6 FOODS I STARTED EATING AFTER MOVING TO SWEDEN
Before living in Sweden, I had never heard of a saffron bun. Pea soup and pancakes definitely were never eaten together, and liquorice was not something to be trusted (unless in the form of Red Vines). But after two+ years, I can say that I’ve tried the pickled herring, found the perfect jam/cream/pancake ratio, and know all the best places to try Swedish meatballs. One of my favourite parts of travelling and living abroad is the opportunity it gives to try local cuisine. Growing up I used to be a pretty picky eater, but these days I’ll try almost anything! (Check out the top left pic below for part of my Christmas lunch- eggs, cheese, dill, raw herring, potatoes, pumpkin seed bread, and pickled onions)
Moving to a new country means learning to shop in new grocery stores, testing new recipes, and constantly being exposed to new types of food. MacKenzie and I loved going to traditional Swedish restaurants for lunch, and I actually learned a ton about Swedish food during my time as a substitute teacher (more on that in another post!). And even though we’ve left Sweden and are now growing roots in Scotland, there are definitely dishes and treats that I have added to my palate and will continue to make and eat for quite some time!
Curious to know which Swedish food has made it into my everyday life? Keep scrolling!
Of course I ate bread before moving to Sweden, but I’ve never been a huge fan of store-bought bread in the US, and usually opted to make sourdough at home once or twice a month if I was feeling ~fancy~. However, bread is a huge part of the Swedish diet, meaning that fresh high quality bread is in abundance and available at every bakery (which, due to fika culture, is approximately on every block).
My favourite way to enjoy? Fresh sourdough (surdegsbröd) with bit of butter, slice of cheese, and topped with some cucumber. Swap the bread for crisp bread/cracker (knäckebröd) and you have a popular snack for children and adults alike!
Love it or hate it – it seems that for most, liquorice is quite the polarising taste. Having only tried the worst of the US candy aisle (think Good & Plenty), I moved to Sweden thinking I hated liquorice. But as anyone who has been to a Swedish party, sat in a waiting room, or participated in lordagsgodis (more on that in a sec) will tell you, this little black sweet is basically impossible to avoid!
Because liquorice is such a popular treat in Sweden, specialty stores can be found with every type of flavour under the sun. While I still can’t quite get behind the overly salted ones, I have discovered that I actually do like some forms of lakrits – my fave involve some sort of chocolate coating, but I do enjoy a normal gummy as well. If you happen to visit Sweden during the summer, be sure to try a scoop a liquorice ice cream (I usually combine it with another scoop of chocolate and it’s the best!).
I’m actually not sure if I had even tasted saffron before moving to Sweden. I had heard of it, but not many recipes in American culture use this – dubbed the world’s most expensive- spice. But similar to liquorice, saffron is a taste that’s pretty hard to avoid in Sweden. Saffron is featured heavily around Christmas time in saffransbullar (saffron buns), but it is also used in a number of other sweet and savoury dishes. Saffron is also often used to makes sauces, breads, puddings, and dips. Last Christmas I had herring with saffron sauce – fishy and sweet was definitely an interesting combo!
Depending on when you’re in Sweden, if you want to try saffron, I recommend saffransbullar/lussekattar in the winter or saffran glass (ice cream) in the summer.
Pea soup and pancakes
If you’ve visited me between November and March, you know that a pea soup & pancake lunch is in the cards. This is pretty much the highlight of the long, dark Swedish winters from me, and a tradition that I can 100% get behind.
Many Swedes grow up eating pea soup and pancakes (ärtsoppa och pannkakor) every Thursday, a tradition has been maintained by the Swedish Armed Forces since World War II. While its true origins are widely debated – from Catholics not eating meat on Fridays, thus filling up on pea soup on Thursdays, to pea soup being very easy to prepare by maid servants who would work half-days on Thursdays – the tradition has well and truly stuck. Most traditional Swedish lunch restaurants serve pea soup and pancakes with sylt (usually lingonberry or strawberry jam) and cream on Thursdays in the winter.
I think this is one of the coziest traditions in Sweden, a chance to take some time each week to connect with friends over a warm meal, followed by coffee and tea. Be warned though – many restaurants serve this lunch buffet- style, meaning that there’s a high probability you’ll return to work in a food coma. Hot tip: power through the majority of your work on Thursday morning so there’s less to do in the afternoon 😉
This may be surprising to those who have known me for a while, but last summer I actually started eating meat again after 6 years as a vegetarian. While the decision to reintroduce meat was a decision for health and personal reasons, it was comforting to know that Sweden has some of the strictest laws and practices when it comes to animals and agriculture (For example, Sweden banned the use of antibiotics for growth promotion as early as 1986, has virtually no salmonella or other animal diseases, and has very strict rules regarding ethical access to food, land, and water for animals). Since moving to the UK where I know the laws aren’t so strict, I have continued to keep meat in my diet and opt to buy fish, eggs, and other products from my local farmer’s market every week.
I wouldn’t say I’m a huge candy person – I still prefer chocolate -but Swedes definitely know how to do lördagsgodis (Saturday candy), and I’ve been known to participate every once in a while.
The average Swedish family eats about 1.2 kilos of sweets per week, and most of it on Saturday- the designated sweets day. Upheld mostly to protect people’s teeth and prevent dental cavities, this once-a-week tradition is actually historically linked to some… interesting medical practices.
In the 1940s and 1950s, at Vipeholm Mental Hospital in Lund patients were fed large amounts of sweets to intentionally cause tooth decay, as part of a series of human experiments for research purposes. Based on findings from 1957 of the direct relationship between sweets and tooth decay, the Medical Board suggested Swedes eat sweets only once a week – an unwritten rule that many families still stick to.
If you want to learn more about Sweden and candy, my friend Tess wrote a fun blog post on this tradition you can read here!
Whether it’s incorporating more liquorice or bread into my life, living in Sweden has definitely had an impact on the foods I eat. I’m curious to see how my tastes change and evolve now that I’m in Scotland!