Food and Drink For Members

Fermented milk? Five Swedish food mistakes you only make once

Becky Waterton
Becky Waterton - [email protected]
Fermented milk? Five Swedish food mistakes you only make once
That's the face of someone getting fermented milk when they expected regular milk. Photo: Hasse Holmberg/Scanpix

Moving to Sweden can be a culture shock, no matter where you come from, whether it's the cold winters, the hatred of small talk or bureaucracy. However, you might not have expected a culture shock in your local supermarket.


1. Adding fil to your coffee

Fil, short for filmjölk, is a fermented milk product somewhere between buttermilk and yoghurt. It can be fruit flavoured or natural, and is often sold in cartons next to the milk in supermarkets. As you can imagine, its location in the supermarket as well as the word mjölk (milk) in the name has confused many who only speak basic Swedish. It's an acquired taste loved by Swedes, usually eaten with cereal or muesli for breakfast.

If you're really unlucky, you might even have grabbed the fil in a Swede's fridge when looking for milk and poured it into your tea or coffee. I wouldn't recommend it.

Swedish vocabulary: mjölk – milk, filmjölk – fermented milk


2. Putting the wrong kind of anchovies in your Janssons

If you have ever spent Christmas in Sweden, you've undoubtedly come across the dish Janssons frestelse – often translated into English as Jansson's temptation. Janssons is a side dish baked in the oven, made from potatoes, cream and Swedish ansjovis. It's delicious when cooked correctly, like this recipe in English from Nigella Lawson.

a tin of swedish sprats Make sure you use mild sprats in your Janssons, rather than salty anchovies. Photo: Leif R Jansson/Scanpix

The Swedish food mistake you want to avoid here is using anchovies instead of ansjovis.

Swedish ansjovis – translated as "sprats" in English – are sweeter and milder than anchovies, and using the wrong kind of fish will leave you with a salty, extremely fishy Janssons, as anyone who has made the mistake of using the wrong kind of fish can attest to. Whatever you do, don't serve the wrong kind to your Swedish in-laws at Christmas, or they might never forgive you.

Swedish vocabulary: sardeller – anchovies, ansjovis – sprats

3. Finding unexpected liquorice in your pick and mix

For some reason, liquorice is extremely popular in Scandinavia. Visitors from other countries looking to treat themselves to a bag of sweets may be surprised when that unassuming sweet they thought was blackcurrant flavour turns out to be liquorice.

Your chocolate bar isn't safe either – Swedish chocolate brand Marabou has a black salted liquorice flavour – keep an eye out for it if you don't want an unexpected surprise in your fredagsmys.

Do you love liquorice? Good, Sweden is the country for you. Keep an eye out for saltlakritsglass – salted liquorice ice cream – if you want to test your taste buds.

Swedish vocabulary: lakrits, saltlakrits – liquorice, salted liquorice


4. Buying messmör instead of butter

Beginner Swedish learners may have made this mistake. The Swedish word for butter is smör, so it's easy to mistake messmör for a type of butter – especially considering it's kept in the dairy fridges in the supermarket.

However, if you were planning to use this in a sandwich or in baking, you'll be disappointed. Instead of butter, messmör is a type of caramelised soft brown cheese, either made from goat or cow's milk. It's usually eaten on bread or toast and is a mix of salt and sweet – definitely an acquired taste!

Swedish vocabulary: smörgåspålägg – bread toppings like cheese, ham or spreads, often eaten for breakfast

5. Not knowing your finpizza from your fulpizza

Ordering a pizza in Sweden is not as straightforward as it may seem. There are two distinct categories of pizza, referred to as finpizza and fulpizza.

Finpizza or "beautiful pizza" is the kind of pizza you will be familiar with if you have been to Italy – these pizzas are often served in pizzerias owned by Italians and may feature fresh buffalo mozzarella and tomato sauce made from San Marzano tomatoes imported from Italy.

A typical Swedish-style pizza – complete with pineapple. Italians, avert your eyes. Photo Johannes Cleris/TT

Fulpizza, on the other hand, could not be more different. Fulpizza – roughly translated as "ugly pizza" – is the kind of pizza you can get at the pizzerias in every small Swedish town. These pizzerias are often the Swedish version of the area's local pub, usually incomplete without a well-stocked bar and a wall of gambling machines.

Pizzas ordered in this kind of pizzeria are a far cry from traditional Italian recipes, with common pizza toppings including banana, chips, bearnaise sauce, kebab meat, and even pasta carbonara plied on top of the pizza. A local pizzeria near where I live in Malmö even offers a pizza topped with banana, pineapple, peanuts and curry powder.


As if that wasn't enough, fulpizza is always accompanied by pizzasallad – a salad made from thinly sliced white cabbage mixed with vinegar, salt and pepper.

Fulpizza is a cuisine in its own right – fantastic when hungover, its unofficial national day is New Year's Day – but whatever you do, don't ask for pizzasallad with your finpizza.

Swedish vocabulary: buffelmozzarella – buffalo mozzarella, ananas – pineapple

Are there any Swedish food mistakes you think we've forgotten? Let us know in the comments!


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jacobfromtexas 2021/10/24 19:15
"banana, pineapple, peanuts and curry powder." I know the pizza place and pizza you're talking about. I'm not brave enough to try it though. :|
andreaspinetti 2021/10/23 19:49
please, is "Bufala Mozzarella", with the final 'a' because is female, otherwise not very "fin" :D [to be precis in italy we say "Mozzarella di Bufala"]

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