5 Swedish food mistakes you only make once

Moving to Sweden can be a culture shock, no matter where you come from, whether it's the cold winters, the hatred of small talk or bureaucracy. However, you might not have expected a culture shock in your local supermarket. This article will lead you through the Swedish food mistakes you only make once.

5 Swedish food mistakes you only make once
Fil is sold in the dairy fridges at the supermarket Tand looks a lot like milk. Good with cereal, less good in your coffee. Photo: Maja Suslin / T

1. Adding fil to your coffee

Fil, short for filmjölk, is a fermented milk product somewhere between buttermilk and yoghurt. It can be fruit flavoured or natural, and is often sold in cartons next to the milk in supermarkets. As you can imagine, its location in the supermarket as well as the word mjölk (milk) in the name has confused many who only speak basic Swedish. It’s an acquired taste loved by Swedes, usually eaten with cereal or muesli for breakfast.

If you’re really unlucky, you might even have grabbed the fil in a Swede’s fridge when looking for milk and poured it into your tea or coffee. I wouldn’t recommend it.

Swedish vocabulary: mjölk – milk, filmjölk – fermented milk

2. Putting the wrong kind of anchovies in your Janssons

If you have ever spent Christmas in Sweden, you’ve undoubtedly come across the dish Janssons frestelse – often translated into English as Jansson’s temptation. Janssons is a side dish baked in the oven, made from potatoes, cream and Swedish ansjovis. It’s delicious when cooked correctly, like this recipe in English from Nigella Lawson.

a tin of swedish sprats

Make sure you use mild sprats in your Janssons, rather than salty anchovies. Photo: Leif R Jansson/Scanpix

The Swedish food mistake you want to avoid here is using anchovies instead of ansjovis. Swedish ansjovis – translated as “sprats” in English – are sweeter and milder than anchovies, and using the wrong kind of fish will leave you with a salty, extremely fishy Janssons, as anyone who has made the mistake of using the wrong kind of fish can attest to. Whatever you do, don’t serve this to your Swedish in-laws at Christmas, or they might never forgive you.

Swedish vocabulary: sardeller – anchovies, ansjovis – sprats

3. Finding unexpected liquorice in your pick and mix

For some reason, liquorice is extremely popular in Scandinavia. Visitors from other countries looking to treat themselves to a bag of sweets may be surprised when that unassuming sweet they thought was blackcurrant flavour turns out to be liquorice. Your chocolate bar isn’t safe either – Swedish chocolate brand Marabou has a black salted liquorice flavour – keep an eye out for it if you don’t want an unexpected surprise in your fredagsmys.

Do you love liquorice? Good – Sweden is the country for you. Keep an eye out for saltlakritsglass – salted liquorice ice cream – if you want to test your taste buds.

Swedish vocabulary: lakrits, saltlakrits – liquorice, salted liquorice

4. Buying messmör instead of butter

Beginner Swedish learners may have made this mistake. The Swedish word for butter is smör, so it’s easy to mistake messmör for a type of butter – especially considering it’s kept in the dairy fridges in the supermarket. However, if you were planning to use this in a sandwich or in baking, you’ll be disappointed. Instead of butter, messmör is a type of caramelised soft brown cheese, either made from goat or cow’s milk. It’s usually eaten on bread or toast and is a mix of salt and sweet – definitely an acquired taste!

Swedish vocabulary: smörgåspålägg – bread toppings like cheese, ham or spreads, often eaten for breakfast

5. Not knowing your finpizza from your fulpizza

Ordering a pizza in Sweden is not as straightforward as it may seem. There are two distinct categories of pizza, referred to as finpizza and fulpizza. Finpizza or “beautiful pizza” is the kind of pizza you will be familiar with if you have been to Italy – these pizzas are often served in pizzerias owned by Italians and may feature buffalo mozzarella and tomato sauce made from San Marzano tomatoes imported from Italy.

A typical Swedish-style pizza – complete with pineapple. Italians, avert your eyes. Photo Johannes Cleris/TT

Fulpizza, on the other hand, could not be more different. Fulpizza – roughly translated as “ugly pizza” – is the kind of pizza you can get at the pizzerias in every small Swedish town. These pizzerias are often the Swedish version of the area’s local pub, usually incomplete without a well-stocked bar and a wall of gambling machines. Pizzas ordered in this kind of pizzeria are a far cry from traditional Italian recipes, with common pizza toppings including banana, chips, bearnaise sauce, kebab meat, and even pasta carbonara. A local pizzeria near where I live in Malmö even offers a pizza topped with banana, pineapple, peanuts and curry powder.

