have a few glasses of glögg and be thankful you're not stuck in some airport somewhere.
20:13 December 22, 2010 by coot
In the US, there is a soda called "root beer" that is flavored with extract from the Sassafras tree. The Julmust I've had bears no resemblance to that root beer, except that it is a sugary soda drink. The smell is vaguely similar to real beer, but the sugar prevents it tasting as bitter as beer.

So, if you are from the US, Julmust is not anything like Root Beer, but it is very tasty. I find that it is best to drink from a glass instead of from a bottle, so you get more of the scent.

I can't wait to try Påskmust. :)
23:54 December 22, 2010 by Coalbanks
Brawn, Ham, Trotters! All in one meal!? WOW! With rice poudding? YUM!
16:39 December 23, 2010 by PassatDoc1
I am APPALLED that lufisk did not make this list!! No Christmas dinner in Sweden is complete without lutfisk, and there are probably more Christmas tables featuring lutfisk than pig's feet. Though I do know people in Småland who prepare the pig's feet year after year.
01:15 December 27, 2010 by mikewhite
Why is the author mentioning porridge (aka porage) under the rice pudding heading ?

One's made from oats, the other, rice !
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