5 Swedish food mistakes you only make once

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. This article will lead you through the Swedish food mistakes you only make once.

5 Swedish food mistakes you only make once
Fil is sold in the dairy fridges at the supermarket Tand looks a lot like milk. Good with cereal, less good in your coffee. Photo: Maja Suslin / T

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 this 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 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. 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!

Member comments

  1. please, is “Bufala Mozzarella”, with the final ‘a’ because is female, otherwise not very “fin” 😀
    [to be precis in italy we say “Mozzarella di Bufala”]

  2. “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. 😐

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Five sweet treats you should be able to identify if you live in Sweden

Do you know your biskvi from your bakelse? Your chokladboll from your kanelbulle? Here's a guide guaranteed to get your mouth watering.

Five sweet treats you should be able to identify if you live in Sweden


The most famous of all Swedish cakes outside Sweden, the classic kanelbulle (cinnamon bun) is the symbol of Sweden abroad, no doubt helped by the fact that Swedish furniture giants IKEA stock frozen buns in their food stores for customers to bake off at home.

Forget American tear-apart cinnamon rolls baked in a pan and slathered with cream cheese frosting: a classic Swedish cinnamon bun is baked individually using a yeasted dough spread with cinnamon sugar and butter. The dough is then rolled up, sliced into strips which are then stretched out and knotted into buns, baked, glazed with sugar syrup and sprinkled with pearl sugar.

Home-made varieties skip the stretching and knotting step, rolling the cinnamon-sprinkled dough into a spiral instead which, although less traditional, tastes just as good.

Kanelbullar in Sweden often include a small amount of Sweden’s favourite spice: cardamom. If you’re a fan of cardamom, try ordering the kanelbulle‘s even more Swedish cousin, the kardemummabulle or cardamom bun, which skips the cinnamon entirely and goes all-out on cardamom instead.

Sweden celebrates cinnamon bun day (kanelbullens dag) on October 4th.

Photo: Lieselotte van der Meijs/


A great option if you want a smaller cake for your fika, the chokladboll or ‘chocolate ball’ is a perfect accompaniment to coffee – some recipes even call for mixing cold coffee into the batter.

They aren’t baked and are relatively easy to make, meaning they are a popular choice for parents (or grandparents) wanting to involve children in the cake-making process.

Chokladbollar are a simple mix of sugar, oats, melted butter and cocoa powder, with the optional addition of vanilla or coffee, or occasionally rum extract. They are rolled into balls which are then rolled in desiccated coconut (or occasionally pearl sugar), and placed in the fridge to become more solid.

Some bakeries or cafés also offer dadelbollar or rawbollar/råbollar (date or raw balls), a vegan alternative made from dried dates and nuts blended together with cocoa powder.

Chocolate ball day (chokladbollens dag) falls on May 11th.

Photo: Magnus Carlsson/


The lime-green prinsesstårta or ‘princess cake’ may look like a modern invention with it’s brightly-coloured marzipan covering, but it has been around since the beginning of the 1900s, and is named after three Swedish princesses, Margareta, Märta and Astrid, who were supposedly especially fond of the cake.

The cake consists of a sponge bottom spread with jam, crème pâtissière and a dome of whipped cream, covered in green marzipan and some sort of decoration, often a marzipan rose.

Prinsesstårtor can also be served in individual portions, small slices of a log which are then referred to as a prinsessbakelse.

Although the cakes are popular all year round, in the Swedish region of Småland, prinsesstårta is eaten on the first Thursday in March, due to this being the unofficial national day of the Småland region (as the phrase första torsdagen i mars is pronounced fössta tossdan i mass in the Småland dialect).

Since 2004, the Association of Swedish Bakers and Confectioners has designated the last week of September as prinsesstårtans vecka (Princess cake day).

Photo: Sinikka Halme, Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0.


Belonging to the more traditional cakes, a Budapestbakelse or “Budapest slice” is a type of rulltårta or “roll cake” similar to a Swiss roll, consisting of a light and crispy cake made from whipped egg whites, sugar and hazelnut, filled with whipped cream and fruit, often chopped conserved peaches, nectarines or mandarines, and rolled into a log.

The log is then sliced into individual portions and drizzled with chocolate, then often topped with whipped cream and a slice of fruit. 

Despite its name, the Budapest slice has nothing to do with the city of Budapest – it was supposedly invented by baker Ingvar Strid in 1926 and received the name due to Strid’s love for the Hungarian capital.

Of course, the Budapestbakelse also has its own day – May 1st.

Kanelbullar (left), chokladbollar (centre) and biskvier (right). Photo: Tuukka Ervasti/


Another smaller cake, a biskvi (pronounced like the French biscuit), consists of an almond biscuit base, covered in buttercream (usually chocolate flavoured), and dark chocolate.

Different variants of biskvier exist, such as a Sarah Bernhardt, named after the French actress of the same name, which has chocolate truffle instead of buttercream.

You might also spot biskvier with white chocolate, often with a hallon (raspberry) or citron (lemon) filling, or even saffransbiskvier around Christmastime.

Chokladbiskviens dag is celebrated on November 11th.