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10 classic Swedish dishes you must try
Even though the Swedes have some quite strange food to offer, there are some dishes you just have to give a chance. Check out our guide featuring ten of the best below!
Some of the dishes are very much local specialities, so you might be best advised to visit the place in question to sample certain classics. But the journey will be well worth it. Or at least we think so anyway!
1. Pickled herring – a must at all kinds of Swedish celebrations
Pickled herring is a real Swedish classic, dating back to times when preserving was the way to make produce last through the winter months. Even though Swedes have not really had to hide from dismal winters and wild animals for a couple of hundred years now, the art of preserving produce is something that has become a solid part of the Swedish food tradition. Pickled herring is an important part of all three major celebrations in Sweden: Christmas, Easter and – of course – Midsummer.
Pickled herring is mainly associated with Midsummer, but the Swedes also eat this traditional dish for Christmas and Easter. Why change a winning recipe?
Over the years, many exciting and rather less appetising varieties of herring have appeared. What would you say to ginger and chilli or how about apple, celery and Fireball? Traditionalists are up in arms, but we think they’re rather fun! You can find a classic recipe for onion herring here.
The pickling juice used in the preservation process is generally made using strong vinegar, water, salt and various different spices. Typical varieties include onion herring, mustard herring and soused herring. But no matter what kind of herring is on the menu, it will generally be served with boiled potatoes, gräddfil (sour cream) and finely chopped chives.
If you fancy a more modern take on Nordic food and culture, then head to Lykke & Löjromsbaren at the Nordic Light Hotel in central Stockholm where you can enjoy a variety of dishes featuring seafood, game and high quality vegetables from local producers. View more hotels in the Swedish capital here.
An appreciation for detail is all part of the experience.
Staying at the hotel? Then you won’t want to miss the buffet breakfast!
2. Fried herring – pickled herring’s forgotten cousin
Fried herring has of course ended up in pickled herring’s tall shadow, but it is nevertheless a delicacy! Unlike the pickled variety, fried herring tastes lighter on the tongue. The flavours are enhanced by melted butter and it is served (of course) with mashed potatoes, green peas and lingonberry sauce. This is a fresh and healthy dish that fish-lovers will enjoy!
Fried herring is at least as good as the pickled variety!
3. Kroppkakor – a whole new take on meat and potatoes
Kroppkakor are essentially big, hearty potato dumplings, and there are a great many versions of these all over the country. They may also have different names, depending on where in Sweden they are being served! In the south they are called kroppkakor, but in the north they call them palt. To make these delicious dumplings, mix potatoes and flour and then wrap the dough around a some fried pork. You can use both either boiled or raw potatoes. If you use boiled potatoes, the kroppkakor will be white and if you use raw potatoes they’ll be grey. They are most commonly served with melted butter, double cream, milk, lingonberry sauce and béchamel sauce. NB! Prepare for a food coma, so make sure to schedule a nap right after you eat them.
Kroppkakor generally tend to be associated with the island of Öland, but this heavy delicacy is no less popular in the city of Kalmar on the other side of the bridge! During the nineteenth century, students from Öland prepared kroppkakor in their student digs and students at Lund University’s Kalmar student nation have been organising kroppkakor parties since 1897. Today, the tradition lives on an annual party celebrating the year’s biggest kroppkaka! Book your hotel stay in Kalmar here.
Kroppkaka or palt? The principle is the same.
A trip to Kalmar is not complete without a visit to the beautiful Kalmar Castle.
4. Meatballs with mashed potatoes and lingonberry sauce – every mother’s parade dish
Anyone who has been to IKEA knows that this is a Swedish classic. This dish has a special place in all Swedes’ hearts because all mothers have their own way of making these little balls of joy. It is undoubtedly one of the most popular dishes in the country, especially with children. Traditionally, the meatballs are served with boiled or mashed potatoes, a cream sauce and lingonberry sauce. If this doesn’t make you hungry, we don’t know what will!
The variations of this beloved dish are infinite, but for goodness’s sake stay away from powdered mash mixes. You’ve got to have real mashed potatoes!
5. Falukorv – a firm favourite among children of all ages
The falukorv sausage served today dates back to the 1800s, but its origins can be traced right back to the sixteenth century when the Falu copper mine used ox and horse skin to create strong ropes to lift up the raw copper ore. The meat was a by-product that was simply salted and smoked at first. It was not until the Germans came to the mine that the Swedes learned to turn the fine smoked beef into a sausage! Today, falukorv is made from beef and pork, and it is a firm favourite among children of all ages! Boil it, fry it, roast it in cream or grill it! You decide. We recommend serving it with boiled or mashed potatoes, creamy macaroni or rice. Yum!
Falun in Dalarna County, is a Swedish cultural gem that has much more than to offer than sausage. Swedish cottages are traditionally painted in a special shade of red paint made in Falun. The famous Dala horse also originates here, and this is a great place to come to experience a traditional Midsummer celebration with traditional costumes and lots of song and dance! Book your stay at the Clarion Collection Hotel Bergmästaren in Falun.
