The sweet Swedish delicacy called semla helps put Sweden on the map. Photo: Marie-Louise Johansson
Sweden is trying to brand itself as a “the new culinary nation.” Thinking about classic gastronomical countries like France and Italy, it may seem a bit far-fetched to think that Sweden will ever be able to compete on the global food scene.
But looking at the number of internationally successful Swedish chefs and the high standard of Swedish restaurants in general (roadside restaurants excepted), it may not be such a far-fetched idea after all. Especially if you also take into account the high-standard produce that Sweden has access to — from nature as well as from Swedish farms.
The idea behind “the new culinary nation” is to show the world the innovative Swedish cuisine, but having looked into the demand for information about Swedish food I’m not sure that innovative Swedish food is what people in general are interested in.
I had a look at the list of search terms that bring visitors to Sweden.se. Apart from various spellings of “Sweden” and the word for “weather” in different languages, some food terms are pretty high on the list. But it’s not exactly the most revolutionary dishes you find there: “köttbullar” is number 24, “kanelbullar” number 26 and “semla” number 37.
Köttbullar is Swedish for meatballs and they have for some strange reason become the typical example of Swedish food, although a quick look at Wikipedia shows just how many countries have their own types of meatballs.
On the other hand, kanelbullar are probably quite Swedish. It’s a wheat dough bun (bulle) filled with cinnamon (kanel), sugar and butter. But, then again, kanelbullar have been around for ages, so not very innovative either.
Lastly, semla is probably high on the search term list because it’s semla season right now. March 8 is THE semla day (called fettisdagen) this year, which means that it’s the last Tuesday before the 40-day period of fasting that precedes Easter in the Christian calendar. This is the excuse used to eat these sinfully delicious buns filled with almond paste and whipped cream. But — innovative? No, not exactly. It is claimed that semlor started to become popular in Sweden already in 1541.
I did, however, enjoy quite an innovative type of semla the other day. It was a strange hybrid between a kanelbulle and a semla. A kanelbulle was cut in two, and then filled with almond paste and whipped cream just like a normal semla. A bit over the top, if you ask me. So, if that’s innovative, I’ll stick with traditional — any day.
Let’s hope that Sweden’s innovative, new cuisine doesn’t lose track of what’s traditional and good. We found some favorites among Swedish–Ethiopian chef Marcus Samuelsson’s modernized traditional Swedish recipes. Hungry?
P.S. This is probably my last blog entry for quite some time. Next week I’m off on parental leave, and I’ll make sure to eat lots of semlor and use up a fair share of the 480 days off work that my husband and I are entitled to. So, until next time — all the best to all of you!