Sunday, January 07, 2007
Swedish Food and Drink
It was helpful for me to go home and talk to people in person who are interested in my Swedish excursion because they asked me questions about life in Sweden that I have started to take for granted or overlooked entirely. For example, a key component to any culture and lifestyle is obviously food and drink, but outside of the now infamous "Fika" blog entry, I've given very little mention to Swedish culinary delicacies and delights.
Upon hearing the question "What's the food like in Sweden?," my immediate response was "not very different to what I have known in the U.S." Relatively speaking, this is very true. In comparison to the unique flavors found in Spain, Italy, France, Asian countries and many others, the food in Sweden is fairly familiar to the American palate. Yet unto itself, there are many characteristics that set Swedish food apart.
Fish is the central Swedish genre of food, coming in all shapes and sizes with many different sauces, spices and manners of preparation. "Lax" (Salmon) is common and available everywhere served either hot or cold, Also omnipresent is "Sill" (Herring) which comes in forms pickled, marinated, pan-fried and many other fascinating presentations usually complementing the main dish. Other fish entrees are seasonal including the aforementioned blog entry of crayfish (August) and a December favorite of some Swedes (loathed by others) is lutefisk, where preparation actually begins in August!
Other dishes include wild game and reindeer (yes, reindeer and you Americans need to get over your Rudolph and Bambi issues), which simply can't be beat with a savory glass of red wine. Boiled potatoes, Swedish meatballs, lingonberry jam and sauce and hearty breads full of natural fiber all distinguish food in Sweden. The famous Swedish "smörgåsbord," which means "sandwich table," is a full buffet of extraordinary food intended to be gradually enjoyed, lightly sampled and where patrons linger for a long time delighting in an experience truly Swedish.
As for drink, despite Swedes being known for their schnapps, aqvavit and vodka, beer remains the most affordable and favorite of the alcoholic drinks. If you come to visit, part of your experience will be learning about the legend of Swedish "Skål," the beverage toast to begin formal and informal meals which dates back to the Viking era. Coffee is always available and usually consumed after the main meals of lunch and dinner. And ordinary tap water is very good, though I do wish there were drinking fountains in Europe....
Fast food is not nearly the sensation it is in the States, but you can't go too far without finding a McDonalds and there may well be a Burger King around the next corner. "Pizza & Kebab" (Kebab is a Middle Eastern meat prep) can be found everywhere, which is almost equivalent to your typical fast food joint in the States.
And finally, while much is made of the ever-growing portion sizes in the U.S., Swedes seem to do just fine with generally smaller portions, though I have a really hard time finishing the supposed "individual-sized" pizzas here.
I'm hungry. See you next week--it's good to be back in Sweden once again.