Where am I? A land of stunning natural beauty crossing through the Arctic Circle
What do I speak? Swedish (and a lot of English!)
How I say hello: Hej!
A dish I would love you to try: Raggmunk (Swedish Potato Pancakes)
When a friend decided to get married recently in Sweden, I couldn’t believe my luck! A wedding abroad meant an opportunity for more travel, and although I have previously been to the capital Stockholm, I had never explored the country in all its glory. To make life more interesting, my husband and I chose to go the camping route, and soon we found ourselves in the mother of all Scandinavian countries with our tent and sleeping bags in tow.
A wintry summer
When you travel all the time, packing is often a painless process, as you tick items off a mental list in a matter of minutes. Often this means that packing lacks excitement and a build up for the trip, a step that may have helped me avoid a very basic error I made this time. Given the trip was in August, I automatically packed for a European summer. Imagining two weeks of wild swimming and summer wanderings, my gear consisted of shorts, bikinis and cotton dresses.
Once there though, it was a shock to be welcomed into freezing cold temperatures and pouring rain! Snow was forming on the tops of mountains and roads were being lined with snow sticks. My hopes of enjoying a hot summer holiday were way off the mark and I found myself on, what I would consider as a Mediterranean resident, a winter road trip in August. Luckily, the sun returned every few days, and we kept warm with hot teas and sizzling fireplaces.
Welcome to Sweden!
Despite the misconception about the Nordic weather, this is a truly picture perfect landscape. Sweden is a lush vast land so far north it has its own special window to our galaxy, aptly named the Northern Lights.
It embodies a culture with one foot firmly into a sustainable and social future, and the other one cherishing its rich Nordic heritage.
Cooking with the Sami
According to the Sami tribe of Northern Sweden, there are not four, but eight seasons prevailing through the year, including an early, proper and late winter! Ensuring an adequate supply of food during winter was the key to survival, so it’s no wonder Sweden has a long heritage of preserving food. Early Viking conquests may have brought plenty of foreign delicacies to the Swedish kitchen (Pub quiz tip: The Vikings used to import food including walnuts and certain berries!) but it’s the preservation of food that truly evokes the soul of Sweden.
We drove across 3,500km of country roads, surrounded by forests and lakes and rivers, and the land offers up a smörgåsbord of natural produce including meat, fish, berries and herbs. Meat and fish are dried, fermented, smoked and cured. Wild berries are made into deliciously sweet jams and syrups. Indeed it is said that the farther south you go, the sweeter the food, and the further north you go, the saltier.
Foraging for berries
The natural abundance of Sweden’s landscape is celebrated with pride, and thanks to allemänsrätten (freedom to roam), everyone can wander freely through the country, and spend the long days of summer foraging for cloudberries, lingonberries, blueberries and assorted mushrooms. Though this is now an activity for a wonderful day out, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, foraging was essential to combating the extreme poverty prevalent at the time.
We spent a beautiful Sunday morning hiking through the hills behind the organic farm we were spending the weekend. And although late in season, we picked a good handful of super sweet blueberries. I was fascinated too by the sheer variety of mushrooms we saw along the way. Without any knowledge of foraging for mushrooms, I wasn’t jumping to pick them but I would definitely be keen to learn more. I have a friend in Mauritius (the next stop on Veggie She Wrote!) who grows an incredible collection of edible mushrooms. The good life eh?
Try some fruit soup!
To a first time visitor, it may appear that Swedish cuisine has little to offer vegetarians. But dig a little deeper, and you will find gems such as fruktsoppa (fruit soup).
Traditionally served as a dessert during Christmas, the soup is made with a variety of dried fruits, e.g. apricots or berries, which are soaked and then cooked before serving. This is a further example in Swedish cuisine of preserving food (in this case the drying of summer fruits and berries) to ensure an adequate supply in the colder months. Try this lovely recipe if you fancy some fruit soup!
Hasselbackspotatis (breadcrumb roasted potatoes), a dish invented relatively recently in the 50s at the Hasselbacken Restaurant in Stockholm, is the Swedish take on a buttery baked potato topped with breadcrumbs. You can also try the famed Plättar (Swedish pancakes) which are best enjoyed with lingonberry or blueberry jam. Legend has it that the Swedes have been tucking into this thin eggy pancake since the Middle Ages although the primitive forms of cookware in those days may have made flipping these pancakes quite the challenge!
And if you have a sweet tooth…
But my personal favourite is the våffla (waffle), a thinner and crispier version of Belgian waffle. You can top it with whipped cream and jam, but of course I went crazy like a 5-year old in a sweet store and topped it with everything I could see! It’s so special in Sweden that it is celebrated nationally with its very own day, Våffeldagen, on March 25th.
The Swedes are the second largest dairy consumers globally, and we found the supermarket aisles devoted to stocking several hundred varieties of milk, yoghurt and cheese. Also found in any supermarket or newsagent are pick and mix sweet stations, displaying an array of toffees, candy and other sweets. I certainly piled on the calories munching on vanilla fudge every time we stopped to fuel the car. It is common for Swedes to enjoy these sweets on a Saturday in a tradition called Lördagsgodis. This practice stems from the 1950s, when the government, in an effort to combat dental decay, recommended parents to limit their children to eating sweets on just one day a week.
