Swedish meatballs in a skillet with a dish of creamy brown sauce

Traditional Swedish food to try when you visit

Faraway WorldsFaraway Worlds

Faraway Worlds

Staff writers

If you travel to Sweden you probably want to try some of the traditional Swedish food and there are a lot of flavourful choices. Any foodie will love Sweden’s simple food scene. With a minimum of spices and fresh produce, there are a whole lot of flavours coming to life in their hearty dishes that have fed the country for centuries.

Swedish food is traditionally based on meat or seafood, supplemented with local ingredients which are loved by so many. Most traditional food is still a central part of Swedish cuisine, although people now change things up a bit and add more modern ingredients and spices. Swedish desserts usually include fruits and berries that are found in the forest or in people’s gardens.

Here are some of the must-try Swedish dishes and desserts that should be easy to find when you travel in the country. Most of these treats are easy to encounter in any restaurant or cafe around Sweden, although some are seasonal.

Swedish meatballs with mashed potatoes and ligonberry sauce

1. Meatballs with potatoes and lingonberry sauce

Truly a traditional Swedish dish is meatballs with potatoes (mashed or boiled) and lingonberry jam. It is said that if you travel to Sweden without trying this typical dish, you have not been to Sweden. It's also a staple dish at IKEA cafeterias around the world.

As with most Swedish dishes, the recipe is simple. Minced beef or pork is mixed with chopped onion, eggs, milk, moist breadcrumbs, salt, and pepper.

The meatballs are then fried in butter (which is Scandinavia’s answer to the Mediterranean’s olive oil) and served with a brown cream sauce on top and mashed potatoes and lingonberry jam on the side. Do not get surprised if the lingonberry jam is homemade too.

These delectable meatballs are often served on special holidays like Christmas and Easter, but are also popular weeknight dinners in homes all over Sweden.

Pickked herring served with boiled potatoes, sour cream, chives and eggs

2. Pickled herring

This Swedish classic is present in any traditional celebration like Christmas, Easter, and Midsummer. Generally, it will be served with boiled potatoes and drizzled with sour cream and chopped chives.

While herring pickle juice traditionally consists of water, strong vinegar, salt, and spices, these days you can find a wide variety of creative seasonings like different fruits and spicy chilli.

Pickled herring goes a long way back in Swedish food history when it was necessary to preserve food over the winter months. And a traditional way of preserving food was to pickle it.

Pickled herring has been an important part of the Swedish diet for hundreds of years and it is lovely to see how traditional food lives over centuries and generation after generation cooks the same food with new variations.

Swedish pea soup with pancakes and ligonberry jam

3. Pea soup and pancakes

One of the long-time traditions in Sweden has been to have pea soup and pancakes on Thursdays. This is something you will see in schools and military institutions, but also in restaurants.

Note, that this is not a vegetarian dish. The pea soup is traditionally made with peas and pork broth and topped with salt and mustard-covered pork pieces. Pancakes with jam are served as a dessert. So, if you happen to be in Sweden on a Thursday, you have no excuse but to try this flavoursome meal.

There are several myths about why pea soup and pancakes are served only on Thursdays. One says that the maids used to have Thursday afternoon off, thus they made this because it was a quick meal to make.

Others say that it is rooted in Catholic traditions to make something filling on Thursday before fasting on Friday. No matter what the reason, the tradition still lives strong today.

Pytt i panna, a popular Scandinavian dish of chopped up meat and vegetables topped with a fried egg

4. Pytt i panna

This traditional Swedish dish involves cutting up leftover foods into small pieces and frying them together with a fried egg on top. Usually, the base ingredients are meat (beef or pork), potatoes, and onion.

On top of that, you can basically add any kinds of meat or vegetables you have available which makes this dish different wherever you try it.

Of course, these days, you will get pytt i panna made with fresh ingredients. It's a tasty dish that tastes a lot better than it looks and should absolutely be added to your Swedish food bucket list.

A plate of kroppkakor, a type of potato dumpling filled with pork

5. Kroppkakor

This delightful dish is like nothing you have ever tasted. Koppkakor, also known as Palt in the north of Sweden, has its traditions back to the late 1800s when students started organizing Kopparkakor parties.

