Meat balls and more
Supermarkets in Europe are starting to look more and more alike. Products get imported from all over the place, but there are still distinctive differences in what`s on the shop shelves and especially: how it ends up on a plate. Sweden may be best known for Ikea`s meat balls, but there`s more than that to keep the Swedish stomach satisfied. Here`s a quick round up of some people`s favourite dishes.
Julia (19) is a big fan of creamy fish soup. The soup contains salmon, cod and shrimps. It is served with safran and a?oli on top. She also likes meat balls, especially the ones served on Christmas Eve. Wille (20, photo) likes his mum`s macaroni with cheese and Falukorv, a Swedish sausage. He otherwise prefers when his father cooks, with entrec?te as his favourite piece of meat, preferably served with dill, red onion, mustard sauce and potato croquettes.
`I like my mum`s macaroni with cheese and Falukorv`
Wille is obviously not a vegetarian, but many of his friends are. They do not wish to eat meat because of the inhumane treatment of animals, or because they don`t know where the meat comes from. Many will eat it when they know the origin, for example: when the meat comes from a farm they know or when friends have hunted for it in the forest. Others do not want to eat anything that `has a face`. And yet another group calling themselves `vegans` eat hardly anything that has even something to do with animals, excluding milk and eggs from their diets as well. At the same time, I have noticed that many people in Sweden, and also Finland, are intolerant to lactose. I do not know whether there is any direct link with eating or not eating animal products, but the pattern is at least interesting.
Wille tells me that there are very few vegetarian restaurants in Sweden. On the other hand, almost every restaurant serves vegetarian menus so you won`t starve if you don`t eat meat. That may sound funny, but try to be vegetarian in Central Europe and you will soon find out that surviving as a vegetarian is not obvious.
During my stay in Sweden, many people have told me that they miss Swedish milk when they go abroad. The milk here is pasteurised, whereas many other countries mainly serve sterilised milk. Apart from that, Swedes have the choice between four `colours`. `Red` milk is the fattest variant, followed by `green`, `blue` and ending with `yellow`, which Wille calls `a pack of water with a drop of milk in it`. Unlike the Baltics who pack milk in plastic bags, Sweden sells diary products in carton packs. The colours obviously refer to the packaging rather than the milk you poor in your glass. Milk can be served with any meal, hot ones as well as cold ones. Wille likes it especially when the meal itself also contains milk, mentioning pancakes as the most suitable meal to go with milk.
While older generations stick to the three-meals-a-day system with hardly any snacks, kids and young grown-ups are increasingly skipping meals and grabbing unhealthy food inbetween. They consume large quantities of softdrink, sweets and crisps instead of fruit and vegetables. The traditional Swedish food day starts early, around 6 or 7, which is breakfast time. In families, most members have different schedules for the day, so breakfast is not taken together but separately. It may consist of cereals, slices of bread or kn?ckebr?d topped with egg, caviar paste, cheese or jam. The caviar paste is not restricted to wealthy families, it is consumed in the same quantities as others would eat of for example chocolate paste or marmelade. Porridge may also be part of breakfast, but it takes time to cook and therefore loses popularity.
Lunch is usually taken at the place where you are most likely to be around noontime. When you are in school, you stay in school where a hot lunch will be provided from a buffet. Big companies have similar in-house facilities. The alternative is a lunch room in the vicinity. In any of the cases, the lunch is likely to be a collective phenomenon, you will find yourself surrounded by classmates, fellow students, or colleagues. The food is, generally speaking, very decent and it will contain meat or meat replacement, potatoes and/or vegetables, a sauce of some kind. Water or milk are standard lunch drinks, beer and wine are limited to upper-class or business lunches. Over recent years, grabbing sandwiches and getting a coffee at Pressbyr?n has become more popular. It is perceived as a result of the society becoming more stressy and hasty. People can apparently afford to buy quick yet unhealthy food and so they do. Hence the popularity of McDonald`s and pizza places, which are widespread in Sweden.
Unlike lunch, diner nowadays has become another individual project. In families, children tend to be involved in a lot of outdoor activities. While the traditional dinner time in Sweden would be around 18h-19h, it is not uncommon for the children to only take dinner at 20h. The microwave is increasingly popular for preparing dinner, which is usually the second hot meal of the day. The traditional Swedish food, referred to as Husmanskost is becoming less wide-spread. It takes to long to cook a decent meal and there is too little time to enjoy it anyway. Real cooking is now reserved for Friday nights or weekends. Their hasty schedules do not at all mean that they do not enjoy good food. Most do, in the same way French and Italians care about their culinary pleasures.
Swedes traditionally did not often go to restaurants. They did so at special occasions, but would not be very quick to go and eat out spontaneously. Fredrik (28) is a big fan of tournedos, which he will eat in a restaurant with friends or at home with his family. He tells me that most restaurants do not serve Swedish food, because their is no such thing as a real Swedish kitchen. Most popular, and often run by immigrants, are Italian, French or Asian restaurants.
Peter (39) tells me about another excuse for people to eat outside their home: the autumn crayfish parties. These were traditionally organised to celebrate the new crayfish `harvest`, but since an epidemic killed most of the Swedish indigenous crayfish, they are simply imported from elsewhere. The parties still take place in autumn and most Swedes attend at least one such party a year. `It is something you tick off your list`, is what Peter calls it. The parties are often organised by friends and they will invite other friends along. The crayfish is washed down with local snaps.
Beside the generally and Europe-wide accepted food, the Swedes also have some exotic creations that foreigners may think of as simply disgusting. Yeasted herring is one of them. Another one is Pite?-palt: a big dumpling filled with raw pig fat. The thing is boiled and served in competitions on who can eat the most of them. For those who want to take it a little easier: the Southern Swedish Kroppkaka is a more civilised version: just meat surrounded by dumpling.
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