While Sweden, like other Scandinavian countries, is known for its fish dishes, there are many different flavours, recipes and foods to try. Swedish gastronomy is something special – to be savoured one flavourful meal at a time. From cinnamon buns to pitepalt (meat-filled potato dumplings), here are the most delicious sweet and savoury delights you’ll want to eat again and again in Sweden. Bring an appetite!
While it shares its name with the classic Russian beef-based dish, korv stroganoff is a different beast of a feast altogether. Admittedly, there are certain likenesses – the piquancy of the sauce, seasoned with paprika, the cream and the onions – but that’s pretty much where the similarities end. Instead of beef, this dish uses the uniquely Swedish falukorv (a kind of smoked sausage), chopped tomatoes, a dollop of tomato puree and a sprinkle of chilli. A swirl of single cream at the end gives it a velvety richness, and it’s best served over a mound of hot, fluffy rice.
If you like cake and sandwiches, you’re going to love this dish, which is basically a sandwich cake. After layers of bread, often filled with either eggs or prawns in mayonnaise, have formed the body, the whole thing is then covered with cream cheese spiked with lemon juice, then decorated. And here is where it starts to become fun. Fish roe, cucumber strips, tomato wedges arranged in star formations and olives and herbs could all come into play and adorn the outer layer. The result is a centrepiece-worthy showstopper.
A rich treat to warm the proverbial cockles, kalops is a dish for the deep Swedish winters. Cubes of prime beef are braised with red wine, onion, garlic and carrots until soft and falling apart at the sight of a fork. In many ways, it’s similar to a traditional British or French beef stew, but one key ingredient sets it apart: allspice berries. When dried (you can also use ground allspice – it comes from the same plant), these aromatic little numbers have a punchy, clove-like warmth and take the flavours up a level. Serve with boiled potatoes and slices of pickled beetroot for authenticity.
One for the more adventurous cook, this dish is basically a curry casserole but with a couple of twists. The central ingredient is chicken – all fine so far. Curry powder and a dash of chilli sauce add spice, while milk and cream add richness. Things go a bit off-piste when bacon gets involved – as a salty, crunchy topping. And then there are the salted peanuts, also sprinkled on top before serving. The real wildcard ingredient? Bananas, sliced and added to the chicken curry. Sweet, fruity, salty, creamy, spicy – this recipe’s got a bit of everything.
Comforting and filling, these potato dumplings are a favourite in northern Sweden. Grated potatoes are mixed with flour to make a dough – a bit like gnocchi. A hole is then poked into the middle, and diced or minced pork belly seasoned with herbs and pepper is stuffed inside. The dumplings are then boiled until they bob to the surface; they are then scooped out and served steaming hot with butter, some more salty, crunchy pork belly and sweet and tangy lingonberry jam.
Thinner than yoghurt but thicker than milk, filmjölk is a mysterious liquid. It’s milk fermented with a particular species of bacteria to produce lactic acid and diacetyl from the milk, giving the drink its uniquely sharp, buttery flavour. It’s a bit similar to buttermilk. It’s used in Sweden mostly as an accompaniment to breakfast – on muesli or with cereal or crushed crispbread and fruit. It’s so popular in Sweden that you can buy it in supermarkets in many flavours, from strawberry to honey.
Unknowingly, you’ve probably had this dish before – possibly even at home, for a hangover-busting breakfast. It’s similar to a hash – a fried-until-caramelised combo of potatoes, onions and meat (usually smoked sausage or bacon but sometimes leftover steak, lamb or ham hock). It’s served with a sunny-side-up egg, pickled beetroot (this is a Swedish recipe, after all) and salty, tangy gherkins. If you’re heading off to make yourself some now, you could even chuck in some chopped chives or parsley to add a herby bite.
Best described as a gratin-style creamy potato-and-sprats casserole, Jansson’s frestelse (Jansson’s temptation) is a festive classic. The dish can be served at any time of the year, but Swedes tend to favour it during the Christmas season. If you’re wondering about the curious name, the dish is said to have been named after Pelle Janzon (1844-1889), a Swedish opera singer and celebrated epicurean.