Falukorv and macaroni slow cooked in a cream sauce are very popular with families with children.
Falu red paint is the colour for traditional wooden houses
You can spot a number of Dala horses at the Clarion Collection Hotel Bergmästaren in Falun!
6. Fermented herring – a Swedish dish that Swedes avoid
Fermented herring or surströmming (lit. sour herring) runs away with first place as the dish that most Swedes would not even dare to try. The herring has been preserved by fermentation, which adds a special odour of acids and hydrogen sulphide – a smell that also scares off even the bravest tourist (and many brave Swedes). Despite its dissuasive odours, there are nevertheless those who have a special place in their heart for this special dish. Fermented herring actually has enough fans to have its own day, “surströmmingspremiären”, which always takes place on the third Thursday in August.
While surströmming (fermented herring) is available all over Sweden, this rather stinky delicacy remains most popular in the north. So, for an unforgettable surströmming experience, we recommend a trip up to Norrland! We have hotels in many cities in northern Sweden including Åre, Östersund, Sundsvall, Umeå, Skellefteå, Luleå, Boden and Gällivare.
Do you dare test fermented herring?
7. Crayfish boiled in dill – a dish that has its own party
When the crayfish season begins in August, many people host special crayfish parties with some pretty amazing décor! Prepare for snaps, snapsvisor (drinking songs) and some funny games! You’ll most likely be sporting a crayfish hat on your head and there’s certainly no time for vanity! Get stuck in, break off the claws and suck out the juices. The crayfish are boiled in a brine bath, sometimes with beer, and always with plenty of crown dill and spices. All you need then is cold beer, snaps, Västerbotten cheese pie, soft bread, crisp bread and you’re good to go!
In early August, the shops are full of all kinds of crayfish from different countries. Both Turkish and Chinese crayfish are pretty good, but traditionalists will always insist on Swedish signal crayfish from Småland. And guess what? We have several hotels in Kalmar, Jönköping and Oskarshamn and elsewhere in Småland!
If you ask someone from the West Coast, however, they are most likely to turn their noses up at anything other than havskräftor (langoustines)! Visit Gothenburg, Varberg and Halmstad and you can decide for yourself!
Crayfish parties – they’re so popular in Sweden, there are three names for the same thing: “Kräftfest, kräftskiva, kräftkalas”!
The Vox Hotel in Jönköping is beautifully situated by Lake Vättern.
The restaurant offers delicious fusion food - think Asian dishes with a Swedish twist!
8. Blood pudding – a dish you want to drink milk for (we promise!)
Blood pudding can rightly be called a room divider: either you love it or you will be deterred by just the very name. Despite its ingredients (pork blood, milk, rye flour, lard, beer, sugar syrup, onions, pimento (or allspice) and marjoram), this is a regular recipe at both restaurants and schools. Slice the pudding, fry it in butter and serve with lingonberry and crispy bacon. And yes, milk goes excellently with this dish!
Blood pudding may not win the prize for most beautiful dish, but we promise it’s delicious.
9. Kalops – a nice warm stew for the winter months
This is a meat stew that is ideal for cooler autumn and winter days. This slow cooking dish is seasoned with typical Swedish spices – pimento (or allspice) and bay leaves, which have characteristic flavours. Serve it with boiled potatoes and pickled beetroot. Yum! Do you want the recipe? Here is a classic recipe for Kalops from the supermarket ICA.
When the temperature drops in October, it is not uncommon for Swedes to start making large batches of meat stews and casseroles.
10. Pea soup and pancakes
This classic dish has a long and interesting history. In addition to being a classic in the Armed Forces (where in some places it is still served every Thursday), it is known for having killed an old Swedish king! In the 16th century, Erik XIV was poisoned with pea soup spiked with arsenic. Behind it all was his own brother! Anyway, this is a soup made of yellow peas and pork flavoured with thyme. The soup is served with a choice of mustard and the meal is rounded off with pancakes and jam.
If the Swedish classic dishes don’t get your stomach rumbling, we are happy to announce that Sweden’s restaurants have a little bigger repertoire than that! Cosy local pubs, home cooking, three-star, vegetarian, and of course fusions of Swedish ingredients and all the world’s imaginable cuisines!
Many people like to have a dollop of mustard in their soup – an unexpectedly good combination with peas!
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Are you staying in Sweden and need a hotel? At Nordic Choice Hotels you will not only start your day with a delicious breakfast buffet: gather in the hotel bar before heading out on the town or book a table at the hotel’s restaurant. Marcus Samuelsson’s concept restaurant, Kitchen & Table , and Eatery Social can be found at Clarion Hotels in Sweden, Norway and Finland. The Hotel Quality Hotel offers French-inspired dishes at the Brasserie X restaurant. See what your hotel’s restaurant has on the menu right now!