Anyone who has Swedish friends will most likely be familiar with the word fika, mainly because Swedes tend to use it all the time. This is because when they are struggling to find the right word in another language, they just use ‘fika’.
Simply put, fika ("fee-ka") means to sit down, have a chit-chat, coffee and something baked. You can also have tea or another non-alcoholic drink, but coffee is standard. More than a coffee break, but less than something formal, it is an important part of the culture both in terms of how the day is structured and the kind of people the Swedes are.
During a working day, Swedes will usually have two fika breaks: one mid-morning (around 9.30) and one in the afternoon (around 2.30). Even if it is a quick one, you always sit down. It’s break time, although in some modern offices, people have started to fika at their desks.
Confusingly – and helpfully – fika is both a noun and a verb. You can take a fika or you can fika with someone. It is also something you can do with your best friend, colleague, family – and you can even arrange a fika date with that handsome boy you like, which, is like a real date but with a lot less commitment as fika is always casual. Usually during the day, it does not involve alcohol. You can fika in the evenings, but then it’s kvällsfika, evening fika, and usually done at home and involving bread and cheese (but still coffee).
To fika effectively, most people will indulge in the Scandinavian way of fitting in as much coffee into their day as is humanly possible without looking like a wired tarsier. Scandinavians drink more coffee than anyone else in the world. Think strong, filtered coffee, served in massive mugs. Pop round for fika at someone’s house and there will be a pot of coffee on the table. ‘Skulle du vilja ha en påtår?’ they’ll ask, meaning ‘Do you want a top up?’ (you do, because you’re polite). It’s a wonder Scandinavians get any sleep at all, really, and quite possibly the reason we survive the long, dark winters.
To go with your super-strength cup of diesel, you need something baked. Fikabröd, literally ‘fika bread’, describes a whole range of possible options – the most infamous of which is the cinnamon bun. These are yeast-based buns, because it’s all about the goodness of the solid home baking.
Make your own with Brontë Aurell 's Swedish cinannmon bun (kanelbullar) recipe.
If you don’t fancy a cinnamon bun, go for a slice of soft bread with butter and cheese – or opt for a slice of cake, a muffin, or a biscuit, if you are not so hungry. Mostly, though, it’s a form of a bun, usually involving some cinnamon/ cardamom/vanilla.
Weekdays, people fika at work or after school. At weekends, they fika at each other’s houses or in cafés. You can, however, also fika outdoors, for example when skiing in the fjells. This usually involves a thermos of coffee, some home-baked buns and then finding a cosy spot in the snow to park the skis.
Extract from North by Brontë Aurell (Aurum Press, an imprint of The Quarto Group, hb, $39.99). Danish-born Brontë Aurell is a food writer and co-founder of ScandiKitchen, a café and grocery shop in London.
This rich chocolate cake is possibly Sweden’s most popular cake, with every cafe boasting its own version. It’s a rich, dense simple cake that is deliberately undercooked so the centre stays nice and gooey (‘kladd’ means sticky in Swedish). It is also a clever cake, with chilling changing its character, making it lusciously dense and more fudge-like.
“These delicious buns are traditionally eaten in Sweden on Shrove Tuesday (or Fat Tuesday, as it’s known in Scandinavia), but they’re so popular that more recently they can be found in bakeries all year round. A light cardamom-spiced bun is filled with a soft marzipan mixture and plenty of sweetened whipped cream.” Adam Liaw, Destination Flavour Scandinavia