According to Swedes, lingonberries go with everything, and raggmunk is no exception. This potato pancake is fried in butter and usually served with fried pork. It’s eaten typically during the winter months – in Sweden, people prefer not to use newly harvested potatoes – but no one will judge you if they catch you tucking in at another time of the year.
Gravlax (dill-cured salmon) has travelled beyond Sweden to grace tables around the world today. It’s typically served with mustard sauce, which has French origins. A fixture on the traditional smörgåsbord, gravlax is thinly sliced and often comes with cold potatoes and dill. It’s delicious.
August is the month for shellfish and, of course, crayfish, which became an upper-class favourite in the 1500s. This delicacy has been democratised down through the centuries and is now enjoyed as part of a seafood celebration nationwide in the late-summer months, usually as a main course with lobster.
Crispbread, known as knäckebröd in Swedish, was once considered food for paupers, but that hasn’t dented its everyman popularity over the past 500 years. It’s still one of the most common sides served alongside the main course. It can be topped with staples such as cheese and ham, but for Swedes, there’s nothing quite as delicious as eating it with caviar at breakfast.
Especially popular during Sweden’s time-honoured Midsummer festivities, chives and sour cream is perhaps the most popular dish you’ll find on the festive table. It’s the perfect accompaniment to a lunch of cold potatoes and salmon or pickled herring.
Herring fishing has been an occupation in Sweden since the Middle Ages, and in its pickled form, the piscatorial staple is at the centre of the smörgåsbord – the Swedish buffet of meatballs and prinskorv (mini sausages) or cured salmon. Pickled herring takes different flavours – onion, garlic, dill, mustard – well and is often served with potatoes and sour cream (and sometimes boiled eggs).
In a country that lives, eats and breathes seafood, gubbröra (“old man’s mix”) is a tasty classic – an egg-and-anchovy salad. It’s served on a thin slice of dark bread and rolled out routinely during national celebrations. You might be offered it as a starter or a midnight snack.
Created in the late 1950s by chef-restaurateur and national treasure Tore Wretman (1916-2003), skagen toast is now part of the nation’s culinary repertoire, equally popular as a starter in cafes and at home. It’s a piece of sautéed bread topped with prawns, whitefish roe, dijon mustard, mayonnaise and a sprig of dill. It’s Swedish elegance in a mouthful. Skagen is the name of a fishing port in the northern part of Denmark.
With hearty chunks of rimmat fläsk (bacon), ärtsoppa (yellow pea soup) is a nourishing classic – and a university-student staple – that has been warming winter-chilled bellies since Medieval times. Because, historically, the consumption of meat on Fridays was frowned upon for religious reasons, Thursday was always the big night for it, as it still is today – usually as a starter. The custom is to follow it with pancakes dolloped with cream and jam.
Anyone who’s ever been to Ikea will have encountered this porky Swedish favourite. Ideally, you want to hold out for the classic format – “meatballs just like Mom used to make” or home-made – which means visiting Sweden. The recipe varies from region to region. In the north, they don’t use a lot of pork (less fat) in the meatball, while the farther south you go, you’ll find the opposite. Its side dishes – macaroni or mashed potatoes, cream sauce and lingonberries – are as delicious as the main event.
Topped with a bright-pink sugar rose, the prinsesstårta (princess cake) is something to see. The story behind its popularity? It was a much-loved birthday treat made for the daughters of Prince Carl (1861-1951) by their teacher, Jenny Åkerström. Today, the cake makes an annual appearance during the third week of September. If you can’t be in Sweden at that time of year, the prinsesstårta is also popular during other festivals and birthdays.
Saffransbullar (saffron buns) are usually served during the Christmas season, generally from Halloween until New Year’s Day. They’re an essential part of Sweden’s Lucia feast-day celebrations (Luciatåg, 13 December); in the past, this was thought to be the longest night of the year. Another much-loved pastry is the cinnamon bun – a sticky treat offered year-round and something of a habit with morning coffee.
Alex Allen contributed additional reporting to this article.