Ok, christmas is only a few days away and we thought it might be the right time to go through what you might find at a classic Swedish Christmas Smorgasbord or Smörgåsbord as it is spelled in Swedish. So here it is, a full guide to the Swedish Christmas Food.
First thing first, the Swedish christmas food is called Julbord, that translates to christmas table. It’s basically a smorgasbord with a few dishes that is only available during christmas. The julbord is available in many restaurants in Sweden from the end of november until christmas eve. The food served at restaurants is more or less the same as what people eat in their homes on christmas eve.
About our guide to Swedish Christmas Food
So this guide covers the most common dishes served at home and in restaurants today, we will leave the history about the julbord for another day and focus on what is served now. There are some variations depending on where in Sweden you’ll find yourself and there is always exceptions. At restaurants there is of course more dishes available than what you would normally serve at home.
The eating order
A julbord begins with cold fish dishes, moves on to cold meats, then the hot plates followed by cheese and dessert. Let’s take a closer look at each section but first we need something to drink.
What to drink to Swedish christmas food
Glögg – Glögg or mulled wine is not served to the actual food but mostly served as a drink before or after the dinner. We have a great post all about glögg that you can read here.
Beer – The goto drink for any traditional Swedish food is beer and christmas food is no exception. Regular lager beer or a darker christmas beer works good. If you want to check out some cool looking christmas beer you can have a look at this list.
Julmust – Julmust is a non alcoholic drink that anyone who is driving or children usually drink. The taste is somewhere in between Coca-Cola and Root Beer. To read more about julmust you can check out a seperate post all about it here.
Akvavit – No christmas without akvavit, or any tradition in Sweden actually. Akvavit or snaps is a shot of vodka that have been infused with herbs and spices. Regular flavors are dill, cumin, coriander seeds and fennel. To learn more about akvavit and to learn how to make your own you can head here.
Cold fish dishes, bread, salads – first serving
First you start off with the cold fish section, I’ve included some salads here as well.
Bread – Bread and butter is of course served. Hard crisp bread called knäckebröd and vörtbröd are the most common ones. Vörtbröd is a sweet soft bread with raisins. Besides butter there is also some hard cheeses available.
Pickled herring – Pickled herring can be made in a huge range of ways and they are all available at the christmas dinner. Even some you might not be able to imagine. I’ve been to restaurants where more than 15 varieties have been available and with flavors like Thai Curry.
But there are a few you can always expect. The löksill or onion herring and herring in mustard sauce are the two most common varieties. There is also boiled potatoes served to go with the herring.
Salmon – Salmon also come in a number of ways, not as many as with the herring but at least one or two but it can be a lot more, especially in parts of Sweden where salmon is traditionally eaten. Expect to find cold smoked salmon, gravlax and hot smoked salmon at least.
Other seafood – There can be many other types of fish or seafood served. Examples are smoked eel, smoked mackerel, creamy shrimp salad or skagen as it is called in Sweden, herring salad and many more.
Eggs – Boiled eggs with fish roe, mayonnaise and shrimps in different ways are common. Expect at least one or two different flavors.
Salads – There are two mayonnaise based salads that are common, beetroot salad and mimosa. The beetroot salad is just pickled beetroots combined with mayonnaise. Mimosa salad is a pickled fruit salad. Potato salad can also be served.
Cold meats – second serving
Cold meats is the second serving, here any cold meat imaginable can be served, they all fall under one of these categories.
Christmas ham – The Swedish christmas ham is served cold. It’s a salted boiled ham that is then gratinated with mustard and breadcrumbs on top. You eat it as a cold cut or with extra mustard and bread.
Cold sausages – There are not a rule on what sausages and salamis that are being served but there is always at least one or two available.
Liver paté – Liver paté is always there, served either on its own or with pickled cucumber or beetroots. Also more southern European style patés can be served.
Smoked meat – Smoked meat is a big thing as well and it has a wide range. There is no must smoked meat but some should be served. The selection is often regional with more game in the north and more lamb further south. Things you might be served are lamb leg, venison heart, reindeer, beef.
Other cold meats – non smoked cold meats is also available in abundance, roast beef, turkey breast, beef and pork can be served.
Hot plates – third serving
Meatballs – Meatballs is a classic and a must have. During christmas they are never served with sauce and they are often a little bit smaller than the regular ones.
Prinskorv – translates to prince sausage and is a small smoked sausage, like a hot dog but half the size, but way tastier.
