The Swedes love their coffee, and having a cup with a delicious pastry or open-faced sandwich in the company of friends is a tradition known as "fika." Although it's a coffee break anywhere else, in Swedish culture, it is a social phenomenon.
Stockholm native Gittan Lehman, who runs the Kaffestugan coffee shop at the Scandinavian Cultural Center in West Newton, Massachusetts, says the tradition is very social and has been around forever. "I remember growing up we had it," she says. "People took pride in showing what they could make — cookies and pastries." It's a reason to set aside quality time with family and friends with no agenda other than enjoying the company and the treats.
Cinnamon, Vanilla and Vacuum Cleaners
Most Swedes observe the tradition of fika several times a day, although at work they usually take two breaks, either in a designated fika room or in a konditori (pastry shop). The location is ultimately irrelevant as long as there's conversation, coffee and pastries.
"Swedish cinnamon rolls (kanelbullar) — cardamom is a must — are always served," Lehman says. Vaniljhjärtan, a heart-shaped cookie filled with vanilla cream and dusted with confectioner's sugar, is popular, too, as are the green marzipan rolls known as dammsugare, which literally means "vacuum cleaner." Lehman acknowledges the unusual name, although "they say the reason is that it looks just like an early vacuum cleaner model that the Swedish vaccum cleaner company Electrolux used to make many years ago."
From Los Angeles to Boston
Fika is a way of life in Sweden, and the concept is taking hold around the world. Pernilla Wåhlström, who is relocating from Sweden to France, raves about fika: "[It] is the best! I will definitely bring it to France."
Fortunately for Americans, it has already arrived in the United States — and not just in cities like Chicago and Minneapolis, which embrace large Swedish populations. In Los Angeles, Olson's Scandinavian Delicatessen offers a space to meet with friends and family and enjoy all things Swedish, including the delectable pastries described above. The Danish Pastry House in the Boston suburb of Medford serves pastries similar to those of their Swedish cousins. Måurice, a Portland, Oregon, luncheonette that touts itself as "bridging the gap between a pastry shop and a café," features a selection of Swedish pastries. Ikea, known around the world for its contemporary furniture designs, even has a café in each of its stores where you can relax with coffee and a sweet treat.
If you want to learn how pastries can bring fika into your life, courses in baking and pastry arts can get you cooking like the Swedes faster than the suction of a dammsugare.
Photo credit: Olson's Scandinavian Deli