Traditional Swedish food to try when you visit

Introduction to Swedish Food

Swedish cuisine, known for its simplicity and use of fresh ingredients, has gained global recognition in recent years. With its emphasis on health and sustainability, Swedish food offers a unique and exciting culinary experience. From iconic dishes like meatballs and herring to lesser-known delicacies, Swedish cuisine is a reflection of the country’s history and culture.

GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN - JUNE 21, 20015: Beautiful scene of Gothia river in Gothenburg city downtown

Sweden’s food culture is primarily based on locally sourced ingredients, making the most of what the land and sea have to offer. The combination of rich fertile soils and pristine waters give Swedish ingredients a distinct flavor and quality. In fact, many Swedish restaurants pride themselves on serving organic and locally produced food.

One of the most famous Swedish dishes is the meatball, or “köttbullar” in Swedish. Made from a mixture of ground meat, breadcrumbs, and onions, these flavorful balls are traditionally served with lingonberry jam, potatoes, and cream sauce. Another classic Swedish dish is pickled herring, an important part of the Swedish diet which comes in various flavors and is often served with crispbread, potatoes, and sour cream.

Branno island in Gothenburg archipelago waterfront view,  Goteborg Municipality, Vastra Gotaland County, Sweden

Swedish cuisine also includes a variety of fish dishes, thanks to the country’s long coastline and numerous lakes and rivers. Gravlax, cured salmon marinated with dill, sugar, and salt, is a favorite among locals and visitors alike. Smörgåsbord, a buffet-style meal consisting of a wide selection of dishes like cured salmon, pickled herring, and cold cuts, is another popular Swedish dining tradition.

Whether you’re dining at a local bistro or exploring the street food scene, Swedish cuisine offers something for everyone. Its focus on fresh, quality ingredients and simple yet delicious flavors has captivated the taste buds of food enthusiasts worldwide. So, if you’re looking to embark on a culinary adventure, Swedish food is definitely worth exploring.

21 Traditional Swedish Dishes

Meatballs

 Swedish meatballs are a classic dish that has gained popularity worldwide primarily because IKEA serves them. These small, bite-sized meatballs are made with a mixture of ground beef and pork, finely chopped onions, breadcrumbs, and milk. They are seasoned with spices like allspice and nutmeg, giving them a distinct, flavorful taste. The meatballs are traditionally cooked by frying and then simmered in a creamy gravy made from a roux-based sauce with beef or chicken broth, cream, and a touch of soy sauce for added depth of flavor.

Traditional Swedish food to try when you visit

Swedish meatballs are often served with lingonberry jam, which provides a perfect balance of sweetness to the savory dish. They are commonly enjoyed as an appetizer or as a main course with a side of mashed potatoes or boiled potatoes and a vegetable, such as peas or carrots. This comforting and satisfying dish is loved by many and has become a staple in Swedish cuisine. 

Pickled Herring

 Swedish pickled herring is a traditional dish that has been enjoyed in Sweden for centuries and it goes back to the middle ages when only fish was to be eaten on Fridays and it was the best way to preserve food. It consists of herring that has been cured in a mixture of vinegar, sugar, and various herbs and spices. The herring is left to marinate for several days, allowing the flavors to develop and the fish to become tender and flavorful.

Traditional Swedish food to try when you visit

This pickled herring is typically served cold, either as an appetizer or as a part of a smorgasbord, a traditional Swedish buffet meal. It is often enjoyed with crispbread, potatoes, and sour cream, which helps balance out the rich and tangy flavors of the pickled herring.

Swedish pickled herring is a true staple of Swedish cuisine, and its unique flavor and texture make it a beloved dish among locals and visitors alike.  A staple dish at the Swedish Midsummer feast, pickled herring is served with boiled potatoes, sour cream, and chives, and always with lots of Schnaps.

Pea Soup and Pancakes

 Swedish pea soup and pancakes are a classic combination often enjoyed as a Thursday tradition in Sweden. The pea soup, known as ärtsoppa, is a hearty and flavorful yellow pea soup made with yellow split peas (very similar to the Quebec Pea Soup), which are cooked with onions, carrots, and herbs such as thyme and bay leaf.

Traditional Swedish food to try when you visit
©hildgrim, CC BY-SA 2.0

It is usually served with mustard and accompanied by thin and crispy pancakes called pannkakor. The pancakes are made from a batter of flour, eggs, milk, and a pinch of salt. They are cooked in a hot pan until golden brown and then served with lingonberry jam or whipped cream.

Crayfish

Crayfish is a popular Swedish delicacy, especially during the summer. Swedish crayfish parties, known as kräftskiva, are a lively tradition where friends and family gather to celebrate and indulge in this tasty crustacean. The crayfish are typically boiled in a broth flavored with dill, salt, and a variety of other spices. They are then served cold, often with a side of bread and butter.

