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Six weird Swedish Christmas foods to try if you’re brave, very brave

It's Julbord (Christmas meal) season in Sweden, and that means the potential for unwitting foreigners to run into some pretty odd traditional yuletide foodstuffs.

Six weird Swedish Christmas foods to try if you're brave, very brave
Yup, that's a pig's head with 'Merry Christmas' written on it. Photo: Leif R Jansson/TT

Here are six weird Swedish Christmas foods to look out for in the coming days…

1. Lutefisk

This slimy looking white stuff is a Swedish Christmas classic, and if slimy sounds bad enough in itself, then Lutefisk, or Lutfisk in Swedish, can be even harder to stomach once you know how it’s prepared.

The dish is made by treating dried whitefish in lye for a period of days, which gives it its strange jelly-like texture. For those unaware what lye is, the Oxford English dictionary defines the substance as “a strongly alkaline solution, especially of potassium hydroxide, used for washing or cleansing”.

Yes, that’s right, some Swedes love nothing more at Christmas than to tuck into fish stewed in stuff that is also used in, among other things, soap making, oven cleaners and even getting rid of human bodies. Mmm, tasty.

No, not an episode of Breaking Bad. Lutefisk being prepared. Photo: Geneieve Ross/AP

2. Egg cheese

If you’re lucky enough to have friends or relatives from Bohuslän in the west of Sweden, you may find yourself presented with something called äggost this Christmas, which translated to English means “egg cheese”.

Along with being a brilliant example of how Sweden loves to take the literal approach to naming things, like Lutefisk, it’s a remnant from the days when Swedes had to come up with creative methods of storing food before the luxury of refrigerators existed.

The dish is made from combining curdled milk with eggs, then setting the mixture in a mold just like jelly, and it ends up with a similar texture too. Once it’s nice and wobbly, it can be served with either herring or jam, according to taste.

3. Dip in the pot

No, this isn’t something that happens when a bad Christmas meal provokes an upset stomach. Rather, dip in the pot or dunk in the stew (dopp i grytan) is a way of making the most of the Swedish Christmas ham by dipping bread into the reduced broth that the pork was cooked in.

It’s also one further reminder of the aforementioned Swedish habit of naming things very, very literally.

4. Mumma

The name of this heavy Christmas drink resembles a word in Swedish that is something like the English “yummy” (mums), and while we can’t verify if that’s the case, we can verify that it’s not for the faint-hearted. The drink typically contains no less than four kinds of alcohol (porter, lager, gin and port) to create an odd sort of Christmas cocktail.

Mumma first rose to prominence in Sweden during the 1500s, then experienced a renaissance in the 1900s, and though it’s not universally popular today, ready-made versions can still be bought at state-owned alcohol monopoly Systembolaget. Anyone outside of Sweden keen to try making some can throw together a rough and ready version by combining a cup of porter, a cup of lager, and a cup of soda with four centilitres of gin and four centilitres of port. That’s enough to make a litre, so go easy on it!

Heavy. Photo: Leif R Jansson/TT

5. Ris à la Malta

Admittedly, this Swedish Christmas dessert isn’t necessarily weird because of its contents, but it is weird in name. Many an innocent international will have heard the French-sounding “ris à la Malta” and presumed the dish is exactly what it claims to be: rice, Maltese style.

In fact, it’s zero percent Maltese, and rather hails from far closer to home. The Swedish name for the originally Danish dish is thought to be a phonetic corruption of the Danish name Risalamande. Along with providing yet more proof of how much of a tough time the Swedes have understanding their southern neighbours, the name has served the purpose of confusing trusting foreigners for years.

In case you’re wondering, it’s basically rice pudding.

Rice, Danish style. Photo: Janreik Henriksson/TT

6. A smoked pig’s head

Though increasingly a dying tradition, it’s still possible to find a smoked pigs head at some Swedish Christmas meals, and the accompanying tradition of decorating it and even writing a cheery Christmas message on the snout says something about the dark side to Swedish humour.

