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7 Traditional Foods You Should Try in Sweden

Thanks to fine dining jewels like Noma, the world’s most coveted restaurant, Nordic cuisine has been making international waves recently. Sadly, three things stand between Noma and my stomach: an egregious price tag, impossible reservations, and the nail in the coffin—the fact that it’s closing in 2024.

The toast skagen I had at Lisa Elmqvist, a restaurant in Östermalm

Never mind Noma, nor its famous competitor Geranium—you can experience Nordic food in Stockholm without going broke. Swedish food is known for its earthy simplicity, allowing seasonal ingredients and natural flavors to shine on their own.

Swedish cuisine reflects the country’s close relationship with nature through farming, hunting, and fishing. It utilizes fresh, high-quality ingredients, such as wild berries, herbs, root vegetables, fish, and game meat. You’ll also come across historical preservation techniques like pickling, smoking, and fermenting. Whether Swede or salty (I had to), don’t miss out on these delicacies:

  1. Smörgåstårta

Analogous to a savory cake, your typical smörgåstårta consists of colorful toppings artfully arranged between layers of bread. Common fillings include vegetables and creamy shrimp. This may look like a cake, but it tastes like a sandwich!

Image from here
  1. Kanelbullar

Glazed, seasoned, and perfectly knotted—here’s a staple you’ll find in any cafe! One simply cannot fika without the option of ordering a cinnamon bun. Of course, if cinnamon isn’t your thing, you can also try a cardamom bun. You can’t go wrong with the buns at Bröd and Salt, a chain bakery with locations all over the city. In fact, Bröd & Salt’s cinnamon buns won Thatsup’s major cinnamon bun taste test in 2022!

A cinnamon bun and a cardamom bun from NK Art Bakery
  1. Köttbullar

“Eat meatballs for me,” my friend instructed me as I texted my goodbyes on the plane to Stockholm.

“Isn’t Swedish food just meatballs?” another friend asked.

“It’s not just meatballs…” I said defensively.

Meatballs (köttbullar) are truly a Swedish staple, though apparently they originally came from Turkey. According to Visit Sweden, Swedish meatballs are traditionally made of ground pork, beef, or game meat. They’re served with “mashed potatoes, gravy, berry jam, and pickled cucumber.”

Meatballs for the People is a must-try affordable restaurant in Stockholm.
  1. Berries

Speaking of berry jam, you’ll find berries as a side akin to ketchup or mustard in many Swedish dishes. Thanks to Sweden’s Allemansrätten law, which allows the general public to access and enjoy nature across the country, you can pick berries from anywhere!

Lingonberries, for example, taste like cranberries and can be found alongside meatballs (see above!) or in your dessert. Cloudberries are another popular choice. They’re a bit more tart, reddish-orange, and named for their puffy shape.

  1. Herring

Fried, pickled, or fresh—herring makes frequent appearances in Swedish cuisine. The most distinctive form is surströmming, or fermented herring, or literally rotten fish. The dish originated several centuries ago when Sweden had a salt shortage and is infamous for its stinky smell. Truly an acquired taste if you’re up for it.

Rotten fish!

Another popular form to try is “S.O.S,” or “smör, ost och sill.” It’s a popular appetizer in Sweden that consists of herring with cheese and crispbread.

  1. Rödkål

People have their opinions about pickled vegetables, but I personally love them. (Catch me at Oktav’s salad station packing pickled red cabbage into their tiny bowls.) Thankfully, pickled vegetables—usually cucumbers, onions, or cabbage—are a common side dish in Sweden.

Here’s a recipe for rödkål if you want to try it yourself!
  1. Godis

Lördagsgodis, or “Saturday candy,” is one of Sweden’s most lovable trends. Every Saturday is designated the day for Swedes to consume egregious amounts of sugar. Ironically, this trend began as an attempt to limit people’s sugar intake by restricting it to one day of the week. The government encouraged citizens to save sweets for the weekend.

In the 1980s, “candy walls” became popular in Sweden. You’ll see them at any grocery store today, where huge assortments of candies are sold by the pound. Simply take your pick and pay by weight—it’s like a sweet buffet.

Have a sweet week! (Image)

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