Something Swedish


Finding Sweden in New York City

The Big Apple is known for being the most culturally diverse place in the world, so there is no wonder that you’d be able to find a taste (literately) of Sweden and it’s Nordic neighbors there. This post is for those of you who have moved from Sweden,  Denmark, or Norway to NYC and are feeling homesick or those of you who live in, or are visiting, NYC and are curious about the culture, history, and food…most importantly the food.

20+ Scandinavian ‘Somethings’ in NYC

TO DO (yearly)

1) Battery Park Swedish Midsummer Celebration (mid-late June)- There’s nothing more Swedish than celebrating Midsummer. It’s a mix of everything you need to satiate home sickness or curiosity about a country you have never been to. Traditional Swedish food, music, and dancing around the maypole – all while being surrounded by other Swedes (Swedish Americans, at least). Besides, who wouldn’t want to wear a crown of flowers in the middle of Manhattan?

2) Bay Ridge Norwegian Parade (May): This part of Brooklyn has Scandinavian roots, here is your chance to see some of it in action. Everyone is welcome to watch the festivities – get a glimpse of traditional Norwegian clothing, eat the food, hear the language, listen to the music and make some new Norwegian-American friends.

3) Crayfish party (August) – Fishing Crayfish during the early summer months in Sweden is not permitted, so come mid-August to mid-September it is Crayfish season! This is a beloved tradition of sitting around the table, drinking snaps (after singing), and chowing down on pounds of tasty crustaceans while wearing a colorful bib and hat, of course. While in Sweden this would be celebrated with friends and family, in NYC you have two main options: Ikea’s Crayfish_Party [Limited tickets, buffet style, August 16, $12.99] or Aquavit’s Crayfish Festival [Formal meals and dessert, August 17 – September 11, $52.00]

4) Nordic Food Festival (September) – For three years in a row  Nordicfoodfestival has been bringing Nordic cuisine (One day dedicated to each Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Denmark) to the front lines for five full days with top chefs speakers, cooking classes, gourmet pop-up dinners and other (free & ticketed) events.

TO DO (whenever)

5) The Scandinavian East Coast Museum – A museum in Bay Ridge that focuses on the historical and cultural link between Scandinavia and America’s East Coast (specifically New York City) They host events and meetings for groups, cultural societies, and the Scandinavian community.

6) Scandinavian House This is an all-in-one stop Nordic Center you can’t miss: exhibits, films, music, performances and lectures, or simply stroll through the museum to brush up on your knowledge or to learn some history. Best yet, there is a restaurant with a selection of Scandinavian foods (Smörgås Chef, see next)


7) Smörgås Chef Known for it’s new Nordic cuisine, ranging from fine dining to open faced sandwiches, this is the first restaurant people think of when asked about Scandinavian food in NYC. With one location downtown, and the other midtown (Scandinavian House, where there is sometimes Dinner and a film) – you are never far from some Swedish food.

8) Fika – This little coffee shop/café/restaurant (depending on location) is sweeping Manhattan with almost 20 Manhattan locations. Named after the Swedish tradition of drinking coffee and eating something sweet with friends, why not have a Swedish pastry or piece of chocolate? If you are looking for a meal, their menu is made up of Swedish specialties.

9) Konditori – With seven locations in Brooklyn, this seems to be Brooklyn’s version of Fika. Meaning “bakery” in Swedish, Konditori focuses more on the “strong Swedish roast” coffee and Swedish pastries with light food options such as bagels and sandwiches.

10) Aquavit –  A midtown restaurant with two Michelin stars that focuses on modern Nordic cuisine and Swedish culinary traditions where you can find both formal and casual meals created by executive chef, Marcus Samuelsson, who went to the Culinary Institute in Gothenburg, guest lectures at Umeå University, has published multiple cookbooks, has his own television show, has cooked at the White House, and has hosted a fundraising dinner for the president at his own restaurant (See next).

11) Red Rooster – This might seem but a long shot, but if you are looking for Swedish flare or fusion but not in the mood for Swedish food (though they do have classics like gravlax (smoked salmon) and Swedish meatballs with lingonberry sauce), this is the place to go. The Ethiopen-born, Swedish-raised award winning chef that put Aquavit on the map opened up this restaurant in 2010 in the heart of Harlem and is a hot spot for tourists and locals alike.

12) Danish Athletic Club – Located in Bay Ridge Brooklyn, the Scandinavian Center of NYC, this is a much more homely option for food and socializing. The kind of food you will find here is the comfort food made in Danish kitchens, and costs less than 20 bucks a plate. On the same street you’ll find the Norwegian Sporting Gjøa Club and the Swedish football club – but this is the only one with a restaurant.