Swedish meat industry organisation Svenskt kött says a pig’s head in the middle of the Julbord is an “amazing sight”, and while we’ll leave that for you to decide, it’s certainly likely to provoke an opinion, one way or another.

Oh, and if you’re really lucky, you may also be treated to jellied grisfötter – pig’s trotters – too.

Nothing says Christmas like a decorated pig’s head. Photo Leif R Jansson/TT

Article originally published in 2016 and updated in 2021.

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The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager’s dream

Although parts of Sweden are still under snow at this time of year, spring is in full swing here in Skåne in the south of Sweden. Here are The Local's top tips for what you can forage in the great outdoors this season.

The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager's dream

You might already have your go-to svampställe where you forage mushrooms in autumn, but mushrooms aren’t the only thing you can forage in Sweden. The season for fruits and berries hasn’t quite started yet, but there is a wide range of produce on offer if you know where to look.

Obviously, all of these plants grow in the wild, meaning it’s a good idea to wash them thoroughly before you use them. You should also be respectful of nature and of other would-be foragers when you’re out foraging, and make sure not to take more than your fair share to ensure there’s enough for everyone.

As with all foraged foods, only pick and eat what you know. The plants in this guide do not look similar to any poisonous plants, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry – or ask someone who knows for help.

Additionally, avoid foraging plants close to the roadside or in other areas which could be more polluted. If you haven’t tried any of these plants before, start in small doses to make sure you don’t react negatively to them.

Wild garlic plants in a park in Alnarpsparken, Skåne. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Wild garlic

These pungent green leaves are just starting to pop up in shady wooded areas, and may even hang around as late as June in some areas. Wild garlic or ramsons, known as ramslök in Swedish, smell strongly of garlic and have wide, flat, pointed leaves which grow low to the ground.

The whole plant is edible: leaves, flowers and the bulbs underground – although try not to harvest too many bulbs or the plants won’t grow back next year.

The leaves have a very strong garlic taste which gets weaker once cooked. Common recipes for wild garlic include pesto and herb butter or herbed oil, but it can generally be used instead of traditional garlic in most recipes. If you’re cooking wild garlic, add it to the dish at the last possible moment so it still retains some flavour.

You can also preserve the flower buds and seed capsules as wild garlic capers, known as ramslökskapris in Swedish, which will then keep for up to a year.

Stinging nettles. Wear gloves when harvesting these to protect yourself from their needles. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Stinging nettles

Brännässlor or stinging nettles need to be cooked before eating to remove their sting, although blanching them for a couple of seconds in boiling water should do the trick. For the same reason, make sure you wear good gardening gloves when you pick them so you don’t get stung.

Nettles often grow in the same conditions as wild garlic – shady woodlands, and are often regarded as weeds.

The younger leaves are best – they can get stringy and tough as they get older.

A very traditional use for brännässlor in Sweden is nässelsoppa, a bright green soup made from blanched nettles, often topped with a boiled or poached egg.

Some Swedes may also remember eating stuvade nässlor with salmon around Easter, where the nettles are cooked with cream, butter and milk. If you can’t get hold of nettles, they can be replaced with spinach for a similar result.

You can also dry nettles and use them to make tea, or use blanched nettles to make nettle pesto.

Kirskål or ground elder, another popular foraged green for this time of year.
Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Ground elder

Ground elder is known as kirskål in Swedish, and can be used much in the same way as spinach. It also grows in shady areas, and is an invasive species, meaning that you shouldn’t be too worried about foraging too much of it (you might even find some in your garden!).

It is quite common in parks and old gardens, but can also be found in wooded areas. The stems and older leaves can be bitter, so try to focus on foraging the tender, younger leaves.

Ground elder has been cultivated in Sweden since at least 500BC, and has been historically used as a medicinal herb and as a vegetable. This is one of the reasons it can be found in old gardens near Swedish castles or country homes, as it was grown for use in cooking.

Kirskål is available from March to September, although it is best eaten earlier in the season.

As mentioned, ground elder can replace spinach in many recipes – you could also use it for pesto, in a quiche or salad, or to make ground elder soup.