Eating the Swedish way


Smörgåsbord: The Art of Swedish Breads and Savory Treats by Johanna Kindvall, Ten Speed Press, US $17.99, Pp 176, September 2017, ISBN 978-0399579097

Scandinavian countries boast of very rich culinary traditions. One of these great culinary traditions is smorgasbord where a large number of people eat easy-to-make but very delicious treats and drinks. As these treats and drinks are consumed slowly, it helps them socialize with fellow guests. The word smörgåsbord is composed of two words: smörgås (open sandwich) and bord (table). A smörgåsbord is a buffet set up with many small dishes, including bread, bread, and cheese. In Smörgåsbord, Johanna Kindvall says that the foods at a Smörgåsbord range from cured fish to small meatballs and are arranged beautifully at a separate table. Very often these dishes number up to 100 different dishes.

Johanna Kindvall says that the tradition of smörgåsbord can be traced back to 1500s when it was called brannvinsbordet or aquavit table. This specific table was an appetizer table with cured herring, pickles, charcuterie, bread butter, and cheese. During the 1700s more advanced dishes were added to brannvinsbordet. In the 1800s, when the kitchens became more modern, brannvinsbordet was transformed into the smorgasbord and it started becoming common among ordinary people. In the 1900s, Sweden started building its railroad system, train hotels began to serve a smörgåsbord to travelers and locals. On 50-feet/15 meters long tables they arranged extensive dishes around a large silver cooler for different types of infused vodka, known as brannvinskantin. This decorative cooler could hold up to six bottles at a time.

Smorgasbord became world famous when it was served at the Swedish pavilion at the New York World’s Fair. Today, smörgåsbord is mostly enjoyed as the main meal; some parts are served separately as appetizers. Like the original aquavit table, infused vodka is almost always present, and many restaurants proudly provide their own special blend. This tradition is common in other Scandinavian, Nordic and Baltic countries under local names, and each country has its own specialties.

Creating a smörgås is not hard. You just need a good base, preferably a slice of bread, and a few layers of something that pair well together. Homemade bread makes it a little special and is the best way to make a more interesting and satisfying smörgås. Curing your ham may be time-consuming, but it is not complicated and most of the process takes place when you are doing other things. The most used bread is rye bread, which can be thin and crisp, soft and moist, or dense and filling, depending on the baking methods and the rye-to-wheat ratio and, of course, the country.  The bread recipes in smörgåsbord range from surdegskultur/sourdough starter to skållat rågbröd/scalded rye bread to knäckebröd/crispbread. Everyday smörgås recipes range from färskost/fresh cheese to köttbullar/Swedish meatballs to gravid sill/pickled herring to höstsallad/autumn salad.

Smörgåsbord is a much-needed addition to the American culinary literature. It introduces the reader to one of the finest culinary traditions from Scandinavia. Smörgåsbord is for those who love to eat well and experiment with new cuisines. If you often hold dinner parties, Smörgåsbord offers a great solution as to what to cook for those parties. You can also cook Smörgåsbord recipes for yourself one by one. These easy-to-cook and mouthwatering recipes are scrumptious and flavorful. Smörgåsbord also offers a brief and enjoyable historical introduction to Smörgåsbord.