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Food, Dining, & Drinks in Sweden

Culinary Influences

Swedish Food - Herring
Herring

Sweden's diet is based on their location and climate. Due to short growing seasons and limited fresh produce, the people have learned numerous preservation techniques and these techniques are still used today in many dishes. Having a long coastline, Sweden relied heavily on seafood along the coasts for protein, while inland there was a heavier reliance on wild game, although many sheep and cattle were primarily used for their dairy products. These meats, along with berries and other produce that could be grown during the short summers were often times preserved using numerous methods, including salt curing and canning.

Over time, the Swedes experienced numerous outside influences, the most lasting coming from their time as a trading center in the Hanseatic League and their later contact with the French. Their time in the Hanseatic League brought in a number of German foods as sauerkraut became more popular, while the French introduced new cooking techniques as well as new ingredients from the Americas, including the potato.

In modern day Sweden, outside influence has taken stronger hold as ethnic foods from around the world are now common. Sushi, pizza, and hot dogs are common and both the kebab and falafel are growing in popularity as street foods. Today there are probably more foreign ethnic restaurants than there are local eateries.

Staple Foods

Bread: very common in the country, generally sweeter than most breads elsewhere
Potato: generally a side dish or an integral ingredient in the dish

Regional Variations & Specialties

Artsoppa: pea soup generally served on Thursdays with pancakes and herring
Pytt i Panna: diced meat with onion and potatoes usually served with a fried egg and red beets
Sami Country: this area eats more reindeer meat than in the south
Skagerrak Coast: shrimp and lobster are specialties of the region
Smorgasbord: a buffet-styled meal that generally includes seafood, cold meats, liver paste, vegetables, meatballs, and cheese, but can include just about anything
Surstromming: fermented herring

Dining Etiquette

Swedish Food - Swedish meatballs
Swedish meatballs

Although you most likely won't be invited to a local's home for a meal in Sweden, social protocol is similar both in public and in the home. The Swedes are punctual so arrive on time and shake hands with everyone present; make eye contact with those you are greeting.

After arriving, wait to see if your host has assigned a seat to you and wait to be seated until everyone else sits. Meals may begin only after a toast so wait until you know if the host will be giving a toast or at least don't eat until the host invites you to begin. If you have alcoholic drinks, you should wait to take your first sip until after your host gives a toast and says "skol."

Once the meals begins, try everything offered and do finish all the food you take, although many of the communal plates will have food remaining at the end of the meal so don't take the last of any communal dish. When you eat use the continental style (knife in the right hand, fork in the left), keep your hands in sight by resting your wrists on the table, and indicate you are finished by placing your fork and knife together on your plate. Generally, the guest of honor will thank the host or hostess once everyone is finished eating.

At a restaurant, the inviter pays for everyone and the server can be summoned by making eye contact (but don't wave as this is rude). If you are the guest, be sure to write or call the following day to thank your host for his or her generosity.

In Sweden, most bills will include a service charge of about 10%. Generally you want to round up the bill so you leave an addition tip of about 5% and up to 10% for exceptional service.

Drinks

Sweden, like the rest of Scandinavia begins their days with coffee and this is drunk in incredibly high quantities in Sweden. Other non-alcoholic drinks are also popular, including tea, soft drinks, juices, and cider.

Sweden's alcohol scene begins with vodka, as they are a large producer of the liquor and it is common in the country, but shrinking in popularity. Aquavit or schnapps is another good traditional drink as is brannvin, a liquor distilled from grain or potatoes, of which vodka is included, although numerous varieties and qualities exist. Again, these drinks are shrinking in popularity as beer, and to a lesser extent, wine are gaining a growing market share.

Generally speaking, the tap water is safe to drink in Sweden, but check with locals for any particular regional differences. Also, many people may have troubles adjusting to the local tap water, as it will most certainly be different from what your system is used to.

This page was last updated: March, 2013