Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Smörgåsbord

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Smörgåsbord

What was once just vodka and hors d’oeuvres is now a widespread Swedish tradition that’s expanded well beyond Scandinavian borders. Smörgåsbord is so famous that even restaurants now serve their own during holidays! Curator of the Sweden Box Emma Bengtsson introduces us to the tradition in the Culture Guide from the box. Read on to find out the rest.


Russian beginnings

The elegant buffet was, in its earliest days, a Russian tradition: in the 18th century, men sipped on vodka while enjoying appetizers. Eventually, the Swedish aristocracy adopted the tradition but replaced vodka and hors d’oeuvres with their own aquavit and Swedish preparations. Over the course of the next century, the appetizer version of smörgåsbord turned into the abundant buffet that we are more familiar with today.


Smörgåsbord is a literal translation of bread and butter table. Luckily for us, however, the smörgåsbord table includes more than just bread and butter.

Five parts to a smörgåsbord

There are five distinct parts in a typical smörgåsbord. While all components are presented on the table at once, it’s incredibly important to eat only one part at a time:

1. Herring, cheese, and boiled potatoes

2. Cold fish and shellfish dishes, including gravlax (smoked salmon), and cucumber salad

3. Cold cuts and pâté

4. Warm and hearty meat dishes such as scalloped potatoes, meatballs, and more

5. Desserts, including cakes, puddings, fruit, and cheese


The clearest distinction between the Swedish smörgåsbord and the American buffet is the strict etiquette that revolves around it. First and foremost, it is important to enjoy each of the five parts to the smörgåsbord separately, thus going up to the table five separate times. In addition, a typical smörgåsbord can last hours at a time, so it’s important to take the time to enjoy each course. Finally, never pile the plate high—this isn’t an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet.


Also known as the table of spirits, brännvinsbord is generally set to the side of the smörgåsbord so that guests can serve themselves throughout the evening.


Smörgåsbords are festive occasions, and the most common to celebrate is Christmas. While similar to the typical smörgåsbord, julbord is much more involved—some cooks start preparing their tables up to a month in advance! The centerpiece of the julbord is the Christmas ham. Other essentials include Jansson’s temptation (scalloped potatoes dotted with anchovies) and lutefisk (cured cod).

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