The most important tip I can give you on Sweden local food, and the only one that will make you elevate from being a tourist to becoming a real traveler immersed in the local culture, is “Stay away from McDonalds“. When visiting Sweden, there is awesome local food to try. Head to the local eateries too, and go where the locals go. For me, the food, wine and and even the water is part of the travel experience.
What to Eat in Sweden
Swedish cuisine is mostly meat or fish with potatoes. Besides the ubiquitous potatoes, modern Swedish cuisine is to a great extent based on bread. Traditional everyday dishes are called husmanskost (pronounced whos-mans-cost). They include: Meatballs (köttbullar), the internationally most famous Swedish dish. Served with potatoes, brown sauce or cream sauce and lingonberry jam. Hash (pytt i panna) consisting of meat, onions and potatoes, all diced and fried. Sliced beetroot and fried or whole boiled eggs are mandatory accessories. Pea soup (ärtsoppa) with diced pork, followed by thin pancakes afterwards. Traditionally eaten on Thursdays since medieval times when the servants had half the day off as it is an easy meal to prepare.
All lunch restaurants in Sweden with any self-respect serve pea soup and pancakes every Thursday. Pickled herring (sill), available in various types of sauces. Commonly eaten with bread or potatoes for summer lunch or as a starter. Virtually mandatory at midsummer and very common for Christmas. Blodpudding, a black sausage made with pig’s blood and flour. Slice it, fry it and eat it with lingonberry jam. Gravlax, a widely known and appreciated cold appetiser made from thin slices of salmon cured in salt, sugar and dill. Falukorv, a big baloney sausage from Falun. Sliced, fried and eaten with ketchup and mashed potatoes.
Sweden has more varieties of bread than most other countries. Many of them are whole-grain or mixed grain, containing wheat, barley, oats; compact and rich in fibre. Some notable examples are tunnbröd (thin wrap bread), knäckebröd (hard or crispbread – might not be an interesting experience, but it is nearly always available), and different kinds of seasoned loaves. Bread is mostly eaten as simple sandwiches, with thin slices of cheese or cold cuts. Some more exotic spreads are messmör (whey butter) and leverpastej (liver paté). Tunnbrödrulle, a fast food dish, consisting of a bread wrap with mashed potatoes, a hot dog and some vegetables.
Kroppkakor Potato dumpling stuffed with diced pork. Ost Hard cheese. Swedes eat a lot of hard cheese. In an ordinary food market you can often find 10 to 20 different types of cheese. The most famous Swedish hard cheese would be Västerbotten, named after a region in Sweden. Julbord Christmas buffet, containing an assortment of hot and cold dishes. The exact contents of the buffet vary between different parts of the country, but common are ham with mustard, various types of herring and salmon, meatballs, hard cheese, sausages, liver pâté, spare ribs, boiled potatoes, rye bread, beetroot, cabbage, and more.
Dark beer and shots of strong spirits are offered to drink, and Julmust might be the non-alcoholic alternative. For desserts, a rice pudding is common. Julbord is offered in December up until Christmas Day in many restaurants . Other Swedish favourites: Soft whey butter (messmör) with a sweetish, hard-to-describe taste. Also popular in Norway. Caviar, not the expensive Russian or Iranian kind but a cheaper version made from cod roe, sold in tubes and used on sandwiches.
The most famous brand is Kalles Kaviar. Julmust, stout-like Christmas soft drink that every year annoys The Coca-Cola Company in Sweden by lowering Coke’s sales figures by 50%. Crayfish (kräftor), hugely popular around August, when Swedes feast on them at big crayfish parties (kräftskivor). Silly paper hats and lots of alcohol included. Semla, a cream-filled pastry eaten around Fat Tuesday. Rabarberkräm/Rabarberpaj rhubarb-cream or rhubarb-pie with vanilla sauce. Other cakes or pies on fresh blueberries, apples, or just strawberries with cream or ice cream are also very popular in the summer. Spettekaka A local cake from Skåne in south Sweden, made of eggs, sugar, and potato starch. Smörgåstårta Smörgåstårta A cold Sandwich layer cake, often with salmon, eggs, and shrimps. (Also often with tuna or roast beef). Swedish people often eat it at New Year’s Eve, or birthdays and parties.
Polkagris A thicker, straight variant of the candy cane, originating from the town of Gränna. The handmade confectionery comes in a wide assortment of flavours. Lösgodis Bulk confectionery, sold by weight, is one the most popular types of candy in this sweet loving nation. A choice of chocolate, sours, sweet and salt sauces are always offered. Swedish biscuits and pastries like bondkakor, hallongrottor, bullar or cakes like prinsesstårta are widely popular. It used to be a tradition to offer guest 7 different cookies when invited over for coffee. If you have a sweet tooth you should try chokladbollar, mazariner, biskvier, rulltårta, lussebullar; the list goes on… As in most of Europe, inexpensive pizza and kebab restaurants are ubiquitous in Swedish cities, and are also to be found in almost every small village. Swedish pizza is significantly different from Italian or American pizza and American-style pizza is usually sold as “pan pizza”. Sushi and Thai food are also quite popular. Burger chains are Max McDonald’s and Burger King.