As if that wasn’t enough, fulpizza is always accompanied by pizzasallad – a salad made from thinly sliced white cabbage mixed with vinegar, salt and pepper.

Fulpizza is a cuisine in its own right – fantastic when hungover, its unofficial national day is New Year’s Day – but whatever you do, don’t ask for pizzasallad with your finpizza.

Swedish vocabulary: buffelmozzarella – buffalo mozzarella, ananas – pineapple

Are there any Swedish food mistakes you think we’ve forgotten? Let us know in the comments!

Member comments

  1. please, is “Bufala Mozzarella”, with the final ‘a’ because is female, otherwise not very “fin” 😀
    [to be precis in italy we say “Mozzarella di Bufala”]

  2. “banana, pineapple, peanuts and curry powder.”

    I know the pizza place and pizza you’re talking about. I’m not brave enough to try it though. 😐

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The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager’s dream

Although parts of Sweden are still under snow at this time of year, spring is in full swing here in Skåne in the south of Sweden. Here are The Local's top tips for what you can forage in the great outdoors this season.

The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager's dream

You might already have your go-to svampställe where you forage mushrooms in autumn, but mushrooms aren’t the only thing you can forage in Sweden. The season for fruits and berries hasn’t quite started yet, but there is a wide range of produce on offer if you know where to look.

Obviously, all of these plants grow in the wild, meaning it’s a good idea to wash them thoroughly before you use them. You should also be respectful of nature and of other would-be foragers when you’re out foraging, and make sure not to take more than your fair share to ensure there’s enough for everyone.

As with all foraged foods, only pick and eat what you know. The plants in this guide do not look similar to any poisonous plants, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry – or ask someone who knows for help.

Additionally, avoid foraging plants close to the roadside or in other areas which could be more polluted. If you haven’t tried any of these plants before, start in small doses to make sure you don’t react negatively to them.

Wild garlic plants in a park in Alnarpsparken, Skåne. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Wild garlic

These pungent green leaves are just starting to pop up in shady wooded areas, and may even hang around as late as June in some areas. Wild garlic or ramsons, known as ramslök in Swedish, smell strongly of garlic and have wide, flat, pointed leaves which grow low to the ground.

The whole plant is edible: leaves, flowers and the bulbs underground – although try not to harvest too many bulbs or the plants won’t grow back next year.

The leaves have a very strong garlic taste which gets weaker once cooked. Common recipes for wild garlic include pesto and herb butter or herbed oil, but it can generally be used instead of traditional garlic in most recipes. If you’re cooking wild garlic, add it to the dish at the last possible moment so it still retains some flavour.

You can also preserve the flower buds and seed capsules as wild garlic capers, known as ramslökskapris in Swedish, which will then keep for up to a year.

Stinging nettles. Wear gloves when harvesting these to protect yourself from their needles. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Stinging nettles

Brännässlor or stinging nettles need to be cooked before eating to remove their sting, although blanching them for a couple of seconds in boiling water should do the trick. For the same reason, make sure you wear good gardening gloves when you pick them so you don’t get stung.

Nettles often grow in the same conditions as wild garlic – shady woodlands, and are often regarded as weeds.

The younger leaves are best – they can get stringy and tough as they get older.

A very traditional use for brännässlor in Sweden is nässelsoppa, a bright green soup made from blanched nettles, often topped with a boiled or poached egg.

Some Swedes may also remember eating stuvade nässlor with salmon around Easter, where the nettles are cooked with cream, butter and milk. If you can’t get hold of nettles, they can be replaced with spinach for a similar result.

You can also dry nettles and use them to make tea, or use blanched nettles to make nettle pesto.

Kirskål or ground elder, another popular foraged green for this time of year.
Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Ground elder

Ground elder is known as kirskål in Swedish, and can be used much in the same way as spinach. It also grows in shady areas, and is an invasive species, meaning that you shouldn’t be too worried about foraging too much of it (you might even find some in your garden!).

It is quite common in parks and old gardens, but can also be found in wooded areas. The stems and older leaves can be bitter, so try to focus on foraging the tender, younger leaves.

Ground elder has been cultivated in Sweden since at least 500BC, and has been historically used as a medicinal herb and as a vegetable. This is one of the reasons it can be found in old gardens near Swedish castles or country homes, as it was grown for use in cooking.

Kirskål is available from March to September, although it is best eaten earlier in the season.

As mentioned, ground elder can replace spinach in many recipes – you could also use it for pesto, in a quiche or salad, or to make ground elder soup.