Lola A. Åkerström introduces you to husmanskost – Swedish soul food – and some of the best places to eat traditional Swedish food in Stockholm.
I usually tell people who are looking for advice on what to eat off menus in Stockholm to opt for either seafood or traditional Swedish food known as husmanskost. In between Stockholm’s modern culinary blend of Asian fusion restaurants, fine dining restaurants, and kebab pizza joints are restaurants specializing in traditional Swedish cuisine. The US has its southern style kitchen called soul food and husmanskost is the Swedish equivalent of country-style cooking.
Translated into “house owner’s food”, husmanskost was the middle-class working man’s meal. A hearty blend of potatoes and root vegetables gathered from fields, meat from farm or wild animals, fish from the North and Baltic Seas, and herbs pulled out of gardens. They were simple and inexpensive yet filling meals and it wasn’t until the early 1900s that husmanskost started making their way from grandma’s table into taverns and pubs called krog.
Most husmanskost dishes are served with lingonberries. Lingonberries are tart red berries similar to cranberries found in shrubs within Scandinavian forests. They are widely used as a condiment for a variety of dishes from meatballs and pancakes to oatmeal and blood pudding, and is rarely used as jam on bread. Thanks to the Swedish institution of Allemansrätten which grants everyone public access to freely enjoy nature, many Swedes grew up picking these tart red berries from nearby forests. The lingonberries are then used to make jam-like preservatives.
While Swedish meatballs remain the most iconic husmanskost associated with the country internationally, here are more complex hearty dishes that locals usually pick right off the menu if available.
Raggmunk are pancakes made from grated or ground potato, flour, and egg, seasoned with onions and garlic, and served with thick cuts of bacon and lingonberry preserve. It remains one of the most popular local dishes because of its savoury balance between sweetness from the lingonberries, buttery saltiness from the raggmunk pancakes, and fatty grease from the bacon.
There are two main types of meat patties. The Wallenbergare is a meat patty dish made from ground veal, cream, and eggs, coated in breadcrumbs, and served with mashed potatoes, peas, and lingonberry preserve while the Biff à la Lindström is extremely similar, but instead of veal, is made from ground beef, onions, potato, diced beetroot, and capers.
While eaten at home and not so much in restaurants, pyttipanna is a traditional “poor man’s hash” of diced potatoes, onions, and sausages pan-fried and served with a fried egg and pickled beetroot. A more luxurious version is called Biff Rydberg named after Stockholm’s first hotel, Hotell Rydberg, which was demolished in 1914. It served its own version of pyttipanna as seared cubes of beef tenderloin, sautéed onion, and diced potatoes with mustard cream and raw egg yolk.
Many Swedes grew up eating pancakes and pea soup (pannkakor och ärtsoppa) on Thursdays and this combination is still served in the Swedish Armed Forces every Thursday; a tradition dating back to World War II. While the true origin of the tradition is widely debated – from Catholics not eating meat on Fridays thus filling up on pea soup on Thursdays to pea soup being very easy to prepare by servant maids who worked half-days on Thursdays – the tradition has stuck. Many restaurants serve pancakes with lingonberry or any kind of sylt (jam) and grädde (cream) along with pea soup on Thursdays.
With an abundance of herring in both the North and Baltic Seas, Swedes have been pickling herring as far back as the middle ages mostly as a way of preserving the fish for storage and transportation. Present at every smörgåsbörd, pickled herring. (sill) comes in a variety of flavors – mustard, onion, garlic, dill, just to name a few – and are often eaten with boiled potatoes, sour cream, boiled eggs, and hard sharp cheese.
The term “S.O.S” on a Swedish menu means butter (smör), cheese (ost), and herring (sill), and you’ll set a sampling platter of various types of herring alongside hard sharp cheese, crispbread, and butter. While most locals usually don’t order pickled herring off the menu, what they do order right away is stekt strömming (pan-fried herring). It makes the perfect hearty lunch and is served with mustard and/or horseradish, mashed potatoes, lingonberries, pickled cucumbers or red onions, and dill.
Gravad lax (or gravlax) is raw salmon that has been cured for a few days in sugar, salt, and dill. So what you get is a less salty and sweeter fish than smoked salmon that melts in your mouth. Gravad lax is often eaten with boiled yellow almond potatoes and a tangy sweet mustard with dill sauce known as hovmästarsås.
Invented in the 1950s by legendary Swedish chef Tore Wretman during a sailing competition called “Runt Skagen”, skagenröra is a salad of fresh baby shrimp, mayonnaise, dill and red onions. It is usually eaten on bread or on top of open faced sandwiches. Sweden’s food culture is designed around using forks and knives for almost every meal. The open face sandwich itself dates back to the 15th century when slabs of thick bread were used as plates. The shrimp sandwich (räksmörgås) remains the most popular type of open face sandwich with loads of tiny shrimp piled atop a slice of bread along with boiled egg slices, lettuce, tomato, cucumber slices, and a creamy dressing like romsås – crème fraiche blended with sprigs of dill sprigs and fresh roe.
You can learn more about less popular but culturally important husmanskost at Try Swedish run by Visit Sweden and touted as “an open invitation from the country of Sweden to taste and explore the world of our food culture.”
Where to get quality husmanskost in Stockholm
From local game like reindeer, moose, and wild boar to seafood classics like pickled herring and cured salmon, traditional restaurants like Pelikan and Prinsen are preserving Sweden’s rich culinary heritage and serving their own contemporary takes on traditional cooking.
Tradition is a simple yet elegant eatery whose mantra is “Svensk Husman. Punkt slut” which translates to “Swedish House Food. Period.” It serves a lot of the classics including blood pudding and stekt strömming with a healthier, more modern twist on the dishes.
Pelikan serves homemade meatballs in cream sauce with lingonberries in addition to pickled herring (sill), elk meat, and pig knuckles the size of bowling balls – just a few items on its traditional menu. With its old school wooden décor and murals, you’ll think you’ve stepped back into a 1940s saloon.
Meatballs for the People is a popular joint and “meatball boutique” that serves 14 different types of organic meatballs including ox, wild boar, salmon, moose, and reindeer meatballs.
Kvarnen serves a filling S.O.S plate of pickled herring, almond potatoes, and sharp cheese, as well as its own take on traditional meatballs in gravy with lingonberry.
Other iconic restaurants in Stockholm known for their husmanskost are:
- Blå Dörren
- Den Gyldene Freden (since 1722)
- Kung Carls Bakficka
- Magnus Ladulås
- Restaurang Prinsen
- Restaurang Riche
- Rolfs kök
- Strömmingsvagnen (stekt strömming kiosk)
- Under Kastanjen
- Wärdshuset Ulla Winbladh
You can learn more about traditional Swedish fare over on Try Swedish which is dedicated to all things Swedish food.
Be sure to splurge on some of Stockholm’s best seafood restaurants and steakhouses.
You can also try your hands at these 10 husmanskost recipes at home.