In parts of Norrland it is customary to eat hamburgers with a knife and fork. Another type of fast food establishment is the gatukök (street kitchen), serving hamburgers, hot dogs, kebab and tunnbrödrulle (see above). Highway diners, vägkrogar, have generous meals, but might be of poor quality, greasy and overpriced. If you have time, a town centre restaurant is preferable. Gas stations offer decent packed salads and sandwiches. You can get a “cheap” lunch if you look for the signs with “Dagens rätt” (meal of the day). This normally costs about 50-120 SEK (5,50-13,30) and almost everywhere includes a bottle of water; soft drink; or light beer, bread & butter, some salad and coffee afterwards. Dagens rätt is served Monday to Friday.
The world famous furniture retailer IKEA has stores at the outskirts of 15 Swedish cities. These have cheap diners, which offer basic Swedish meals for as little as 40 SEK, and the store exit usually has a café selling hot dogs for as little as 5 SEK. (They hope that you spend some money on shopping too.) Expect crowds in rainy weather. If you’re on a tight budget, self-catering is the safest way to save your money. Vegetarian and vegan lifestyles are accepted in cities, less common in the countryside but you should be able to find a falafel in any medium-sized town.
What to Drink in Sweden
Coffee Swedish consumption of coffee (kaffe) is among the highest in the world. Drinking coffee at home or in a café, an act called fika, is a common Swedish social ritual, used for planning activities, dating, exchanging gossip or simply spending time and money. Swedish coffee is usually stronger than American coffee – but still not the espresso of France or Italy. Italian varieties (espresso, cappuccino, caffe latte) are available at larger city cafés.
One coffee will cost you around 25 SEK ($3,5/2,8). Alcoholic beverages The most famous Swedish alcoholic beverage is Absolut Vodka, one of the world’s most famous vodkas. There are several brands of distilled, and usually seasoned, liquor, called brännvin or akvavit. When served in a shot glass with a meal it is called snaps (not to confuse with the German “Schnapps”). It is part of custom to drink snaps at midsummers eve and at Christmas. Sweden does produce some outstanding beers, and have in the recent years seen a rise in the numbers of microbreweries.
If you are looking for great local beer keep an eye out for breweries like “Ocean”, “Slottskällans”, “Nils Oscar”, “Närke kulturbryggeri”, “Jämtlands ångbryggeri” and “Dugges Ale- & Porterbryggeri”. You may have some trouble finding them, unless you go to a bar specialized in providing uncommon beer, or one of the well stocked “Systembolag”, but you will find a few of them in every major city. Despite this the most common beer is the rather plain “international lager”.
The beer you get in normal food shops is called folköl and has 2.8 or 3.5% alcohol. You are able to find a variety of different brands of beers in food stores, Swedish, English and even Czech beer. Sweden has a seasonal beer for Christmas, julöl. It is sweeter than normal beer and usually seasoned with Christmas spices, mostly it is of the beer type ale. All Swedish breweries make at least one type of julöl. Wine is popular, but the Swedish production is very modest. Drinking alcohol in parks is generally legal, if notifications don’t state the opposite.
Drinking on public transport vehicles is prohibited, with the exception of trains or boats serving alcohol in a bar. Systembolaget Ordinary beer and lager is readily available in supermarkets at a reasonably low price. But access to strong alcoholic beverages is, as in Norway, Finland and Iceland, quite restricted and expensive. The only place to buy strong alcohol including starköl (beer which contains more than 3.5% ABV) over the counter is in one of the state-owned shops called Systembolaget (also sometimes referred to as simply “Systemet” or “Bolaget”). They have limited hours of operation, usually 10-6 Mon-Wed, 10-7 Thurs-Fri, and 10-3 on Saturdays, with long queues on Fridays and Saturdays. Closing time at Systembolaget is more than rigid no matter how long the queue outside the store is, something the Swedes themselves joke about. They are always closed on Sundays.