Traditional Swedish food to try when you visit

The bright red color of the crayfish shells adds to the festive atmosphere of the party. Furthermore, many Swedes enjoy drinking snaps, a type of aquavit, while participating in the kräftskiva. This strong spirit complements the rich flavors of the crayfish and enhances the overall experience. Whether enjoyed at home or at a traditional crayfish party, Swedish crayfish is a delightful and delectable treat that brings people together.

Crispbread

Swedish crisp bread, also known as knäckebröd, is a traditional Scandinavian bread that is light, thin, and crispy. It is made from a combination of whole wheat flour, salt, and water. The dough is rolled out, pricked with a fork, and baked at a high temperature until it becomes golden brown and crunchy. Swedish crisp bread has a long shelf life and is often served with toppings like cheese, butter, or cured meats. It is a popular staple in Swedish cuisine and is enjoyed for breakfast, lunch, or as a snack.

Traditional Swedish food to try when you visit

Korvstroganoff – Swedish meat stew

Korvstroganoff is a popular Swedish meat stew made with falukorv, a type of sausage named after the Falu copper mine in the town of Falun. 

Falukorv – Swedish Sausage

Very popular in Sweden is the sausage, falukorv, which is a cooked sausage that contains a mix of meat, onion, salt, and some spices. You can eat it on its own or use it as an ingredient in preparing classic Swedish dishes. the falukorv is protected by GTS. Guaranteed Traditional Speciality is a quality system organized by the EU and means the product must be made in the traditional fashion.

Traditional Swedish food to try when you visit
©Julien Menichini, CC BY 2.0

Southern Sweden Kalops

Swedish Kalops, an authentic and traditional beef stew slow simmered with vegetables, white peppercorns and allspices berries and served with potatoes and pickled beets. 

Kroppkakor

A favourite in northern Sweden these are Swedish potato dumplings made with with onion and salt pork inside.

Swedish Potato dumplings with bacon, onion and ham close-up and Lingonberry sauce.

Swedish Cuisine

Swedish cuisine is known for its simplicity and use of fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Classic dishes such as Swedish meatballs, gravlax, and smorgasbords are popular staples. Fish, particularly herring, is a common ingredient due to Sweden’s proximity to the Baltic Sea.

Other traditional foods include potatoes, lingonberries, and crispbread. The Swedish “fika” culture is also worth mentioning, which refers to taking a coffee break accompanied by pastries and treats. Overall, Swedish cuisine focuses on clean flavors and comforting dishes that showcase the country’s unique culinary heritage.

Lingonberry Jam

Swedish lingonberry jam is a traditional and popular preserve in Sweden. Made from wild lingonberries, this jam has a unique and vibrant flavor. The lingonberries grow in forests all over Scandinavia and are handpicked to ensure the highest quality.

Traditional Swedish food to try when you visit

Lingonberry jam is commonly served with Swedish meatballs, a classic and beloved dish. The tartness of the berries perfectly complements the rich and savory flavors of the meatballs. In addition to being a versatile accompaniment to savory dishes, lingonberry jam is also used in desserts and pastries, adding a touch of sweetness and tanginess. Its bright red color and robust taste make it an essential component of Swedish cuisine, bringing a burst of flavor to any meal.

Dill

Dill is an herb that holds great significance in Swedish cuisine. Swedes have been using dill for centuries, and it has become an indispensable element of their traditional dishes. One of the primary reasons for its prevalence is its fresh and vibrant flavor, which adds a unique touch to various dishes.

Traditional Swedish food to try when you visit

Swedes often use dill to enhance the taste of fish, potatoes, and sauces. The herb’s distinct aroma and tanginess perfectly complement the Swedish love for pickled herring and gravlax. Additionally, dill offers several health benefits, such as aiding digestion and boosting immune function. Its numerous culinary and health advantages, coupled with its popularity in Swedish culture, make dill a staple in Swedish kitchens.

Salmon and Seafood

Seafood is a very important part of the Swedish food culture and traditional Swedish foods. When it comes to seafood, Swedish cuisine is renowned for its quality and freshness. Swedish salmon, in particular, is highly sought after for its rich flavor and texture.

Salmon in Sweden is mainly sourced from aquaculture farms located along the country’s extensive coastline. These farms have strict regulations in place to ensure the well-being of the fish and to protect the environment. This focus on sustainability is reflected in the high quality of Swedish salmon. 

Traditional Swedish food to try when you visit

The cold and clean waters of the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Bothnia create the perfect conditions for salmon farming, resulting in fish that are healthy and packed with nutrients. Swedish salmon is versatile and can be prepared in a variety of ways, whether it’s smoked, grilled, or served as a delicately poached fillet.

