Sweden is a fascinating country with a long history and an ancient topography. Its history as a nation dates back to over a thousand years, while its geography is among the oldest land formations on the European continent.
It may be sandwiched between Finland and Norway on the Scandinavian Peninsula, but Sweden’s land formations include thousands of islands. On the mainland, Sweden is home to beautiful forests, lakes, and a moderate climate.
The Swedish people are ethnically and culturally uniform, developing a long history of cultural traditions and a high standard of living.
Sweden’s culinary culture is as refined as its standard of living, using the lakes, forests, farmlands, and ocean to create a collection of wonderful dishes.
Read on to explore the most popular Swedish food from this beautiful and ancient culture. You’ll discover plenty of mouthwatering dishes, snacks, and sweets.
Where the U.S. has a club sandwich, the Swedes have Smörgåstårta, a multi-tiered savory sandwich cake.
At first glance, you’d think it was a birthday cake, but you’ll be surprised to taste that the frosting is cream cheese, and the garnishes are veggies and smoked salmon.
Smorgastarta consists of light rye bread topped with:
- Cold cuts
The top of the cake has elaborate edible decorations, and I was blown away by the creativity of this savory take on cake.
Originating as a savory meal for miners in the 16th and 17th centuries, Falukorv has since become an integral part of modern Swedish dinners or charcuterie boards.
Falukorv is a Swedish sausage made with a blend of smoked and salted veal, pork, and beef combined with potato starch, onion, and spices.
Sweden has established strict rules to verify the authenticity of Falukorv by stipulating that the meat content be no less than 45% with high-fat content. There are also variations of this sausage for vegetarians.
I think the potato flour as a binding agent and a flavoring agent pairs perfectly with the meat. It’s like eating meat and potatoes in sausage form.
Sweden’s weather may be moderate compared to the harsh winters of Finland and Norway, but it still gets plenty of snowy seasons.
Thus, you can expect plenty of hearty soups in the Swedish diet. One such soup is Ärtsoppa, a simple yet comforting yellow pea soup.
Made with yellow peas, onion, salt, and chunks of pork, Ärstoppa is a thick stew-like soup that’s a one-pot meal usually garnished with a drizzle of mustard.
I love the rich flavor and thick texture of Ärtsoppa. It’s comforting and filling on a cold winter’s evening, and I like to pair it with a thick slice of brown bread.
Another hearty dinner or lunch dish, Kalops is a traditional slow-cooked Swedish beef stew.
Kalops is a Swedish spelling of the English word “collops,” or slices of beef, as the Swedes took inspiration from Britain for this hearty stew.
However, they put a unique spin on it, using local spices and herbs. Kalops consist of thick chunks of beef, as well as:
- Beef stock
- White peppercorn
- Allspice berries
Kalops usually come with a side dish of steamed potatoes that you can mix with the stew.
It’s served with pickled beets. I follow a modern recipe that adds more flavor with the addition of garlic and red cooking wine.
If you’ve ever had a bunch of leftovers in your fridge, you’ve probably thrown them together on a plate to make a haphazard meal.
Pyttipanna is the Swedish strategy for creating a cohesive meal out of leftover food.
It’s a popular dish in all Scandinavian nations. I’d label it a hash of sorts, made by pan-frying onions, diced potatoes, and leftover minced meat like sausage, beef, or pork.
It’s customary to top the hash with a fried egg, pickled veggies, and a condiment.
Born out of necessity, Pyttipanna is now a popular restaurant dish. I love the crunch of the pickled vegetables, which also add a boost of tanginess.
6. Gravlax With Dill Potatoes
Gravlax is an ancient culinary tradition, spawned in the Middle Ages as a conservation method fishermen used to cure and salt their catches.
Gravlax is salted and cured salmon that used to be buried in the sand to age. Now, Swedes submerge the salmon in a salt, sugar, and dill mixture before aging it for up to three days.
Gravlax is a common appetizer or party snack in Sweden. It’s served with a dill and mustard sauce and steamed new potatoes that are also seasoned with dill.
Gravlax has a softer, raw texture compared to the flakier, drier smoked salmon varieties.
7. Blood Pudding
Blood pudding, or Blodpudding, is the Swedish variation of black pudding, a dish of sausage casing stuffed with solidified cow or pig blood, fat, grains, and spices.
Many cultures have a specific variety of blood sausage, but the main ingredients are always blood, fat, and powdered grains like oats or barley.
Swedes tend to add sugar to their blodputdding and serve it with a serving of lingonberry jam and fried bacon. It’s the ultimate savory dish.
In my opinion, it’s a dish for adventurous eaters as it may be hard to get past the black-colored patties on your plate.
8. Jansson’s Temptation
Jansson’s temptation is a popular Christmas and Easter casserole, made with:
- Pickled sprats
Sprats are small oily fish that inhabit the waters around Scandinavia and the Baltic Sea, and I think they taste similar to anchovies.
If you can’t find sprats, you can substitute them for anchovies or herring. Jansson’s temptation uses a similar assembly to scalloped potatoes, stacking thinly sliced potatoes, onions, and fish in a casserole dish, then covering everything in cream, topping it with breadcrumbs, and baking it.
