...because you thought Sweden was Switzerland!

Friday, December 05, 2008

A traditional Swedish julbord

Oh my. Another year is coming to a close.

I still remember driving to last year's Christmas buffet, recounting what happened in 2007 and closing the year with a Caribbean-themed belt-buster. Then, before I even realize it, it's that time of the year again. For the third year in a row, we wrap up our year with the overabundance of food called the julbord: tables and tables of Christmas food that guarantee at least two hours of gourmandising and a waistband ready to burst. And oh, is it ever so good.

This year's julbord was at Sörgårdens Gästgiveri south of Linköping, an old 1920's school building that was transformed into a roadside restaurant in the 60s. The warm-lit interiors were reminiscent of a Heidelberger pub, with a rustic Swedish touch. The walls are decorated with well-preserved kitchen items in copper and wooden agricultural tools. With lace curtains, yellow light and Christmas trim, it made you feel that you were spending the holidays in another time and place – to the good old times when the men of the clan hunted game and the matriarchs stood by the stove preparing complicated meals for days.

The food was nothing less than superb! Sörgårdens Gästgiveri boasts of having one of the best julbord in Östergötland county, and although I can't be an objective referee, there must be a basis for this reputation. After two years of trying out exotic Caribbean Christmas food, it was pleasantly surprising for me to find out that "simple" Swedish holiday food – meat, potatoes and marinated or smoked herring – could make my mouth water. And that's not just because I'm known for having an appetite like a bottomless pit.

In eating a Swedish julbord, you traditionally start with the different kinds of marinaded herring, cured salmon and smoked fish, followed by an assortment of cold cuts, then the warm meals, before moving on to biscuits and cheese and wrapping up with sweet desserts with coffee. The restaurant was known for its assortment of marinaded herring, and I probably tried most of them. As expected, they were all delicious and so much better than the pre-fab ones you can buy at the store. They came in all exotic flavors too, as you can see in the picture I labeled below:

Most of these things would have been peasant-food some generations back in time. Salmon, herring, as well as smoked eel were ordinary fare. The difference, though, probably lay in the marinade ingredients for the herring. Spices such as ginger and curry were exotic and could likely be only bought by the well-to-do, even though it was often they that set the standard for "good" Christmas food.

The cold cuts, despite their dry looks, were equally delicious. My favorites were the smoked deer and the älgtjälknöl – a hunk of moose put frozen in the oven and cooked for 10 hours in low heat before being rested in a salty marinade and being cut into thin pieces. I wasn't able to take a picture of that. I was, however, able take a picture of the plate below with both cold cuts and warm dishes, and a stray bit of herring. Vegetables? What's that? You mean those two measly brussel sprouts?

I skipped the bulk of the cheeses and moved directly to the dessert table after my third plate (which had meatballs, beans, moose and beet salad in it). The desserts included chocolate mouse and other cream-based desserts, slices of cake, Christmas rice porridge, cookies, chocolate, candied almonds, dried figs – and even candy canes. By the start of the second dessert helping, we couldn't even bare to look at the main courses or the cold cuts anymore. It was becoming too much food to bare.

We practically vegged when we reached Mats and Margareta's home, and I don't think I slept to restfully in a long while. But actually, now, the day after, I strangely feel for eating that kind of food again. I think I'll look for marinaded herring recipes before Christmas. And recipes for ribs. And cabbage-based side-dishes. Maybe I can even throw in a brussel sprout or two.

Thanks to Mats for some of the pictures!

See Tags: Food


Anonymous Lalaine said...

I'll have my first julebord here in Oslo on Tuesday, and I'm quite excited. Thanks for the nice introduction. :D

12:44 PM

Blogger Leplume said...

You're blog always makes me hungry! :) I haven't had my first julebord yet. I can't wait!

5:32 AM


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