In addition to salmon, Sweden also offers a wide range of other seafood options, including herring, cod, and shrimp. The country’s coastal regions are known for their excellent seafood restaurants, where visitors can indulge in a variety of delicious and fresh dishes. Whether you’re a seafood lover or simply looking to explore the flavors of Swedish cuisine, the seafood options in Sweden are sure to leave you satisfied. 

Swedish Cheesecake

Swedish cheesecake, also known as ostkaka, is a traditional dessert originating from Sweden. Unlike traditional cheesecakes that are typically made with cream cheese, Swedish cheesecake is made with farmer’s cheese or curd cheese.

It is often served warm with a dollop of whipped cream or a spoonful of lingonberry jam. The combination of the creamy cheesecake with the tart lingonberry jam creates a perfect balance of flavors. Swedish cheesecake is a beloved dessert in Sweden and is commonly enjoyed during holidays and special occasions.

Swedish Sandwich Cake

Swedish sandwich cake, also known as smörgåstårta, is a unique dish that is common in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries. The cake is not actually sweet like a typical cake, but rather it is a savory creation made with layers of bread and various fillings.

Swedish cake with shrimps and ham (smorgastarta)

The base is usually a dense, rye bread, which is then layered with ingredients such as mayonnaise, smoked salmon, shrimp, ham, and eggs. The layers are stacked and then the entire cake is covered with a thick layer of creamy, mayonnaise-based frosting.

The cake is often decorated with garnishes like cucumber, tomatoes, and radishes, which gives it a colorful and festive appearance. Swedish sandwich cake is commonly served at special occasions and celebrations as a centerpiece item. It offers a delicious combination of flavors and textures, making it a favorite amongst both locals and visitors to Sweden.

Popular Swedish Food and Desserts

When it comes to Swedish cuisine, there are a few popular food and desserts that stand out. One of the most famous dishes is Swedish meatballs, which are traditionally made with ground pork or a mix of pork and beef, flavored with nutmeg and served with lingonberry sauce.

Another popular dish is gravlax, which is thinly sliced cured salmon that is typically served with a mustard sauce and dill. For dessert, one cannot miss out on the classic Swedish cheesecake, known as ostkaka, which is made with fresh cheese curds, eggs, sugar, and cream.

Another popular sweet treat is semla, a sweet bun filled with almond paste and whipped cream, typically enjoyed around Shrove Tuesday. Overall, Swedish cuisine offers a balance between savory and sweet flavors that are sure to satisfy any palate.

Semla

Semla is a traditional Swedish pastry that is typically consumed during the Lenten season leading up to Easter. It consists of a cardamom-spiced wheat bun filled with almond paste and whipped cream. The top of the bun is usually cut off and set aside before being filled with the almond paste and finished with a generous dollop of whipped cream.

Traditional Swedish food to try when you visit

The cut-off top is then placed back on the bun, and the whole thing is dusted with powdered sugar. Semla is a beloved treat in Sweden and can be found in bakeries and cafes across the country during the winter months. In recent years, there have been variations of the semla, such as chocolate or raspberry-filled versions, but the classic recipe remains the most popular. It is a symbol of Swedish tradition and a delicious indulgence during the cold winter months.

Smulpaj (Berry Crumble)

Smulpaj, also known as Berry Crumble, is a classic dessert that originated in Sweden. Made with a delicious combination of sweet berries, typically raspberries, blueberries, or strawberries, and a crumble topping, this dessert is a crowd pleaser. The berries are mixed with some sugar and cornstarch to create a thick and luscious filling that is then covered with a buttery and crispy crumble topping.

Traditional Swedish food to try when you visit

This dessert is best enjoyed warm from the oven, either on its own or served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. The contrasting textures of the soft berries and the crunchy crumble create a satisfying dessert experience. Smulpaj is not only simple to make but also customizable, allowing you to use your favorite berries or even a mix of different fruits. It is the perfect sweet treat to showcase the fresh flavors of summer.

Crispbread and Filmjölk for Breakfast

Crispbread and Filmjölk have become a popular breakfast choice, especially in Scandinavian countries. Crispbread is a healthy and light option, made from whole grains, and is high in fiber. It provides a satisfying crunch and can be topped with various ingredients such as cheese, avocado, or smoked salmon.

Traditional Swedish food to try when you visit

Filmjölk, on the other hand, is a traditional Swedish fermented milk product. It has a creamy texture and a tangy flavor, similar to yogurt. When paired together, the crispbread’s crunchiness complements the creamy filmjölk, creating a delicious and balanced breakfast option. This combination is not only a great source of nutrients but also a tasty way to start the day.