13) Copenhagen Street dog – All throughout Denmark, and even making an occasional appearance in Sweden (and I assume other Scandinavian countries), you’ll find the long, smokey, bright red Danish hot dog – pølse. If you are a hot dog fan but want to try something different, something Scandinavian – look no further.


14) Sockerbit – Surely you’ve heard about Swedes’ everlasting sweet tooth and affinity for loose candy? All candy is not created equally, come pick out a selection of Swedish candy and get addicted. Yes, that black stuff is liquorice.  The store’s white interior mirrors Swedish minimalist design and the wall of candy is exactly what you would find in any Swedish supermarket – even including each candy’s Swedish name and translation. There’s also a wide selection of Swedish food and merchandise if candy isn’t enough.

15) Nordic Delicacies Have a craving or want to impress your friends with an authentic home-cooked smörgåsbord? Looking to stock your fridge with real Scandinavian food?  Make your way to Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge to go shopping for authentic Scandinavian foods and brands you can’t find in other stores like Abba sill, knackerbröd, tubes of cheese and Kalles cavier, lingonberry, and more.

16) Ikea Brooklyn – A trip to Ikea is both practical and cultural (kind of). It is certainly the one thing people associate with Sweden, and Ikea furniture is actually a feature of Swedish home decor. It doesn’t hurt that the big blue bags make amazing laundry bags, the food is probably the cheapest Swedish meal you’ll find in the city, and you can find a few food items to buy for your kitchen. It might seem out of the way, but Ikea Brooklyn has it’s own 20 minute ferry from Wall Street Pier 11 – it’s $5 ticket price is deducted from your Ikea purchase and completely free on weekends.

17) Fjällräven: Be Swedish sleek with these classic Swedish backpacks, originally designed with the durability for camping, 50 years later these bags have a much wider assortment and are fashionable and hip – both in and out of Sweden.

18) The largest H&M in the world: That’s right, H&M is Swedish(it stands for Hennes & Mauritz, and is pronounced “Ho-Em” in Swedish) and it’s largest store ever (4 floors, 63,000 square feet/ 5,800 square meters) just opened up in 2015 in NYC, Herald Square. So if you want to dress like a Swede, you know where to shop.


19) The Swedish Cottage – An authentic piece of architecture from Sweden in the heart of the Big Apple. Built in Sweden 1875, imported to the United States in 1876 for an exhibit, moved to NYC in 1877 and now a marionette theatre in Central park.

20) “Seamen’s Churches” Svenskakyrkan (Swedish), Sjømannskirken (Norwegian), Sømandskirke (Danish): A church might feel like a strange place to “visit,” but it is a place for community, social gatherings and cultural events. A great way to meet people or practice the language. Plus, there’s usually a café.

21) The Swedish Consulate: If you are planning on moving to Sweden, it’s good to know you can find this building on Park Avenue – a few blocks from the Swedish Church. The people were friendly and helpful when I went there and there were pamphlets for additional guidance. The website is a good source of information and local Swedish events.

2015 exclusives:

See Mamma Mia on Broadway (After 14 years on Broadway Mamma Mia will be closing SEPTEMBER 12th – go now before it’s too late!) While the story line of a daughter looking for her father to give her away at her wedding in Greece has nothing to do with Sweden – the music sure does. The one thing all Americans associate with Sweden is the music of Abba, so this broadway-play-turned-movie that was written based on two dozen Abba songs doesn’t get much more Swedish.

Nääämen: A comedian from New Zealand that moved to Sweden 6 years ago, Al Pitcher, is known for poking fun at Sweden’s culture, people, and traditions from the perspective of an outsider. Catch his performance on SEPTEMBER 22nd at Scandinavia House (first bit will be in Swedish – rest is in English).

Ingrid Bergman: A Centennial Celebration – If you stop by the Museum of Modern Art before SEPTEMBER 10th, you will find an exhibition dedicated to Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman, showcasing a selection of her films, to celebrate her birth 100 years ago.


Julbock: The Swedish Christmas Goat

If you’ve ever spent the holidays in Sweden then you’d recognize this common Christmas decoration – the julbock. Usually made out of straw and sitting on a table, but sometimes as a candle holder, an ornament in the tree, depicted on Christmas cards or table clothes — goats are largely associated with Christmas here in Sweden.

2013-12-26 09.34.52Goat-Julbock Candleholder - Red - 7364RP 0216a00d8341c090953ef010536155e0e970c

There is even a famously gigantic Julbock made of straw that has been built in a town called Gavle every year since 1966, which measures 13 meters tall (43 feet) and is  burnt down year after year. Although this is not the intention of the Julbock nor is it legal, it is an expected fate.


