You might think you know all about food in Sweden, but eating at Ikea doesn’t count (even if the meatballs are amazing).
Swedish food is heavily based on meat or fish served with potatoes or bread, and although this might sound too stodgy, you’ll be amazed by the variety of dishes on offer. You’re certainly never likely to go hungry.
Here’s what you can expect to be eating when you visit Sweden.
Food in Sweden
Traditional, everyday meals in Sweden are called husmanskost. Let’s look at a few.
Sweden’s most famous meat dish is the humble meatball. Most restaurants in Sweden should offer a tastier variant than Ikea, and they’re usually served with potatoes, brown sauce, and lingonberry jam.
Hash (not that kind) is also popular, offering diced and fried meat, onions, and potatoes, and often served with fried or boiled eggs. Falukorv is sliced baloney fried and served with mashed potato, while Kroppkakor is a potato dumpling stuffed with diced pork.
You’ll find a wide range of sausages on offer in Sweden, with blood pudding being a particular favourite. Variations on a hot dog (often involving mashed potato) are commonly available as fast food.
A traditional dish eaten on Thursdays is pea soup with diced pork, followed by thin pancakes. This dates back to medieval times, and most lunch restaurants in Sweden will offer it on a Thursday.
Sweden has almost 2,000 miles of coastline, meaning fresh fish is available across the country.
Crayfish is popular, particularly in August, and visiting Sweden is also a good chance to try caviar as the cod roe variant here is significantly cheaper than you’d expect.
Pickled herring is widely eaten, available in lots of different sauces and usually eaten with bread and/or potatoes. Gravlax is a cold appetiser of thin salmon slices cured in salt, sugar, and dill.
If you’re feeling really adventurous, you could try surströmming, considered one of the most revolting foods in the world! It’s fermented herring, crammed into tin cans that often bulge and almost burst with foulness. It’s only ever eaten outdoors because the smell is so atrocious. Fancy it?
This deserves its own section, as Sweden is home to a huge variety of bread. A couple to look out for are tunnbröd, a thin wrap-style bread, and knäckebröd, a hard loaf. Bread is usually served as simple sandwiches with thin slices of meat and/or cheese.
You can also smear it in caviar, liver paté, or soft whey butter (sweeter than the butter you might be used to).
As you’d expect from a European country, Sweden is home to a wide range of pizza, pasta, and kebab restaurants.
Be warned: Swedes can put some weird stuff on their pizzas. Look out for raisins, curry, peanuts, honey, duck, and coleslaw. They’re probably doing it just to freak you out.
You’ll also find plenty of sushi and Thai restaurants in Sweden, as well as the ubiquitous McDonald’s and Burger King fast food places.
Vegetarian food in Sweden is pretty easy to come by, especially in major towns and cities, although it will be a lot easier if you eat fish.
Many potato-based dishes can be adjusted to be made vegetarian friendly, and there’s a huge range of hard cheese in Sweden. Otherwise, as is often the case, it might be pizza and pasta places to the rescue if you’re eating veggie in Sweden.
The Swedish are incredibly fond of their pastries, so travellers with a sweet tooth will not be disappointed. Pastries and cookies like bondkakor, hallongrottor, and semla are usually cream-filled and doused in sugar.
So fond are the Swedish of their desserts that every year they celebrate Fettisdagen (Fat Tuesday), the day before lent fasting begins, where everybody stuffs themselves with semla, a sweet roll loaded with cream.
Drink in Sweden
If you’re a hard drinker, you’ll feel at home in Sweden, but there’s also a massive coffee culture if you’re alcohol free – though Swedish coffee packs a punch all of its own.
The minimum drinking age in Sweden is 18, although some shops and bars won’t serve anybody under 20 years old.
Alcohol in Sweden is expensive, and stronger drinks can only be bought over the counter at state-owned shops called Systembolaget. These are open limited hours during the week (10-6 Mon-Weds, 10-7 Thurs-Fri) and only open between 10-3 on Saturday over the weekend. They’re well-stocked with a wide range of beverages, but will not serve anybody under 20 years old.
You’ve probably got horribly drunk on Absolut Vodka once in your life, so it would be wrong not to do the same thing again in its homeland.
You can also try akvavit and brännvin, distilled and seasoned liquors often served in a shot glass with meals. Needless to say these can be incredibly strong, so it’s worth trying to pace yourself.
If you’re after something a little lighter, bars in Sweden usually offer a huge range of beers, from global favourites to local microbrews. Look out for Slottskällans, Nils Oscar, and Dugges Ale & Porterbryggeri, not sold everywhere but well worth tracking down.
The Swedish are one of the highest consumers of coffee in the world, and coffee shops are central to social gatherings. This means it’s easy to get an excellent cup almost anywhere in the country.
Swedish coffee is strong, certainly stronger than its American counterpart, so keep that in mind before you order a second double espresso.
If you’re visiting Sweden at Christmas, sample some Julmust, a stout-like seasonal soft drink. It’s so popular that it’s been known to cut Coca Cola’s sales by 50% over the Christmas period.