Students hold a yearly party where they celebrate the biggest Kroppkaka of the year. While it used to be a student meal, it has turned into a traditional nationwide meal that you can find all over the country in different varieties.

It is one of the heartiest foods in Sweden, easily prepared from potatoes and flour wrapped around fried pork. As with so many traditional potato dishes, the Kroppkakor are served with lingonberry jam on the side.

A Swedish open shrimp sandwich with lettuce, egg and avocado

6. Räkmacka (shrimp sandwich)

Seafood is an important part of Swedish food history, especially on the west coast where fishing was the main occupation for centuries. And the Swedes love their seafood.

One of the most traditional foods in Sweden is the simple yet mouthwatering räkmakka, (aka shrimp sandwich). It is an open-faced sandwich (which is very typical in Sweden) generally topped with mayonnaise, lettuce, egg, and an abundance of shrimp, sprinkled with dill.

This is a typical food you can find at cafeterias and coffee shops around the country and is usually served for lunch or as an appetizer. It can typically be seen at catering lunches for different events too, as it is easy, delightful, and light.

A traditional seafood smorgastorta topped with shrimps, salmon and asparagus

7. Smörgåstårta (Swedish sandwich cake)

The Swedish Sandwich Cake, locally known as Smörgåstårta, is taking the sandwich to a whole new level.

It is basically sandwich bread laid down next to each other in layers with pretty much anything you can think of between the layers. Think mayonnaise, seafood, egg, meat, and vegetables.

The sandwich is then elegantly decorated with fresh ingredients on top. The traditional seafood sandwich cake consists of shrimp and salmon and the traditional meat sandwich cake is filled with roast beef, ham, and cheese.

However, these days, you can get any type of sandwich cake and it is common to serve at special events and celebrations where many people share food, like weddings and anniversaries.

A mixed berry and almond crumble

8. Smulpaj (berry crumble)

One of Sweden’s most traditional desserts is Smulpaj. This is typical in the summer when different berries are in season. It is a perfectly balanced sweet and sour pie where you put the berries in the pie dish and crumbled dough on top.

Typically Smulpaj is made with raspberries, blueberries, rhubarb, or strawberries and served hot with whipped cream or custard. In the autumn, the tradition goes on with apple crumble served the same way.

While you find most homes making this delicacy at home throughout the summer with fresh berries from their gardens, you find it in cafes and restaurants throughout the country and it is a must-try if you set your summer vacations to Sweden.

A Swedish cheesecake with berry syrup

9. Swedish cheesecake

Swedish cheesecake is something far different from the well-known American cheesecake which is much sweeter.

In comparison, Swedish cheesecake tastes more homemade as it is made of cottage cheese (the easy way) or rennet, the substance that turns into cheese. This is mixed with flour, sugar, eggs, almonds, and cream. This is baked in the oven until it becomes light brown and custardy.

The creamy delight is served lukewarm with either berry syrup or jam, or whipped cream and fresh strawberries.

This is a tasty dessert that goes far back in Sweden and is truly worth trying. You can find it in coffee shops in Sweden and it goes perfectly with coffee or hot chocolate.

Swedish semla bun filled with cream and dusted with icing sugar

10. Semla

Semla is a simple slightly sweet bun that is cut in half and filled with almond cream and an abundance of whipped cream before the top half is put on top and dusted with powdered sugar.

These incredibly simple yet super tasty buns were traditionally only served once a year on the “Fettisdagen” which is a day only dedicated to these beloved buns. However, these days, you can usually find them in the bakeries during the first three months of the year and sometimes even as early as Christmas.

The Semla goes back to the middle ages but only consisted of the bun. It was seen as a status symbol showing wealth for centuries. The whipped cream was later added to it and it was first in the mid-1800s that the almond paste was introduced to the semla.

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Last Updated 13 March 2023

An aerial view of lake in Sweden in summer


Sparsely populated Sweden is known for its natural wonders. Cities tend cling to the coast and rivers, while inland you'll find towns, the occasional house, and a huge amount of forest interspersed with moors and lakes.