Last Wednesday was Sweden’s national day. I got a surprise text from my friend Risto on Tuesday evening inviting us to a barbecue; probably more to do with the fact that it was a work-free day than it was Sweden’s national day, him being Finnish. This was followed by an even more surprising text on Wednesday morning, informing me that he had a raging fever. The party was cancelled. Then it started to rain.
This is par for the course on Sweden’s national day. Not that Risto has a fever (I don’t think, anyway), but that the party is cancelled. Or, more accurately, the party was never really happening in the first place.
Sweden’s national day is a new phenomenon. It marks the date that one of the nation’s most influential kings, Gustav Vasa, was crowned, but was only declared a public holiday relatively recently. There is no long tradition of celebrating the 6th of June, unlike, say, midsummer.
On neighbouring Norway’s national day (17th May) the entire nation goes crazy. They party all day long, regret it the day after, and spend the rest of the year planning the next one. In Sweden, no one is really sure what to do.
We went into town, wandered around a bit, got rained on, ate a salad and came home. In the evening, in homage to the hot and sweaty Risto, I grilled some barbecue-marinated chicken and served it up with grilled haloumi cheese and a tomato and mint salsa.
If Swedish National Day was a school report, I think “could try harder” would be the teacher’s comment.
With that in mind, as I sat on Wednesday night with my glass of celebratory sparkling French chardonnay (I know, not even champagne), I decided to serve Sweden a modicum of justice; in the food department, at least.
I began to draw up a mental list of great Swedish food; the food that I was once wowed by, as a newly imported Brit, but now often overlook; classic Swedish cuisine that, if done well, is as good as any French or Italian counterparts; the kind of food that most Swedes take for granted (and is more often than not served as inferior, quick-fix dinners); the kind of food that should feature heavily on every Swede’s national day menu.
For what it’s worth I came up with a top list: my top ten of Swedish classic dishes. Here they are in all their glory, and in no particular order. I will endeavor to cook them more often. I will endeavor to give you the recipes, so you can try them at home.
I hope you will.
Essentially minced veal mixed with cream, coated in breadcrumbs and pan-fried. Absolutely delicious
More mince, this time beef and pork, wrapped in savoy cabbage leaves and braised in stock.
Lingon berries grow wild all over Sweden (we have loads in our garden) in late summer, early autumn. The little red berries are an essential accompaniment to many Swedish dishes. Many eat them as a jam or jelly, but I think they are best mixed well with sugar to make a sort of preserve. Goes a treat with pork dishes, herring and Wallenbergare.
Salted belly of pork and onions, fried with spices, wrapped in potato dough and poached: a peasant dish worthy of a King.
Not to everyone’s taste (in fact to pretty much no one’s) these sour, salty, pungent fermented (not rotten) herrings take some getting used to. I recommend opening the tin they come in outdoors, because of the stench, then eating them in small amounts (almost like a condiment) with crisp bread, boiled potato, sour cream and raw onion. Follow with ice-cold beer. Lovely stuff.
Nothing says Swedish summer lunch more than this lovely dish of salmon marinated with dill and lemon.
Swedish sausages don’t come high on my list of foods to die for, but isterband is an exception. Coarsely ground, slightly smoked and almost sour (in a good way), the best come from the south of Sweden.
A stew of meat, carrots, parsnips and dill bouillon, this is a perfect summer/autumn crossover dish. You can make it with lamb, but I think it’s best with veal shoulder.
A true winter dish of rich beef slow-cooked with stock, bay leaves, cloves and all spice. Just what you need when it minus 20 outside.
Beer-braised beef with potatoes, all spice and onions: another winter warmer.
Thank you Gustav Vasa; thank you Sweden.