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FOOD AND DRINK IN SWEDEN
Top ten Swedish foods to remember

Top ten Swedish foods to remember

Published: 11 Jul 2011 16:11 GMT+02:00
Updated: 11 Jul 2011 16:11 GMT+02:00

While Sweden is not exactly known around the world as a destination of culinary excellence, there are some juicy Nordic morsels that leave exiles pining for a taste of home, food blogger Maia Brindley Nilsson discovers.

As an expat in Sweden you find yourself occasionally longing for the foods that remind you of home. Whether it’s vegemite, clotted cream, or BBQ ribs there are foods you plan to get your fill of on your next trip back.

On the flip side, you inevitably find favorites in a new country. I gave it some thought and compiled my top ten list of foods I would miss if I left Sweden. Some things are seasonal, some regional, and some are plain old supermarket staples.

Asking me to choose my absolute favorite from the list would be like asking me which one of my kids I love the most, so here they are in no particular order.

IN PICTURES: 10 Swedish foods to remember

Räkor (Swedish shrimp) had me hooked from my first visit to Sweden in 1998. I raved about the divine little crustaceans so much that every successive trip my husband’s family made sure my first and last meal in Sweden included plenty of "räkor".

What makes the little delicacy extra tasty is the variety of shrimp, pandalus borealis, and the fact that they are cooked in their shells directly on the boats. The frozen peeled versions hold no comparison.

Princesstårta (Princess cake) is another food I fell in love with on my first trip to Sweden. The thin layer of vibrantly green marzipan crowned with a pink rose conceals the dome of fluffy cream resting on a minimal layer of fruit filling, custard, and sponge cake. There is the frozen version at IKEA, but nothing beats princess tårta from a good bakery. Not even home made.

Nyponsoppa (wild rose hip soup). The somewhat syrupy, slightly grainy consistency can be a little off-putting at first but the earthy, sweet flavor of wild rose hips is unique.

Served warm or cold, what makes it for me is the über-crunchy little coconutty nibs of mandel biscuits floating on the top with a generous dollop of whipped cream.

Kanebullar (cinnamon buns). There is an omnipresence of "kanelbullar" in Sweden. You can even find them ‘fresh baked’ at petrol stations. But unless you are having a "kanelbulle" craving emergency it’s worth seeking out a proper bakery.

Even though the ingredients are pretty standard, the end result can vary significantly. I love it when the creases of the spiral open up a little bit during baking to reveal the sticky filling of cinnamon blended with butter and sugar. The sprinkling of snow white pearl sugar on the top adds just the right amount of crunch.

Varmrökt lax (smoked salmon) is salmon candy in my opinion. Slow-smoked over alderwood, the skin turns a glorious golden color with moist and perfectly pink meat below. It’s such an easy meal served cold with a little romsås (crème fraiche-based caviar sauce) and boiled potatoes or flaked into some spinach pasta with cream sauce.

Filmjölk (processed soured milk) seems to make an appearance in every household and kids gobble it up at school snack times. Even though it’s a cow milk-based product with a consistency like cultured buttermilk, kefir and yogurt, the taste is unique because it’s fermented by a different bacteria. I prefer mine with a drizzle of home made elderberry syrup and muesli.

Jordgubbar (Swedish strawberries) are a seasonal favorite and I love the excitement and hype that comes with their arrival.

The berries are a justified source of pride among Swedes and the summer wouldn't be the same without them. The abundance of light and the cool nights in the Swedish summer make for sweet berries that have people lining up at stands to purchase the ruby gems.

The annual harvest is around 15 million kilogrammes, equating to 3-4 liters per person in Sweden. I undoubtedly polished off my 4 liters well before Midsummer.

Speaking of rubies and berries, lingonberries have to be on any self-respecting list.

There are myriads of lingonberry flavored foods in Sweden, from sparkling water to chocolate, but the real treat is the fresh lingonberries you can find in supermarkets in the early fall. Or better still, pick them yourself in a misty Swedish forest.

My personal favourite iteration is raggmunk - the grated, fried potato cakes mounded with crispy fried bacon and a scattering of lingonberries.

Another seasonal favorite is semlor buns (fastlagsbullar in Skåne).

Although the creamy buns are associated with Easter I for one like the fact they begin to appear shortly after Christmas. This is frowned upon by some Swedes, similar to the disdain people feel when Christmas decorations go up in September, but you will hear no complaints from me.