Jansons frestelse – this is also a must. This is like a creamy potato gratin which is flavored with pickled Swedish anchovies. The potatoes is not sliced but shredded and there is also some onions in.
Ribs – Thick pork ribs, served roasted with mild flavors.
Kale – is called grönkål in Sweden. This means green cabbage, the cabbage is shredded, boiled and then cooked with cream and syrup. Often the cabbage is bought frozen and parboiled in water or sometimes meat stock. Grönkål is mostly served on the Swedish west coast.
Red cabbage – Red cabbage is the most common variety of warm cabbage served. It’s shredded red cabbage that is boiled with vinegar, apples, onion, sugar or syrup. Here the recipes can be altered in many ways and the flavor depend accordingly. There is also red cabbage available to buy that is ready to heat.
Brown cabbage – Brown cabbage or brunkål as it is called in Sweden is made from fresh white cabbage. It is boiled with syrup, beef or pork stock and some soy. It is very common in Skåne, the most southern part of Sweden.
Pork sausage – A big boiled pork sausage. Served in its broth and eaten with mustard.
Lutfisk – Lutfisk is not that common anymore but it is a bit special so I chose to leave it in anyway. Lutfisk is a dried fish, similar to the Spanish bacalao. It is boiled and served with potatoes, white cream sauce, green peas, allspice and mustard. This could also be served as a main course on its own during the holidays.
Omelet – Omelet is also common to make. You make it either in the oven or in a pan and then the omelet is covered with a creamy stew, the most common ones are creamy mushrooms or seafood like crayfish or shrimps and dill.
Cheese – fourth serving
Cheese is always available but doesn’t need to be served as a serving on its own. If you eat christmas dinner at a restaurant you can expect the cheese but not always in people’s homes.
Blue cheese – some sort of blue cheese is served, Stilton, Roquefort or some Swedish type of blue cheese.
Cheddar – Swedish cheddar cheese, this is also served with the bread. Swedish cheddar is very similar to English cheddar and can come with many different flavors like port wine or whisky.
Other cheeses – There can be any dessert style cheese served like Brie, Chevre and Camembert.
Ginger snaps – Ginger snaps doesn’t have to be served at the actual meal but is often served before or after the meal. A recent trend is to eat ginger snaps or pepparkakor with blue cheese which is a great combination. We have a full article all about pepparkakor here for more on this popular cookie.
Dessert – fifth serving
A mix of candy and some more regular desserts are available but the traditions are less strict, you can almost serve anything sweet that you like. However there are some classics.
Ris ala Malta – A sweet cold rice porridge served with a red berry sauce. Rice is boiled with cream and milk and flavored with vanilla and cinnamon. Then whipped cream is added to make into a creamy cold rice porridge. This sounds kind of disgusting but it is very tasty. Sometimes there is oranges or mandarins added to the porridge.
Knäck – Knäck is a Swedish toffee, syrup, cream and sugar is boiled and then poured into small paper cups and eaten as a candy. Extra flavors can be added and there is often chopped almonds on top of the knäck.
Nuts – Nuts in the shell, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds and maybe some other kinds of nuts. Each guest has to break their own using a nutcracker.
Fruit – fresh fruit, oranges, mandarins and apples are the most common ones.
Cheesecake – This is not a cream cheese cake. This cake is done by separating milk the same way cheese is made and turning it into a cottage cheese. This is then mixed with almonds, cream and egg and baked to a cheesecake or ostkaka as it is called in Sweden.
The cake is served slightly warm with whipped cream and jam. Ostkaka is not a tradition everywhere, the most common regions where it is served is Småland in the south of Sweden and Hälsingland in the middle of Sweden.
Marzipan – Marzipan is a big thing all through christmas. You can get all sorts of fun marzipan figures like marzipan pigs and santas.
Ice chocolate – ice chocolate or ischoklad is a super sweet candy made from coconut fat and chocolate. Can be homemade but is often bought.
Polka – Polka candy, candy canes or as they are called in Sweden polkagris (polka pig) are common during christmas. This hard peppermint candy is traditionally made in Gränna in the south of Sweden. In Gränna you can visit many stores that are handcrafting polkagrisar and each year a world championship in polka making are held there.
Lussekatter – Saffron buns or lussekatter is a big part of christmas and especially on St Lucia Day. So they are not a given on the julbord but they might show up. You can read more about lussekatter and how they are made here.
Ateriet Swedish Christmas Food Series
Here at Ateriet we love the Swedish Christmas Food and we have published some other articles about some of the classic drinks and foods of the Swedish Christmas. All our articles on Swedish Christmas can be found here.