15 Most Popular Swedish Christmas Dishes
Swedish people do not celebrate Christmas day, gathering instead on Christmas Eve, for julbord a great smorgasbord or banquet, with starters (sillbord), sumptuous main courses and delicious desserts (we’ll get into the details soon).
Whether it’s a work Christmas party, or at home with family and friends, the julbord is the central part of our Christmas food, and an absolute must if you’re ever visiting Sweden around Christmas time.
Sweden is a long, narrow country, so the gastronomic culture differs between the south, middle, and the north, but what we have in common is our love for all types of holiday food, especially potatoes, fish, game, and red meats. It almost impossible to just pick 15 favorite dishes, but I will give it a try! Here we go…
The most beloved Swedish delicacy, eaten as an everyday treat with gravy and potatoes. Eaten throughout the year, they are also a must during the Swedish holiday season, when these bite-size balls are specially flavored with allspice and nutmeg. One of the most popular side dishes, for sure.
Janssons frestelse is a relatively new dish created by the Swedish opera singer Per Janzon at the end of the 1800s or by the Swedish home cock Elvira Stigmark after seeing a movie of same name in the year 1928. No matter who invented it, we are very thankful!
Juliennes potatoes, onions, and anchovies are mixed in an ovenproof dish with salt and pepper, milk and cream, and finally topped with breadcrumbs before being baked to golden in the oven.The word frestelse means temptation, and that is the best way to describe this delicious dish.
3. Christmas Ham
The classic Swedish Christmas ham is a joint of salted pork cooked in brine, dried and cooled, the fat then topped with mustard and breadcrumbs, and finally decorated with cloves, and baked in the oven until golden. The juices are usually saved for a dipping pot for bread (dopp i grytan), or used as part of a side dish of stewed kale.
Lussekatter are sweet wheat S-shaped pretzel buns flavored with saffron (which gives them their distinct yellow color), and topped with a couple of raisins. Made specially for Christmas, they are traditionally eaten from December 13, the celebration of St. Lucia, until the end of the holidays.
Hunting and game is a big thing in Sweden due to our huge number of forests. Game is served in various ways with favorites including elk or wild boar steaks, venison saddle, and wild boar ribs.
Grouse and pheasants are forest birds that are highly sought after for their wonderful taste and are a Christmas favorite in the middle and north of the country. The birds are roasted and served as a main course or as a side dish. Swedish meatballs and sausages made from minced elk or wild boar are also very popular around Christmastime.
Pickled herring, or sill as Swedes call it, is for many the most important part on the Christmas table, and the word sillbord means “herring table” – a smorgasbord of different types of mostly cold starters.
On a typical sillbord you’ll find pickled herring, such as curry, onions, Christmas spices, dill, and new versions like whiskey flavor herring. It is also common to serve eel, fried herring, breaded plaice, liver paté with bacon, different type of cabbages, beetroot coleslaw, veal paté, cheese, and bread. Typical bread is vörtbröd which is a dark bread ether made by using the drink vört or beer and knäckebröd – Swedish dried crispbreads.
Tradition dictates that one should eat the sillbord before the main course, but most of us ignore this and pick at it all the way through the meal. One mandatory act, however, is taking one (or many) shots of schnapps, Swedish 38% flavored vodka, so that the fish can swim down to the stomach!
Sweden is full of beautiful lakes, and is surrounded by three seas: the Atlantic, the Baltic, and Kattegat. With all this water, comes great fishing possibilities.
Salmon is one of the most sought-after delicacies and is eaten in various ways over Christmas: oven-baked, cold, or warm-smoked salmon, or gravad lax. Literally “buried salmon”, the name comes from the old way of preparing the fish, where the salmon was buried in the cold ground for days or weeks until preserved. Nowadays it’s all done in the fridge!
After being coated with a dry rub made of salt, sugar, and herbs like dill, the salmon is wrapped in plastic foil and put in the fridge with a weight on top. After a couple of days, the liquid has drained from the fish, and the meat is tender and ready to be served in thin slices.