There is a long history behind the Julbock which goes much deeper than the decorations we see today.

The origin of the Julbock dates back to before Christianity in Scandinavia, from the worship of the Norse God Thor and his two goats, Tanngnjost och Tanngrisner, that pulled his flying chariot.


Later, the Julbock was depicted as a humanoid goat figure with horns and hooves, said to represent the devil, ensuring that people deserved their presents. This version of the julbock was altered into a scary prankster who caused trouble and demanded gifts.


Julbocks being made of straw is nothing new, as it was always associated with the last harvest of the grain. It was once believed that the Julbock was only a spirit, and anything made of straw could be the Julbock. This spirit would check that the house was clean and the preparations were done correctly for the celebrations.

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For a long while the Julbock was the one who would deliver and hand out the Christmas presents – an original Scandinavian Santa. This is the most widely accepted and known version of the Julbock.


Just as someone in Swedish families dress up as Santa to give out the gifts to the children nowadays, the same was done back then. Dressing up as the Julbock for Christmas also included singing, acting, and pranks while wearing something like this:


During the 1800’s, people would throw the straw made Julbock back and forth, yelling “Take the Christmas goat!” The straw goat was also passed between neighbors, hiding it in each others houses without it being noticed, in an effort to get the Julbock out of their own house.

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Hoping all of my readers had a wonderful Christmas and that I taught you a bit of Swedish Christmas trivia. If you’re interested in reading more about Swedish Christmas traditions – follow these links:

Julbord: Christmas table (Christmas food)
The first advent
Swedish Santa: Tomte


S:t Lucia in Sweden

Yesterday I finally got to celebrate Lucia for the first time! It’s a special holiday in Sweden that we just don’t celebrate in New York City, so I was excited to see it.



Photo Credit:

Days (or even weeks) before December 13:e, you can find Lussebullar (also called Lussekatter or saffronsbullar) in all of the bakeries in anticipation of Lucia Day.  This is a  traditional bun shaped like an “S” with saffron flavoring, which gives it the classic yellow tint and a distinct flavor.

Here is the recipe.

Halmstad Lucia 2011

Preparations for Lucia festivities start about a month before December 13:e, because Lucia’s all over the country need to be chosen. Every town votes for a Local Lucia through a contest which is held in newspapers, such as the one to the left, Hallandsposten, where everyone can vote via SMS for their favorite Lucia. Contestants are always teenagers, and are meant to look the most serene, calm, and soothing. They also need to be able to sing, as you will see in this interview of this years crowned Halmstad Lucia: here. On the first advent the town’s Lucia is publicly named and crowned. All of the Local Lucia’s are also runner up’s to become the National Lucia on TV. This is not the only Lucia you will find on Lucia day, as every church and school (from universities to kindergartens) also has their own selected to perform for Lucia concerts throughout the whole day.

At 5:30pm yesterday we went to the library for a Lucia concert, which featured the Halmstad Lucia. The town Lucia often also visits senior centers, community centers, city hall, and schools. This was a beautiful bite-sized (15 minutes) performance, which a selection of all the most popular Lucia and Christmas songs. The smaller setting allowed me to see the halo of candles, wreaths of lingom, red sashes, and white robes up close. (although I was a scared of so many candles walking around so many books!)

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Lucia was first celebrated in Sweden in the late 1700’s, but not in the same way as nowadays – it wasn’t until 1927 that Lucia became a public event. Lucia was originally a celebration observed only within the household by each family. The oldest child would wear a crown of candles and bring their parents breakfast in bed (Normally consisting of Gingerbread cookies) while singing Lucia songs. This is still a common family tradition today, every year stores sell the Lucia Crowns that families can use at home:

Next was the nights main event. We arrived at the S:t  Nikolai church an hour early and it was already half full. After an orchestra performance the lights dimmed down low and the beautiful voices surrounded us. The Luciatåg (Lucia procession) of tärnor (Lucia maidens) holding a single candle each walked slowly up the aisles towards  Lucia, who lead them to the front of the church. It was truly magical.


This Lucia procession was by an all women’s choir, but many Lucia performances include male members. Boys dress up as stjärngossar (Star boys), wearing cone shaped hats decorated with stars, tomtar (Santas) wearing all red, or gingerbread men, which is common for the much younger boys.


