The variety of dishes on offer in restaurants across the whole country – old-school and innovative alike – makes compiling a definitive collection a tricky task. But here, plucked from the typical Swedish lunch menu, are ten items we consider to be the essential tastes of Sweden.
This creamy potato gratin – made with thin strips of potato, as well as silky fried onions and anchovies – is a central part of the spread at Christmas and during other festivities. Theories abound as to who Jansson was, although most agree that the taste of the dish – both luxurious and comforting – surpasses any need for speculation.
Fret not, fish haters – the anchovies don’t overpower the dish. Rather, they excite the part of the tongue which recognizes “umami” (a hard-to-classify savoury flavour) and give it a uniquely delicious edge.
The anaemic meatballs in ill-smelling plastic packs which occupy international supermarket shelves are a pale imitation of those you’ll find in your local Swedish shop; even so, these too are eclipsed by the home-made version, which appear in various forms in kitchens, restaurants and cafes around the country.
Some insist that the seasoned blend of meat and breadcrumbs should be livened up with a splash of soda water, prior to cooking, for airiness; others insist on adding finely-chopped onion.
A far cry from vinegar-soaked rollmops, there are more types of Swedish herring than you can shake a stick at. As a result these festive fish take pride of place in celebratory spreads. Our particular favourite is skärgårdssill – preserved in a smooth sauce with sharp flecks of pepper and roe – although senapssill, in mustard sauce, and oniony löksill are also held in high regard.
Stekt strömming & potatismos
(Fried Atlantic herring mashed potato)
Once a week, you’re likely to see this on the menu at your local husmanskost (traditional food) joint; two pieces of Atlantic herring (the common or garden sill’s smaller Baltic Sea cousin) with parsley or butter sandwiched between them, breaded or floured and fried in butter until the skin is curled and crisp. Coupled with mashed potato and a dollop of lingonberry preserve, this is a typical hearty meal that works well at home, at a stall in the local saluhall (indoor market), or in an upmarket restaurant.
Pytt i panna
This dish is a triumph of thrift; it’s easy to make with a few inexpensive ingredients, and is versatile enough to be served as an accompaniment to many things. The basic dish is a mixture of sautéed potatoes, onions, and meat (such as ham or potatoes). To some, pytt i panna is known as “hänt i veckan” – happened in the last week – which shows its roots as a dish comprised of leftovers.
Pytt i panna is best enjoyed in the traditional way, with a fried egg and some piquant preserved vegetables like pickled beetroot, gherkins or capers.
For those of you who’ve turned your nose up at the previous description, allow us to present pytt i panna’s more upmarket cousin – biff Rydberg. Popularised in the Stockholm hotel of the same name, biff Rydberg is a similar mélange of meat, potatoes and other ingredients, placed in a pan and sautéed; however, this version has a little more panache.
Imagine the same kind of hotch-potch, but made with beef fillet, roasted hunks of potatoes and onions, frequently flavoured with oil, herbs and mustard.
Or sticky cake. Similar in texture to a chocolate brownie, but made slightly thinner and in a larger dish, this chocolate cake – made with sugar, vanilla, eggs, flour and butter among other ingredients – is great at fika (coffee break) or after a meal.
We’ve seen recipes containing banana and other types of fruit, which tend to complement the sweet, gooey centre of the cake quite well, and can almost convince you that you’re enjoying something which is really good for you. Best served with whipped cream for those extra few vital grams of saturated, er, goodness.
Biff a la Lindström
You may have noticed that beef is frequently served minced or diced in a good many Swedish kitchens; these mince patties, shaped into burger shapes and flavoured with beetroot and capers, can look startlingly purple – but they taste fantastic served with potatoes, gravy and a side-salad.
Legend has it that a Russian-raised Swede named Henrik Lindström instructed the chefs at his hotel in Kalmar to create a dish that combined both of his homelands. His legacy endures on husmanskost menus nationwide.
It’s not smoked salmon, although it might look like it. Gravad lax is salmon cured with salt and dill and served thinly sliced. The curing method traditionally took place in a shallow covered hole, once the fish had been covered, explaining the roots of the dish’s name (“salmon from the grave”).
Gravad lax is enjoyed in a variety of forms – sweet mustard sauce goes well with the lightly-flavoured fish, as do capers and crispbread. You may find that some versions of the dish come slightly smoked – although purists will argue that this is a different dish altogether.
Ärtsoppa & pannkakor
(Pea soup and pancakes)
Another weekly husmanskost staple, traditionally served on Thursdays, this two-course dish consists of a hearty bowl of pea soup followed by a couple of dense pancakes, maybe served with whipped cream and jam. There’s not a lot to differentiate Swedish pea soup from that served across Europe, but the care with which the dish is made and seasoned – the skins of the peas scooped from the slowly-simmered soup to ensure a very smooth spoonful – is evident in the eating. The pancakes, for which Sweden is famous, are light, flavoursome and satisfying.
Recipes for many of the dishes listed above are available at www.sweden.se.
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