8. Glögg and Julmust
Glögg and julmust are the wonderful Christmas drinks loved by young and old alike. Glögg is a spiced warm wine that is perfect for the cold Swedish winter climate. Alcohol is optional, but chopped almonds and raisins are frequently added. Enjoy a glass with gingerbread and sweets.
Julmust is a traditional fizzy soft drink, similar to cola, and is only sold during the festive holidays, typically served with a variety of Christmas dishes.
Sausages of all kinds are a big part of the Swedish celebrations, the most popular being Prinskorv, “Prince sausage”. They are smoked sausages 5-7 centimeters long, and are very popular all year round.
They were originally called siskonkorv, from the French “little sausage”, and, later, “syskonkorv” meaning “sibling sausage”, as it is sold in lengths where several sausages are tied together.Prinskorv are usually fried, and often served with mustard.
They are basically a shorter variant of the Viennese sausage, which was created in 1805 by the butcher Johann Georg Lahner in Vienna. Their small size makes them a favorite for children, while grown-ups will be transported back to their childhoods with fond memories, munching on a prinskorv.
10. Cabbage, Brussels Sprouts and Kale
The cold Swedish autumn is perfect for the growing of crops like kale, cabbage and Brussel sprouts, which have become a big part of our autumn and winter diet. My grandfather used to say that it was a really successful Christmas celebration if you were served at least four types of cabbage, kale, or Brussels sprouts!
Cabbage is cooked and served in various ways, such as brunkål (brown cabbage), rödkål (red cabbage), and sauerkraut. Boiled then fried with a seasoning of vinegar, salt, and syrup, brunkål gets its brown color from its lengthy preparation time.
Rödkål is a sweet dish made of red cabbage, slices of apple, spices, syrup, and apple cider vinegar, that are fried for a long time over low heat until tender.
Kale is eaten boiled, and stewed with cream and juices from the Christmas ham, or in a kale pie.
11. Gingerbread, Tough Caramel, Butterscotch and Christmas Chocolate
Gingerbread cookies are only eaten around Christmas times in Sweden. Grown-ups bake them with their kids or just eat the dough as it is. These cookies come in all shapes and sizes such as hearts, animals, and stars. Some people bake beautiful gingerbread houses decorated with candy.
Other types of small cakes and chocolates are also popular, such as tough caramel, butterscotch with almonds, and special chocolate called ischoklad (ice chocolate).
Eel is typical in the south of Sweden, where there is even a summer celebration called Ålagille (eel feast). With eel being such an important part of the south Swedish diet, it is a must on the Christmas table.
Hard fishing regulations and increased prices have made eel extremely expensive, thus nowadays it is mostly reserved for special occasions such as Christmas. The eel is baked in the oven, pickled or cold-smoked, and eaten as a starter.
Rödbetssallad (beetroot coleslaw) is a popular side dish, which is also great on a meatball sandwich.A popular all-year-round snack, rödbetsallad is made out of pre-boiled beetroots that have been finely diced and mixed with mustard, mayonnaise and sour cream.
When it comes to our Christmas dinner dessert, many Swedes go for risgrynsgröt (rice pudding), or ris à la Malta, which is the same but with mandarin slices and cinnamon. Both types are served with saftsoppa, a sweet plum or berry juice, thickened with potato flour. Hidden somewhere in the pudding is an almond, and the person who receives it will, according to legend, get married the following year.
Tradition says that on Christmas eve, you should put out a bowl of pudding for the gnome so he will be kind to your family, animals, and livestock. Old legends are part of Swedish culture and, even though many no longer believe them, these traditions are still a fun part of Christmas for younger kids.
Sylta is a type of meat hash, mostly eaten these days by the older generation. It is made with meat from the head of a calf or pig, that has been boiled for hours until tender, mixed with carrots, onions, and spiced with allspice and bay leaf. Sylta is served at the sillbord as a starter and definitely has a required taste!
With Christmas around the corner, hopefully you have been inspired to give one of these Swedish Christmas dishes a try. God jul and gott nytt år!