The breadcrumbs add a savory crunch, while the fish adds a high salt content to round out the flavor.
Semla is an iconic Swedish dessert pastry, a cross between a sweet bun and a cream puff.
It’s made with a simple cardamom sweet bread dough that’s stuffed with almond paste, milk, and whipped cream. You’ll see it open-faced or with a breaded top.
Semla is the most common pastry behind the counter at any streetside café in Sweden. Its luxurious almond and cream-filled sweet bread pairs perfectly with a cold brew or espresso.
If I bite into Semla, I’ll get a face full of whipped cream, so I scoop off the layer of whipped cream, using the discarded cream as a dipping sauce or decadent topping to a coffee drink.
10. Toast Skagen
The shrimp salad is known as Skagenrora, hence the name toast Skagen.
The Skagenrora is made of fresh, small shrimp mixed with a blend of:
- Sour cream
I like adding a dash of mustard to add some tang to the creaminess. They’re a crowd-pleaser, and you’ll see them on a typical party platter.
I liken them to an open-faced seafood salad sandwich. I love the brininess of the shrimp over the fishiness of a tuna salad.
Meaning “old man’s mix” in Swedish, Gubbröra is another popular miniature open-faced sandwich snack.
The mix is made with pickled, tinned sprats, hard-boiled eggs, Kalles Kaviar (creamed smoked cod and roe paste), chives, dill, and red onion bound with raw egg yolk.
The mixture gets served atop small rounds or squares of typical Swedish rye bread. If raw egg yolk sounds iffy, modern recipes often substitute it with crème Fraiche or sour cream.
I like to eat Gubbröra as an afternoon snack or serve it alongside toast Skagen as a party appetizer.
12. Korv Stroganoff
Korv stroganoff is the Swedish version of Beef Stroganoff that uses sliced falukorv instead of beef that’s smothered in a tomato cream sauce. It’s a favorite household dinner dish popular with all ages.
It’s prepared by slicing the Swedish sausage into bite-sized squares and frying it up with some onions before combining it with canned diced tomatoes, crème Fraiche, and seasoning with salt and pepper.
I always ate beef stroganoff atop egg noodles, but in Sweden, Korv Stroganoff gets served atop a bed of white rice.
It might be hard to find falukorv outside of Sweden. You can substitute it with bologna for a cost-effective weeknight dinner.
One of the most historic and widespread delicacies in Sweden is Sill, or pickled herring.
Fishing is the main source of food in Sweden as it’s a country composed of thousands of islands.
Pickling is one of the easiest ways to preserve food; thus, pickled herring is a household staple.
Restaurants have their own versions of sill available. Sill is removed from the brine and seasoned with different herbs, garnishes, and condiments.
I eat it with chopped boiled egg and sour cream over a toasted piece of rye bread. You can also make a hearty meal by pairing it with steamed potatoes and salad.
Knäckebröd is another household staple and a type of rye flatbread cracker.
It originated as another form of culinary conservation, baking fresh rye bread into crackers before it starts to grow mold.
Knäckebröd is a common packaged product and accompanies every meal or snack. You can use it as toast in the morning, topping it with sour yogurt and fruit.
You can also use it as the foundation for an open-faced sandwich with slices of cheese and ham, or one of the various creamy seafood or egg salad dishes I’ve listed here.
I love their crispness and subtle rye flavor that goes well with most ingredients.
If you’re from the southern U.S., I’m sure you’re familiar with crawfish boils.
Sweden has its own versions of these seafood feasts, using Kräftor, the Swedish word for crawfish or crayfish.
Much like Southern traditions, Swedes eat Kräftor during the summer months by boiling them in their shells and throwing the cooked fish on a table for partygoers to shell and eat in massive quantities.
Unlike Southern U.S. traditions that use Creole seasoning, corn, and potatoes, Swedes season the Kräftor with dill and often throw shrimp into the pot.
Rye or sourdough bread and quiches are common accompaniments to the fish feast.
While seafood may be an expensive delicacy in many landlocked countries, Sweden’s seafood bounty is limitless, and its cuisine takes full advantage.
Räkmacka, a popular Swedish food, is an open-faced shrimp sandwich with a thick slice of rye or sourdough bread and toppings, such as:
I like to add cucumber and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice for good measure.
I’m not sure why the Swedes are averse to a sandwich with two slices of bread.
They’re either carb-conscious, or they like to pile on the fillings so high that they’d spill out of a handheld sandwich anyway.
Perhaps the most popular and well-known Swedish dish worldwide, Köttbullar are Swedish meatballs.
The wildly popular Swedish furniture store, Ikea, is responsible for Köttbullar’s worldwide fame as they’re sold in the food court.
If you haven’t noticed, Swedes like to keep their food simple, using a few high-quality ingredients.
Therefore, Köttbullar is a simple mixture of beef and pork ground with onion, egg, milk, and breadcrumbs with salt and pepper seasoning.
Swedish meatballs are smaller than Italian meatballs, fried in a hearty portion of browned butter, and served with mashed potatoes or lingonberry jam.