1. Inlagd sill – pickled herring
Sweden brought the world meatballs which we all know are among the yummiest things ever. It also has amazing access to fresh salmon and some of the most delicious cream cakes in the history of pastry. So why is it that pickled herring of all things is at the heart of everySwedish holiday celebration? If you missed trying this soaked-in-vinegar-and-left-to-sit-for-several-days Swedish delicacy over Christmas or at Easter, here’s your third chance in just six months.
Pickled herring (inlagd sill) is basically herring fillets that have been cured in salt and vinegar along with various flavourings, including onion, mustard, garlic, lingonberries and so on. The list is endless. Endless. As in, there is no end to the madness. You must try them all (your Swedish host will make sure you do), after which you must pick your favourite and engage in a vigorous argument with fellow Midsummer revellers about which one is the best. It’s tradition.
2. Jordgubbar – strawberries
The Swedish word for strawberries, jordgubbar, literally means “little earth men”. But what’s odd is not so much the fruit itself, but the Swedes’ unparallelled obsession with it. It’s one of the most popular berries and Swedes stubbornly insist they are the best in the world. Apparently the cold climate and the long summer days are believed to pack in extra sweetness and flavour.
These red, juicy offerings are considered an integral part of Sweden’s Midsummer celebrations, so much so that when the head of the Federation of Swedish Farmers last week warned the unusually chilly summer weather could cause a strawberry shortage he labelled it “a disaster for the Swedish people”.
His strong choice of words is perhaps not as ridiculous as it sounds. The shortage has sent strawberry prices soaring in Sweden this summer – although they’ve still got a long way to go before the reach the whopping 894 kronor a punnet that the year’s first crop of strawberries fetched at an auction back in April.
3. Akvavit – snaps
Take this advice from the expats at The Local: akvavit is the only way you’re going to survive that five-hour Midsummer’s Eve dinner with the in-laws (just remember not to drink and dive).
You’re in luck, though. As soon as pickled herring is served up in Sweden, there will be akvavit (snaps or ‘nubbe’ in Swedish) to accompany the occasion. And as soon as there’s akvavit, there are drinking songs. There are few things more awkward than to lip sync along to a song which you don’t know (and can’t understand), so make sure you learn the lyrics to at least one before you hit those Midsummer parties.
Akvavit is made from a vodka base and a huge variety of herbs and spices, although either dill or caraway must be included by EU decree. However, there are several regional variations and many Swedes make their own.
4. Gubbröra – old man’s mix
Swedes are not big fans of surprises and prefer to lead a life where things happen much as they have in the past few decades. So just like pickled herring and akvavit, gubbröra is another dish that crops up more or less every time Sweden celebrates any kind of holiday, be it Christmas in the depths of winter or Midsummer.
Gubbröra consists of anchovies chopped up with eggs and sour cream. It’s fishy, salty, easy to make, and actually works really well as a starter or a late-night snack.
The name literally translates to “old man’s mix”. It comes from the word ‘gubbe’ which can be used flexibly in pretty much any context: as an endearing term for cute little babies or as a reference to the dirty old men your mother used to warn you about.
5. Nattamat – night snack
Nattamat (also known as ‘vickning’) is a tradition as common at Swedish parties as hugging your host or taking off your shoes. It literally means ‘night food’ and, helpfully, that is precisely what it is. This is the food that your Swedish host serves up in the wee hours of the morning after all that pickled herring and strawberry cake has settled and you’re starting to feel a little peckish.
For obvious reasons (see number three in this list) the nattamat tends to be fat and salty, to combat the imminent Midsummer’s hangover. The Swedes are known for their healthy lifestyle, but apparently on festival days or at least after midnight, those extra calories don’t count. At least that’s what your Swedish friends will tell you as you gorge yourself on nattamat.
Classic dishes include Jansson’s Temptation, sausage sandwiches, or indeed the previously mentioned gubbröra. They are all helpfully washed down with another round of akvavit (with obligatory singing).
By The Local