Local Knowledge: Smorgasbord. What Is It?

Local Knowledge: Smorgasbord. What Is It?

This signature Swedish spread which consists of a lavish spread of hot and cold dishes had Elvis Presley himself craving for more

V. Venkatesan
01 Min Read

“I’m just wild about smorgasbord,” warbled Elvis Presley in his 1966 movie Spinout. “I got a cravin’ for smorgasbord.” The object of The King’s adoration – and manifest gastronomic excess – is Sweden’s signature spread and, for sure, something of a culinary stereotype. The smörgåsbord is traditionally a lavish, 40-dish buffet of hot and cold dishes - from Baltic herring to smoked reindeer - followed by a choice of desserts and coffee. Lexicographic evolutions may have invested that mouthful of a word with many hodgepodge connotations, but in truth the smörgåsbord is anything but a mishmash: in fact, a sense of ritualistic order governs the dining tradition.

It’s customary to begin with sill(herring), prepared in many ways: fried and pickled in vinegar and chopped onion, or marinated in mustard, or with red onion and sour cream. This is usually followed by other seafood: jellied eel, smoked fish, and raw picked salmon. A particular favourite is the gravad lax: salmon marinated in sugar, salt and dill, and served with a cold sweet-and-sour mustard sauce. Diners then proceed to the cold dishes: baked ham or liver paste, accompanied by vegetable salads. Hot dishes, often Swedish meatballs, are next in line, backed up by cheese and crackers, and perhaps a fruit salad.


The Swedes are known to be bullish on potatoes, which are eaten along with meat stews or sliced meat; grilled or baked trout, char or salmon; or herring. The potatoes may be boiled, baked, or sliced with onion and anchovy, then oven-baked with lots of cream.

There’s also usually a selection of types of bread, including sweet dark rye bread, tunnbröd (thin barley crispbread) and knäckebröd, a hard bread made from wheat or rye.

The smörgåsbord reinforces the importance of three distinct flavours in Swedish cuisine: the sour, the salty and the sweet. Rather than compete, the nuanced flavours balance one another. Yet that sense of balance doesn’t always manifest itself in the diners: some kings just went “wild about smorgasbord.”

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