My friend describes post-"semlor" consumption as "pleasantly nauseous" which is pretty spot-on. Piled high with cream atop almond paste, they don’t seem to come any smaller than softball size. Some people serve them in a bowl and pour warm milk over the top but disintegrating "semlor" holds no magic for me so I stick to eating mine straight up.

Finally there is spettekaka ("Cake baked on a spit"), my regional favourite in Skåne in southern Sweden.

The literal translation of "spit cake" certainly doesn’t do it justice. They are artworks in their own right taking hours to make as ribbons of meringue-like batter bake as they are piped onto a rotating spit. I love the delicate outcroppings that precariously support thin strands of hardened frosting.

You can always buy bits in a bag if you are just looking for a "spettekaka" fix without the expense of the flashy tower, but the fun of the tower is sawing out swaths with a special little tool. The taller the cake, the more dramatic it becomes as you try to figure out the next best way to procure a piece without sending the remainder of the confection crashing to pieces.

"Spettekaka" is so unique it has been recognized by the EU as a specialty food with Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status meaning it’s only a true spettekaka if it comes from Skåne.

It was an enjoyable experience coming up with my top ten, so give it some thought…if you had to pick your top ten favorite Swedish foods, what would they be?

Check out The Local's 'Swedish foods to remember' gallery here.

Maia Brindley Nilsson is a designer and food enthusiast based in Malmö, Sweden. Her food blog semiswede is "sort of about Sweden, and sort of not."

Paul Rapacioli (paul.rapacioli@thelocal.com)

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Your comments about this article

17:56 July 11, 2011 by cornucopological
Cloudberries!! (hjortron)
18:48 July 11, 2011 by olive_tree
Knäckebröd?
22:23 July 11, 2011 by Blazing Saddles
Falukorv

Pytt i panna

nettle soap
22:28 July 11, 2011 by dizzymoe33
It all sounds delicious.
22:29 July 11, 2011 by zat_xela
Kalles Kaviar!
23:10 July 11, 2011 by soultraveler3
The berries and raggmunk are the only things I'd agree with on the list.

Swedish food has way too much cream and is severely lacking when it comes to flavor.
01:03 July 12, 2011 by proteasome
Often neglected but never improved upon, tunnbrodsrulle from a street vendor shop late at night. Tunnbrodsrulle is like a weird giant scandinavian burrito. A wrap, tunnbrod, inside containing great sausage(s), mashed potatoes, onion, lettuce, mustard, ketchup and shrimp salad if it floats your boat. Some have proposed fast food world domination if anyone tried selling tunnbrodsrulle in California, fat people and mash potatoes a match made in heaven.
02:44 July 12, 2011 by colombianska_tjej
I agree with Proteasome, there is nothing like a tunnbrödsrulle after a football match, especially if Sweden won. I'm having my holiday back home in Bogotá, but I miss kannelbullar, raspberries and every product derived from it, filmjölk, pytt i panna, and knäckebröd.(And those are the ones I remember right now)

I'm actually expecting to get some real home baked kanelbullar from my significant one as soon as I go back to Stockholm :)
05:17 July 12, 2011 by Sweetcell
Great list. Some things I remember is a strawberry type pudding with cream or milk, blood pudding with lingonberries and Licorice. How can you leave licorice off this list??

Hey can you still get Knack licorice bars in Sweden. I've never seen them outside of Sweden. They were a black wrapper with white and red lettering and twisted on the ends and they were the most delicious soft licorice.
09:46 July 12, 2011 by jacquelinee
Lets not forget Lutfish, Falukorv and halvspecials.MMMMMMM
11:32 July 12, 2011 by Åskar
Lingonberries? The proper English name is cowberries.
19:22 July 12, 2011 by colombianska_tjej
Also forgot the carrot cake. Is the best ever! Actually I need to get the recipe to be able to make it
19:52 July 12, 2011 by spy
Swedish food is bland muck - anyone who thinks differently has either not left Sweden to experience a good meal or has been here far too long to remember what one tastes like.
20:00 July 12, 2011 by eurobloke
I know this to some is like vile on earth, but I love saimak. The Malacca black fish are so addictive
22:59 July 12, 2011 by Ivan Juric
Ikea meatballs?
01:32 July 13, 2011 by Authentica
I absolutely agree with spy here. When I first read the title I was wondering what could that list possibly include? And the audacity to translate "jordgubbar" into "Swedish strawberries" and "räkor" into "Swedish shrimp"!!
02:46 July 13, 2011 by hughknows
Some of the stuff on this list is decent - ranging from edible to downright delicious (especially the Sweeties)... but those tiny, insipid, pre-cooked räkor? Let's get one thing straight - Swedish fish is awesome and worthy of much praise in all its varied forms and preparations, but people here settle for some really lame crustacean eats. Swedes must be in heaven when they eat proper newly-harvested king and tiger prawns while on holiday in Thailand, South Africa, Australia, Mexico etc. If you'd ever eaten a fresh Pacific rock lobster (sea crayfish) you would only be attending Swedish crayfish parties for the fun of it and the booze, whilst politely agreeing with your hosts about the 'fine quality' of the brackish, watery flesh of these oft-frozen wee spiny beasts not worthy of the name. But hey, at least the current Swedish delicacy of note - Baltic Codworms - comes fresh at a supermarket near you!!! A Swedish food you'll remember wiggling out of the sliced torsk filet on your cutting board for years to come.
22:36 July 13, 2011 by hilt_m
Skagen (mixture of shrimp , mayonnaise and dill together with other ingredients such as creme fraiche , sour cream and onion, lemon and roe ), I love that stuff, I can put it on almost anything.

