...because you thought Sweden was Switzerland!

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Fika: how quaint!

This past week, we explored some fika places in Linköping with friends from the masters' program. "Fika" is an institution in Sweden; there's no direct one-word translation for it, but it means to have coffee or to have a coffee break ("Fika" is both verb and noun, then it usually connotes both the coffee and the pastry you eat with it). Closest in meaning is probably "afternoon tea", except that there may actually be several fika breaks throughout the day. Offices have two (at 10 and 3), and we are spoiled with a fika break for every hour of class.

For a country that I believe is the second largest consumer of coffee in the world (next to neighboring Finland), there are an abundance of fik or cafés all over Sweden, ranging from trendy to old-fashioned. Starbucks is non-existent here; there simply would be too much competition in the form of local cafés and even school cafeterias that have "special coffee" (The university cafeterias now serve coffee-flavor-of-the-day). Besides, you could always take your morning coffee at work, where there is bound to be a coffee machine and tiny tetra-packs of cream. But most of all, Starbucks as a place to cram work would probably not be a best-selling idea here. Fika, after all, is a social activity too. It's what people do when they want to get together, relax, and lay back (In our department, there aren't any classes right before 10AM, when the teachers take their coffee break together!). Take-away coffee isn't usually the first option either. As my American friend Kristine pointed out when we went out for a fika during her vacation here, it was a long time since she was served coffee from a "real cup".

That whole introduction was a way of saying: it's been a long time since I saw my friends, so we decided to meet up twice this week in two of the most quaint cafés I've ever been to in Linköping: Berget (lit. "the mountain") in the centrum and Dahlbergs café in Linköping's old town. It was also a way of introducing how local fika places have their own character and tell stories that Sweden's more trendy cafés do not.

(You can click on the picture for full size)

Berget, as its name suggests, lies on a small rock hill ("mountain") overlooking one of Linköping's shopping streets. According to the plaque, the building used to be a master tailor's house and was built in the early 1800's. He and his wife and 5 kids, 9 journeyers, 7 apprentices and 4 maids lived under the same roof, where they tailored suits and uniforms to the city's rich. The children, when they grew up, moved to Stockholm and Finland, and since then, some 200 years ago, they have had no living relatives in Linköping.

Having fika here feels like having it abroad, which is just the refreshing "pause button" you need from the workaday world, without even needing to travel far. From a busy shopping district, you climb a few steps and become instantly transported to a quiet, odd-wallpapered country house whose odd interior design – like small staircases that lead to smaller corner rooms – makes you want to imagine where it was that all its inhabitants slept. Each cubby hole becomes you and your friends' private hangout, and if you come on a lazy time of the day, you even have the luxury of choosing which one it will be: each small room is uniquely decorated and no furniture in each room look the same. But of course, on sunny days, you can always take your ice cream outside, on the terrace that overlooks the street. Meal prices are at around 60 (though be prepared for a smaller lunch than you're used to in a pizza restaurant), with a choice of vegetable pies or different kinds of toasts served with a little salad on the side. Coffee and bread and butter comes free with lunch. They also have an assortment of open sandwiches and of course, different kinds of classic Swedish pastry.


My friend tells me that Berget is owned by the same management that runs Dahlbergs café, a famous, equally old-fashioned café in Linköping's old town Gamla Linköping (though I don't know if this is true; there was nothing on their website). I have seen the old house by the fountain before, but didn't know that it was actually a café. The house itself, originally a cotton mill, was (according to the café's site) built in year 1700. Since then, it was sold to a goldsmith, and then a businessman who both turned the building into their home.

What's most interesting with this story is that, as all the other structures in Gamla Linköping, the house wasn't actually built where it now stands. In the 50's when the city's old houses were at risk of demolition, the city government came up with the idea of transporting the old wooden structures from their original lots to an artificial town, which they called Gamla Linköping (lit. "The old Linköping"). Here, people celebrate and romanticize Sweden's old days, with museums and shops that all feature how life in the past centuries used to be. At Dahlbergs, which was full on a Labor day afternoon, we took over a table that was occupied from end to end by old men in high hats and old women in petticoats (period cosplay? :-) ). If Berget was like going abroad, this place was like travelling to the past. Desserts cost a fortune though (perhaps like it would have been to ordinary people of the old days?). A regular cinnamon bun, and a regular chocolate ball cost 22 each; coffee is 20. But I ordered some "old fashioned Parisian waffles" instead, which was recommended by our friend who brings all her visiting friends from abroad to Dahlbergs.


Berget Café and Teahouse stands at at Klostergatan 38, Dahlbergs Café at Kryddbodstorget 1 in Linköping.

2 Comments:

Blogger aka Cheryl said...

joy, you're really good at writing about these slices of swedish culture! so fika is like merienda break, but mainly it's to drink coffee and chat with friends?

how much does coffee cost, usually? and it's interesting to know walang starbucks dyan. with the exception of siem reap in cambodia, all the asian cities i've been to so far has one. :)

3:18 AM

 
Blogger Ahoy! said...

Thanks, Cheryl!

Yeah exactly, I like to call it meryenda myself (meryenda sort of has the same social connotations as fika, and also eaten at least twice a day!)

Coffee, depending on where you have it and what kind it is, can be between 15 and 30 per cup (It's not good to convert; you'll be shocked that this means 100-200 PH pesos!). Most of the time though, coffee comes free when you buy lunch.

12:12 PM

 

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