The trees are bare and the darkness of winter is here. It’s time to fire up the stove, cozy up to the hearth, and partake of some soul-satisfying comfort foods.
Every person and country has comfort foods, the dishes that transport you to your childhood and evoke warm memories. What makes a comfort food varies from person to person, depending on their background and experience.
My favourites include my dad’s stuffing at Thanksgiving and my mom’s homemade chicken and dumplings. A classic comfort dish for someone with connections to the UK may be shepherd’s pie, or udon soup for those with a connection to Japan.
When it comes to comfort food, the options are endless.
Reflecting on my own favourites got me thinking about what qualifies as a comfort food in Sweden.
Meatballs and Swedish pancakes with lingonberry preserves? Absolutely. They are arguably the top contenders so let’s put all three on the list and move on to consider some additional candidates.
Bruna bönor or brown beans is a classic side dish that works well meatballs or fried pork and have a sweet and sour taste from being cooked with vinegar and sugar. Swedish brown beans are the key ingredient and have been continuously grown on the island of Öland since 1883. They are popular for their nutty flavor as well as holding their shape under long cooking periods.
The soil and climate of Öland is particularly suited to growing the beans which have received Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status from the EU meaning it’s only a true Swedish brown bean if it comes from Öland.
Ärtsoppa or yellow pea soup has been a Thursday tradition in Sweden since the Middle Ages when Sweden was largely Catholic and Friday was a day of fasting. Filling up on the hearty pork-filled soup was intended to get you through the next day’s fast.
Today the tradition is still going strong as evidenced by the profusion of plastic-cased tubes of pea soup in supermarkets year-round. If you really want to warm up you can chase it with a little warm punsch which became a popular addition to the pea soup tradition during the 1800s.
Pytt i Panna is essentially “bits in a pan.” Commonly known as a way to clean out your refrigerator and make a meal, it can be assembled from essentially anything as long as the key components of chopped onion and cubed leftover potatoes and meat play a starring role. Whether it’s purchased from the freezer section or made at home the essential finishing touches are a fried egg and pickled beets. It’s a homey comfort food pile of little cubes.
Äggakaka (egg cake) is popular in Skåne in southern Sweden where the fluffy, golden skillet meal can be prepared on the stovetop or baked in the oven. Historically it was a staple meal for the workers at harvest time and was an easy on-the-go food that could be tucked into a lunch pack.
Whether chopped cured pork is folded into the batter or cooked in strips and laid on the top it’s considered an easy and filling lunch or dinner (although this immigrant wouldn’t hesitate to have äggakaka for breakfast). In classic Swedish style lingonberry preserves are the complement.
Falukorv is perhaps the most-loved Swedish sausage. Its history dates back to the 17th-century and it has received Traditional Specialty Guaranteed (TSG) status from the EU.
This versatile sausage is well-loved by Swedes whether it is thickly sliced and fried, baked with onions and apples, or chopped and served in korv stroganoff.
Kroppkakor just doesn’t translate well since it literally means “body cakes.” Not exactly an appetizing invitation for the tasty dumplings. Before the arrival of the potato in Sweden during the 1800s they were mainly made with flour but today’s versions typically include potatoes.
Depending on the region, they can be made of raw potatoes, cooked potatoes, or a combination of the two. The filling also varies from region to region and can include eel, herring, pork, or goose.
The island of Öland is known for its unique kroppkakor made from a blend of cooked and raw potatoes. Filled with fried cured pork and onion, laced with allspice, boiled and covered with melted butter, they are a serious contender for my “new favourites” list.
Gryta, or stew, isn’t exclusive to Sweden, but it’s popular winter fare. What makes it regionally special is the kind of meat and ingredients used.
Elk, reindeer, and wild boar are commonly available in Swedish supermarkets and all make excellent stews. Combined with chanterelle mushrooms and parsley root a gryta takes on a wild, earthy tone that highlights some of the gems of Swedish cuisine that can be foraged and hunted in our own forests.
What do all of these comfort foods have in common? They are economical (if you foraged your own chanterelles and shot your own moose for the gryta) filling, and draw on tradition and simple ingredients. Perfect for warming you up during a cold and dark Swedish winter.
Did you find your favourite Swedish comfort food on the list? If not, one of the beauties and mysteries of comfort foods is that they are entirely subjective. So let’s hear your favourites from Sweden and around the world.
Give it some thought, enjoy some warm memories, and perhaps dig out an old family recipe tonight.
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.”