Most shops are of supermarket style. The assortment is very good, and the staff usually has great knowledge. Systembolaget does not serve customers under the age of 20 and will most likely ask for identification from younger looking customers. This also applies to any companions, regardless of who is making the actual purchase. Beverages are heavily taxed by content of alcohol, some liquor is very expensive (vodka is around 300 SEK a liter at Systembolaget), but the monopoly has brought some perks – Systembolaget is one of the world’s largest bulk-buyers of wine, and as such gets some fantastic deals which it passes on to consumers. Mid-to-high-quality wines, and exclusive spirits, are quite often cheaper in Sweden than in the country of origin; sometimes even cheaper than if you were to buy the wine directly from the vineyard. This does NOT apply to low-quality wines, however, due to the volume-based tax on alcohol.
All brands are treated equally and there is no large-pack discount. Therefore, microbrews cost largely the same as major brands, and might be a more interesting choice. Beverages are not refrigerated. Bars and nightclubs The minimum age requirement is 18 to get into bars and to buy regular (3.5% ABV or less) beer in shops (to prevent teenage drunkenness, some shops have decided to enforce a minimum age of 20 for 3.5% beer as well), and 20 in Systembolaget. Many bars have an age limit of 20, but some (especially in city centres on weekends) have age limits as high as 23 or 25, but this rule is arbitrarily enforced. Bring passport or other ID.
Some posh clubs mandate an arbitrarily enforced dress code; vårdad klädsel is casual dress. For male guests, proper shoes (not sneakers or sandals), long-legged trousers (not blue jeans) and a dress shirt is almost always good enough. Age or dress rules are not rigid, and doormen have the right to accept or reject any patron for any reason other than gender, sexual orientation, creed, disability or race. Though illegal, a few nightclubs are infamous for rejecting “immigrants”, which usually means anyone with hair and skin darker than the average Swede, on pretexts such as “members only,” “too drunk,” or “dress code”; men of Middle Eastern or African origin are most often subjected to this.
You might avoid this problem by dressing properly and behaving well. Sweden has enforced non-smoking in all bars, pubs and restaurants, save outdoor areas such as terraces, and designated smoking rooms (where drinks are not allowed). The prices at clubs and bars are often expensive compared to other countries: a large beer (half a litre) usually costs 45-55 SEK (US$7), but many low-profile bars advertise stor stark (0.4 L of draft lager) for as little as 25 SEK. A long drink costs around 60-110 SEK. For that reason many Swedes have a small pre-loading party (“förfest”) before they go out to get buzzed before they hit the town and go to nightclubs. Large clubs can require a cover charge, usually about 100 SEK (or more at special performances). They usually offer a rubber stamp on your hand so you can re-enter as you like without having to pay again. Be aware that you often have to stand in line to get into a bar or a club.
Many places deliberately make their customers wait in line for a while, since a long queue indicates a popular club. At the very fanciest places in the major cities, the queue is often replaced by a disorganized crowd, and the doorman simply points to indicate who gets in and who does not. Most bars that close at 01:00 or earlier, will have a free entry policy. Most bars and clubs that remain open until 03:00 will charge an entrance fee. Some clubs in the larger cities remain open until 05:00. Their entrance fee will usually be around 200 SEK (~US$28.00. The club’s wardrobe (or coat-checking) fee is often mandatory, usually around 20 SEK. Authorised security guards carry a badge saying Ordningsvakt, see #Stay safe. The club’s own doormen carry a badge saying Entrévärd. Though not allowed to use force, they should be taken seriously.
Moonshine (hembränt) is popular in the countryside. It’s said to be illegal thought that’s a misunderstanding from being illegal to sell (or give to people under age of 18, as with all alcohol). In Sweden you’re not allowed to make alcohol for your own consumption. Though some shipments can be as good as legal vodka, most are disgusting, so you should stick to the real thing. In some Swedish cities (generally the larger ones), clubs are quite often arranged illegally and underground outside of the city centre. This is because of the notoriously strict liquor and nightlife laws. Alcohol taxes are high, clubs and bars are legally required to also have a kitchen in order to serve alcohol, clubs and bars must close at certain times and always employ a number of certified security guards in accordance with the closing time and guest capacity.
These aspects contribute to the development of underground drinking cultures in several cities. These are, naturally, not listed and often known by word of mouth or on-line community basis. Generally, such clubs play techno, house and other electronic music, so ask locals for advice in legal clubs that play the same genre. The Swedish word for clubs arranged illegally is svartklubb (literally black club). With the help of social media such as Facebook a new form of “svartklubb”, sometimes referred to as “gråklubb” (grey club) has emerged in larger cities. To enter such venues, you must acquire a free membership for each event earlier the same day, or the day before the event – this is often done by email, contact information is usually distributed on “Event pages” on social media sites. During summer open air raves or “skogsfest” (forest parties) is arranged in the outskirts of larger cities, locations for each event is usually distributed through a mailing list or on Facebook event pages. Most such events serve no food or beverages.
Other local foods, or drinks that you recommend? Please add and comment.