Swedish Christmas Food

In Sweden, Christmas is a time for indulging in delicious traditional foods. One such dish is called ‘Julbord’, which is a festive buffet featuring a variety of dishes. It typically includes dishes like “Jansson’s Temptation,” which is a creamy potato casserole with anchovies and onions, and “Gravlax,” a type of cured salmon flavored with dill and served with a sweet mustard sauce.

Another iconic Christmas food in Sweden is the gingerbread cookies known as ‘Pepparkakor’. These thin, crispy cookies are often shaped into hearts, stars, and other festive designs and are traditionally enjoyed with a cup of glögg, a spiced mulled wine.

And no Swedish Christmas would be complete without ‘Risgrynsgröt’, a rice pudding made with cinnamon and served with a dollop of raspberry jam. The person who finds the hidden almond in their bowl of rice pudding is said to have good luck for the rest of the year. Swedish Christmas foods are not only delicious but also hold a strong cultural significance, bringing families together to celebrate the holiday season.

Delicious homemade rice pudding with cinnamon garnished with orange peel and mint leaf and a slice of orange on the rim of the bowl

Swedish Food in Stockholm

When it comes to Swedish food in Stockholm, there is a wide variety of delicious options to choose from. Traditional Swedish cuisine includes dishes like meatballs, herring, and gravlax. Stockholm is also known for its seafood, with fresh salmon and crayfish being popular choices.

For those with a sweet tooth, Stockholm offers delectable treats such as cinnamon buns and princess cake. There are also several Michelin-starred restaurants in the city, offering gourmet Swedish dishes with a modern twist. Whether you’re looking for traditional or modern Swedish cuisine, Stockholm has something to satisfy every food lover’s palate.

Raggmunk (Potato Pancakes)

Raggmunk, also known as potato pancakes, is a traditional Swedish dish that has gained popularity all over the world. Made from grated potatoes, flour, eggs, and milk, these pancakes are cooked in butter until golden and crispy.

Traditional Swedish food to try when you visit

The result is a deliciously soft interior with a wonderfully crispy exterior. Raggmunk is typically served with lingonberry jam and crispy bacon, creating a perfect blend of sweet and savory flavors. Whether enjoyed for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, these potato pancakes are a comforting and satisfying dish that is loved by many. When served at lunch it is topped with fried pork and a good spoonful of Lingonberry Jam on the side.

Pytt i Panna

 A Swedish classic Pytt i panna is a traditional Swedish dish that is popular for breakfast or lunch. It typically consists of diced potatoes, onions, and cooked meat, such as beef or pork, all mixed together and fried in a pan. Sometimes, other ingredients like carrots, peas, or mushrooms are also added for more flavor and variety.

Traditional Swedish food to try when you visit

The dish is often served with fried eggs on top and a side of pickled beets or cucumbers. Pytt i panna is a delicious and satisfying meal that is easy to make and perfect for using up leftovers. It can even be purchased frozen at IKEA.

Gravad Lax (Cured Salmon)

Gravad Lax, also known as cured salmon, is a popular Scandinavian delicacy. The name gravad lax translates to “buried salmon” in English, hinting at its traditional preparation method. The salmon fillets are typically marinated in a mixture of salt, sugar, and dill, then left to cure for a few days.

Traditional Swedish food to try when you visit

This curing process adds a unique flavor and preserves the fish. The result is a delicate, silky texture and a slightly sweet and herbaceous taste. Gravad lax is commonly served thinly sliced and enjoyed on its own, with bread, or as a topping for salads. Its versatility and rich flavor have made it a beloved dish, not only in Scandinavia but also around the world.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Swedish food culture has a rich and diverse history that is deeply rooted in tradition. Traditional Swedish food is known for its simplicity, using high-quality and fresh ingredients. One of the most iconic traditional Swedish dishes is the meatball, known as “köttbullar”.

Traditional Swedish food to try when you visit

Other traditional Swedish dishes include “surströmming”, a fermented herring that is known for its strong smell, and “knäckebröd”, a crispy and thin rye bread. When visiting Sweden, these are a few must-try foods that are representative of the country’s food culture.

Traditional swedish marzipan princess cake

Some of these include “smörgåsbord”, a buffet-style meal with a variety of dishes such as pickled herring, cured salmon, and various cheeses, as well as “prinsesstårta”, a layer cake filled with cream and covered in green marzipan. Overall, Swedish food culture offers a unique and delicious culinary experience, showcasing the countries freshest dishes.

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Author

  • Faith was born in Ireland raised in Canada and has lived in over 10 countries in Europe including England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Spain, Northern Ireland, Wales, along with Mexico, Antigua, the US and has slow travelled to over 40 countries around the world. Graduating with a degree in Anthropology and Women's Studies Faith is a student of history, culture, community and food and has written about these topics for over 40 years.

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