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#AdventCalendar: When Sweden had a state-owned burger chain

Each day of December up until Christmas Eve, The Local is sharing the story behind a surprising fact about Sweden as part of our own Advent Calendar.

#AdventCalendar: When Sweden had a state-owned burger chain
In the 1950s, hamburgers could not be sold in Sweden, but two decades later Sweden tried to compete with McDonalds with a state-run burger chain. For a time, it worked. Photo: Dan Hansson / SvD / TT

Today, Sweden's state-run alcohol monopoly Systembolaget is well-known, but you may not have heard of the country's state-owned burger chain. 

Enter Clock, the somewhat short-lived Swedish alternative to McDonalds and other fast food chains.

It was introduced by state-owned restaurant company SARA (Sveriges Allmänna Restaurangbolag) back in the 1970s, when Sweden had been under Social Democratic rule for around 50 years. At the time, SARA ran restaurants and pubs across the country and was one reason Sweden had so far not seen American chains. In fact, it had been set up partly because of Sweden's strict alcohol policies; the idea was to ensure that if people wanted to drink, the state would make it easier for them to eat something too. 

Just as McDonalds opened their first Swedish branch in 1973, SARA bought up several small burger restaurants and created the chain Clock, its vivid red and yellow branding a not too subtle hint at their main competitor.

The menu too was familiar: burgers (including the Big Clock), fries, and milkshakes were all on offer, and served in a paper box for children with a free toy. But some items were tailored to Swedish tastes, with curry sauce and pineapple available as burger toppings. And the prices at the start were around half of those at McDonalds.

It was popular, partly because up until the 1950s, street stalls were actually forbidden from selling burgers, partly due to worries about their negative impact on health and partly because of rules around mixing different foodstuffs. The items which a particular stall was allowed to sell were strictly limited, so that even serving ketchup often went against the rules.

So for several years, Clock enjoyed success. Franchises started up in Norway, Finland, Japan and Kuwait. But in the 1990s, it started to struggle financially, while the US-born chains continued to soar in popularity, cutting their prices and investing heavily in advertising. By 1999, the final branch of Clock had closed its doors forever. 

Or, had it? The rights to the brand have changed hands on several occasions, with reports of planned restaurant openings surfacing from time to time, exciting those who look back on the bacon-curry burgers with fond nostalgia.

None of these actually transpired until last year, when a new Clock restaurant opened in Härnösand on the northeastern coast, although this time the restaurant is run independently rather than by the state. There are also some more modern additions such as halloumi and vegan options, and it's possible to buy wine or beer to have with your Big Clock.

Each day until Christmas Eve, The Local is looking at the story behind one surprising fact about Sweden, as agreed by our readers. Find the rest of our Advent Calendar HERE and sign up below to get an email notification when there's a new article (you may need to wait a couple of seconds for the sign-up box to appear.



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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.