Was it the Germans?
And who can forget the Swedish bakery, a utopia of flours such as rye and sourdough and barley. Bread has always played an important part of Swedish culture and identity and over 100 impressive specimens of pre-historic bread have been discovered in the country, and mainly in graves.
Whilst bread was produced for eating, it also formed part of burial rituals in the early Middle Ages.
Rye is the most popular grain used now in bread, but historically it was barley and oats that were the main grains used for bread, beer and animal fodder.
It is believed that the developments in crop rotation techniques across Europe post 1000 AD enabled about the cultivation of rye. As rye bread could be leavened, this meant it also lasted longer. Some say the influence of Denmark where rye has been cultivated since 500 AD helped the spread of rye. Others note the marked import of rye seeds during medieval times when a number of Germans occupied the area of Nykoping. Sadly this beautiful town is now more widely known as “the place where Ryanair lands”.
These days you can always find an impressive array of breads in any bakery, and we were lucky to find this wonderful potato bread, which we promptly chomped our way through at an impromptu picnic lunch.
Of course the pride of all Swedish breads is the Knäckebröd (crispbread). Long lasting, light and easy to carry, they have been popular for centuries. And still, The Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare ran a campaign in the 1970s suggesting Swedes should eat six to eight slices of bread a day, including crispbread.
Traditionally made from rye flour, salt and water, this flat bread or cracker can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and can be topped with cheese or jams. I dipped mine in hummus, what a delight! The crackers are light and round, with the hole in the middle, apparently so that they could be stored on sticks under the roof! As with other Swedish food, they keep fresh for a long time. Learn more about crispbread and other varieties of bread produced in Sweden here.
Many baked goods are flavoured with spices such as cinnamon, cardamom and caraway, and it is believed these spices were first brought to Sweden when the Vikings started to trade in Istanbul. The Kanebulle (cinnamon bun), is sometimes also flavoured with saffron or vanilla, and is often served at fika, a daily Swedish tradition of having a break and drinking coffee (or possibly 2 or 3!).
The name fika is actually derived from Kaffe, the Swedish translation for coffee, and gained prominence in the early 20th century after the sale and consumption of coffee was no longer prohibited by the government.
Yes, you read that right! As coffee started to become popular among Sweden’s wealthy in the early 18th century, it became a target for King Gustav III’s mission against “the misuse and excesses of tea and coffee drinking”. In 1746, nearly 100 years after its introduction to Sweden, its consumption became subject to heavy taxes and confiscations, and later a complete ban. Hardy Swedes would attempt to navigate around this barrier by meeting in secret Kaffehus (coffee houses). It was long after his death, in the 1820s, that coffee was finally legal again, and thus set the foundation for fika as we know it today.
Let’s get cooking!
Feeling hungry? Let’s check out another famous Swedish vegetarian delicacy, Raggmunk. This is a crisp buttery potato pancake best enjoyed with lingonberry jam (available at IKEA), though you can also top yours with blueberry or any other berry jam. I loved making these for Sunday brunch as soon as we got back from our trip!
Click here for the full recipe. Enjoy!
A few words to say goodbye
I hope you’ve enjoyed our vegetarian food safari through Sweden today. I will leave you to savour a personal favourite of mine, Pepparkakor. If you’ve ever been to IKEA, then you’ve most likely seen this wonderful thin crispy gingery biscuit tempting you to reward yourself if you’ve managed the mammoth task of clearing through the Marketplace. Pepparkakor translates literally to pepper cakes, and whilst they can now be purchased all year round, this spicy biscuit is traditionally a Christmas treat. Way back in the 1300s, when these biscuits were first imported from German monks, they were sweetened with honey and flavoured with cloves, cardamom and other aromatic spices along with pepper. The current version contains no pepper or honey but evoke that warm homely feeling all the same. I have lovely memories of my husband and I warming up by the fire at this chalet in Abisko, a place high up in Lappland and renowned for sightings of the Northern Lights , feasting on these biscuits and hot thermos of coffee. I guess we were having our very own fika!
If you do want to have a try at making your own, then I recommend this recipe for Pepparkakor from Swedish-American freelance writer, Anna Brones. More of her wonderful Swedish recipes are included in her fabulous book, Fika: The Art of The Swedish Coffee Break, with Recipes for Pastries, Breads, and Other Treats, and bring a new spirit to coffee time. The book is beautifully illustrated by Swedish illustrator Johanna Kindvall. Purchase a copy here!
If you are inspired to travel to Sweden, take a peek at Wild Guide Scandinavia, the book we used as a guide on our Swedish camping adventure in August 2016. Including stunning photography, this book guides the reader to wild swimming spots, canoe camping, secret beaches and places to forage, eat and stay. Purchase a copy here!
If you ever do travel through Sweden, I wish you an incredible delicious adventure! If you need any help with ordering vegetarian food, please use this handy translation card that lists all the main food groups in both English and Swedish.
And so, I bid you Adjö! I hope you’ll join me next week as I explore vegetarian delicacies on offer in Mauritius!
Ps. if you loved reading this post on Sweden, check out my previous post on Cyprus. I hope you enjoy it too!
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