I also would have gone Gravlax over smoked salmon. (raw salmon, cured in salt, sugar, and dill served as thin slices with a sweet mustard sauce).

Kebab pizza (is that swedish?) I've never seen it anywhere else.
14:21 July 14, 2011 by Matewis
Kanelbullar had me hooked when I first tried it, even though i was never a big cinnamon fan.

However @hughknows took the words right out of my mouth. Nothing beats the big Mozambican tiger prawns, or even Patagonian calamari. Being from northern South Africa I also miss the beef. Proper grain-fed steaks that come in 2 varieties, half-kilo or kilo. Also, why is Lamb in Sweden either stupidly expensive, or impossible to find?

My family has always been of the opinion that pork and chicken are for vegetarians...
16:30 July 14, 2011 by pamjanw
I love the very basic bruna bönor with bacon, and my friend's meatballs.

I also love the pizzerias which have wonderful cheap pizzas with a lovely salad usually given in a plastic bag which tastes perfect with pizza and I have never seen anywhere else but in Sweden

Hällakaka with cool slices of mild Swedish cheese

Småland's cheesecake

Filmjölk I miss SO much

Läkerol sweets..and those little sweets shaped like fish

kanelbullar and those scrummy Easter buns

Caviar in tubes.....

I could go on. I just love Swedish food

I like Jansson's Frestelse too but the rest of my family equate it to poison, so I never get the chance to make it!
17:53 July 14, 2011 by KennyC
Me? I miss the redbeet sallad! beets, horseradish,capers,mayo and a few other ingredients....yummy!!!!
20:53 July 15, 2011 by Coalbanks
No horse recipes?
22:49 July 15, 2011 by Smokebox
Hesskorv for sure.
14:47 July 16, 2011 by Bluesuede
Swedish Meatballs, for sure. Famous the world over.
03:02 July 17, 2011 by jwitsoe
I had renkött (reindeer steak) in Gamla Stan around christmas time, and it was the best meat I've ever tasted and I've never seen it on any other menu than in Sweden.

And I also miss the cloudberries (hjortron)
07:04 July 18, 2011 by thestudent
Swedish meatballs, London broil, Belgian Waffles, etc are all only known to tourists or people who live outside the country.

Locals never call them that way
21:09 July 19, 2011 by jlblum84
WHERE IS THE SKAGENRÖRA!?!??! (toast skagen) That stuff has given me a few unwanted pounds here in Stockholm but I can't stop eating it for the life of me. :D
00:25 July 24, 2011 by annielee
You forgot to put on the list the Swedish Apple. And also the famous Swedish Potato. But the "Jordgubbar" are really fine, you can almost compare them to the Italian Grapes and to the Mexican Pineapple.

Sad story.
09:00 July 24, 2011 by SaraMx
The truth is that Sweden is very low under other international cousines, PERIOD.

Just look at the things that you can remark about Swedish food:

Berries? (and just that; sorry but it's very far from being the best region to find fruits in the world), some desserts/cakes?, food in a tube?, sausages?, yoghurt?

None of that is a real meal.

Adding the word Swedish before it or writing it in Swedish doesn't make a difference, it's simple.

I have lived in three different countries (beside Sweden), in two different continents and just people that have lived/visited Sweden knows of a Swedish recipe.
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