Fish balls and other staples: On Swedish cuisine

Sweden’s food quality is excellent.  A hamburger from Macdonald’s  tastes (in my opinion) 10X better than a burger from the Golden Arches in the states.  Standards for meats, veggies, and processed food are significantly higher than our FDA’s.  Combine high quality with the decline of the dollar, though, and you’re looking at an American exchange student with a very limited menu.

So, I may not get to truly explore the finest cuisine Sweden has to offer (though I do make special room in my budget for an almost-daily fika–Swedish sweets and pastries are to DIE for.  More on “fika” to come in a future post).  But, between grocery shopping, dining at Universitetet between classes, and dinner with my contact family, I’ve learned a thing or two about the quirky and iconic staples of the Swedish diet.

  1.  Kannelbullar (or, the cinnamon bun).  Cinnamon buns are everywhere—every convenience store, café, and restaurant.  But don’t think cinn-a-bon.  These aren’t the soft gooey messes of Pilsbury origin.  Swedish cinnamon buns are doughier, more savory, and topped with sugar instead of frosting.
  2. Köttbullar (or, Swedish meatballs).  Surprise, surprise.  This iconic dish is a staple in nearly every Swedish household.  Swedish meatballs are traditionally served with potatoes (usually boiled), a brown, creamy gravy, and lingonberry preserves.  Yum yum.
  3. Lingonberries.  Similar to the cranberry, but more tart.  These small berries grow in the forrest, and picking them is a popular Swedish tradition, particularly during the summer months.  They can be eaten alone, but are most often turned into either juice or jam.
  4. knäckebröd—(or, crispy bread—the most popular brand is the Wasa cracker). Served at nearly every meal, this “crispy bread” is typically eaten with a generous smearing of margarine or butter.  It’s also popular to top it with….well, just look below to number 5.
  5. Caviar…in a tube.  So here’s where it gets a little weird folks.    Fish roe in a blue, toothpaste-esque tube pervades grocery store shelves as well as the fridges of the Swedes.  I’ve had it on knäckebröd with every meal at my contact family’s home.  It tastes like you would expect—salty and fishy, but not half-bad.  Note the smiling Swede on the label—how can you resist.
  6. Fiskbullar(or, fish balls).  The Swedes are not a wasteful people.  Perhaps nothing embodies that sentiment more than the existence (and popularity) of fish balls.  Like their name suggests (and get your mind out of the third-grade gutter), they are balls of fish—“excess” cod and other mild fish—that are salvaged from the butchering and formed into the shape and size of a golf ball.  Packaged similarly to canned tuna, fiskbullar come floating in a variety of flavored sauces (I’ve only tried “lobster flavor”—it’s my contact family’s favorite).  They are cheap and nutritious, and , like the fish roe-in-a-tube, not half bad.

The bullet points obviously only offer a small window into the stange-but-delicious world of Swedish cuisine.  And I haven’t even told you about the PASTRIES.  There’ll be time for that later.  For now, time to whip up some fiskbullar (sounds much more appetizing in Swedish, huh?).

Hälsningar och god natt!



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