Julbord (or smorgasbord to you on the other side of the duckpond)

Before the new year arrives and the Christmas holiday becomes a memory, I thought I would talk a little bit about the Swedish custom of the Julbord. To my friends here in Sweden, Ok, you dont have to read this. You already know what Im talking about. But to those of you still back in my mother country, you might find this interesting.

The Swedish word smörgåsbord is a combination of the word smörgås which means sandwich (or literally “buttered”) and bord, which means table; so a smörgåsbord is literally a sandwich table, which is a bit of an understatement since there is a lot more than sandwiches on it. The classic Swedish Julbord is a large smörgåsbord traditionally eaten with family and friends on Christmas Eve. From the beginning of December, most restaurants offer, for a fixed price, a Julbord dinner several times a day until just before Christmas. While they vary in size and price, these Julbords offer an astonishing selection of Swedish dishes. And if you go to eat Julbord with Swedish friends and family, it’s a good idea to know how to do it.

As an American living in Stockholm I didn’t expect that attending my first Julbord would be as confusing as it turned out to be. After all, I had been to many a Bar Mitzvah or wedding with its American style smorgasbord or buffet. My method was to put everything I thought looked tasty on my plate and sit down and begin eating. If something proved to be really yummy, I went and got more – if there was anything left. But a Julbord is not simply an “eat till you drop” buffet.

Even though the serving tables are filled with a selection of all different types of dishes, both familiar and unknown, a traditional Julbord is typically eaten in three stages.

The first stage consists of the chilled fish dishes. On a small plate you select from a variety of herring, salmon and even other seafood such as smoked eel or shrimp. There is herring in cream sauce, herring in dill, herring in mustard sauce, herring in sherry, herring that is first fried and then pickled. Together with the herring you eat boiled potatoes and even hard boiled eggs. Other fish dishes include smoked salmon and gravlax (salmon cured in sugar, salt and dill). With this you can also have bread and butter but why stuff yourself on bread when there is so much else to try?

After you’ve tasted all the fish (don’t fill up because there won’t be room for the rest of the meal) comes stage 2. You get a new, clean plate (the waiter will remove your dirty plate) and choose from the collection of cold sliced meats, such as turkey or roast beef and especially the Julskinka or Christmas ham. This is traditionally boiled or baked with a mustard/bread crumb crust around it. It is served cold and sliced thin. Other cold dishes are eggs with caviar, deviled eggs, leverpastej (or pate), sliced cheeses, and various garnishes and salads: including cucumbers in vinegar and sugar, potato salad, pickles both sweet and sour, sliced tomatoes and a selection of various sauces. These are eaten either with more boiled potatoes or as open-faced sandwiches on various types of bread spread with butter or majonaisse.

Now comes stage 3. Any more room left? Once again get a clean plate and its time to start with the hot dishes such as small meatballs, prinskorv (small sausages), koldomar (meat stuffed cabbage rolls), jellied pigs feet, lutfisk (a kind of overcooked cod served with thick white sauce), revbenspjäll (oven-roasted pork ribs), and Janssons Frestelse, Jansson’s Temptation, a dish of matchstick potatoes layered with cream, onion and anchovies and baked to a crisp golden brown. Some side dishes are red beet salad, or warm stewed red cabbage. If you still have room you can try dopp i grytan, bits of bread dipped in the broth left over after boiling the ham, or even scrambled eggs and bacon. Fresh garden vegetables and raw vegetable salads were not often seen on traditional Julbords due to the season and their lack of availability. But now in our more health conscious age and because of increased availability, that is changing.

By the end of the evening, if you can still move, its time for dessert. You can have some risgrynsgröt or rice porridge, eaten with hallensylt (raspberry jam) or sprinkled with cinnamon. (If you find the almond hidden in the porridge, it means you are destined to marry within the year) or choose from a selection of berry filled pies and pastries. There are also the familiar pepparkakor to munch on along with a nice cup of strong Swedish coffee to round off a delicious evening of eating.

God Jul och Tack för maten!

One Response to “Julbord (or smorgasbord to you on the other side of the duckpond)”

  • Britta Jacobson Penman Says:

    This is the best I have ever heard or read explaining what our Swedish Christmas Eve Smorgåsbord is all about. Our family continues this Swedish tradition here in the USA. Our family, neighbors, and friends enjoy the food and fun with us.

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