Saint Lucia is one of few Saints celebrated in Sweden, representing the spreading of light when the dark nights are longest and warmth when the winter is coldest.  There are many different stories of Lucia’s history. Her feast day is widely celebrated as a Scandinavian tradition, holding Germanic pagan traditions. Born in Sicily (283-304), she is said to have become a Christian Martyr after seeing an angel in her dreams when she prayed for her dying mother. She devoted herself to Christianity, distributed her wealth and dowry to the poor, and refused to give up her virginity even after marriage.


Some versions say that when she was sentenced to be defiled at a brothel and refused, nothing could move her. Not even 1,000 men and packs of oxen could make her budge from where she stood. Instead they built a fire around her, but she did not burn. They stabbed her in the throat but she continued to sing and preach.


St. Lucia is known as the patron of sight, often portrayed holding a platter of two eyes. Some say this stems from her being tortured with eye stabbing when she wouldn’t move or burn, but she was still able to see. Other versions state that she removed her own eyes because they were too admirable and attracted attention from men and unwanted lust. In both cases, God restored her eyes to be more beautiful and with better sight.


Lucia is seen as a protector. She cared for her mother when her father was absent. She spreads light to cure the darkest part of winter. In the old almanac it was believed that December 13:e was the Winter solstice, and thus this longest night of the year. It was also on this night that “Lussi’s,” known as witches or demons, supernatural beings, trolls, and evil spirits of the dead would roam the darkness. It was Lucia who would protect people against harm by bringing hope and joy through spreading the “light in her hair”.

Others say the date of Lucia is to celebrate the first of the “12 Days of Christmas.”


It was an amazingly beautiful event to see. Now I know why it is a beloved tradition  in Sweden. Even without understanding all the lyrics to the 15 songs they performed, I had goosebumps the whole time. They did sing (in Swedish) a few songs I recognized such as Silents Night and Hark the Bells.

A video so you can experience Lucia, too!

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Today: Fars Dag & Veterans Day

“Don’t forget Father’s Day!” signs are posted throughout the town in bookstores, bakeries, and flower shops. The reminder surprised me, as in the US, Father’s Day is celebrated on the third Sunday of June. Father’s day was created in the USA in June 1910 to compliment Mother’s Day, so most countries celebrate around that time time. Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland and Estonia celebrate it on the second Sunday of November instead. Father’s day is said to have traveled to Sweden in the 1930’s, but like Mother’s Day, did not become popular very quickly. Today my husbands father was celebrated with a homemade cake.

This year the Swedish Father’s Day falls on the same day that Veterans Day/Remembrance Day is observed in other countries, which marks the end of WWI; “at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.” A red paper poppy is worn to remember, commemorate,  and honor all veterans. They are made by veterans and the profits go towards

a veteran charity. This red flower was inspired by a poem, “In Flanders Fields” and represents the first flowers that grew on the graves of fallen soldiers. In the U.S. we also celebrate Memorial Day in May, which is a more popular “Poppy Day.”



Happy Fathers Day to dads that celebrate it today and thank you to all veterans, present and past.


Today: Idag

Don’t forget: Glöm inte

Flowers: Blommor

Books: Böcker

Father: Far, pappa

To celebrate: Firar

Remember: Minns


Gustavus Adolphus

…more commonly known as King Gustav II Adolf here in Sweden, is remembered today. Becoming king at the age of 17, from 1611- 1632, today we observe the date of his death. We eat special pastries in his honor:

I asked if all former kings are celebrated, which they are not. So, it was time for some research to find out why a delicious pear and chocolate treat is eaten today.

Titled as Gustav Adolph the Great, he is considered one of the greatest military commanders of all time. The Swedish Empire was built with his help, especially through the battles during the Thirty Year War. If he were not killed in battle at the age of 38, he would have been a major European leader. It was because of his innovative tactics and military advances that Sweden was able to dominate for the next 100 years. There are statues of Gustav Adolf in Stockholm, Helsingborg and Gothenburg:

He was also considered a progressive leader, especially in Estonia where he opened schools (which are still open today). It was during Gustav Adolfs rein that Sweden ruled over Estonia, a time that is referred to as “The Good Old Swedish Times.” Gustav Adolf Day is a holiday in Sweden, Estonia and Finland, where it is called “Swedishness Day.”


More names for Gustav Adolf:

“Father of Modern Warfare”

“The Golden King”

“The Lion of the North”


King -Kung

Sweden – Sverige

Leader – Ledare

War – Krig

Pastry – Bakelse


About The Nobel Prize

This week the winners of the 2012 Nobel Prizes were announced. Aside from knowing that the Nobel Prize is from Sweden, it wasn’t until I moved here that I bothered to learn more about it.

Alfred Nobel was born in Stockholm in 1833 and died in 1896 with the creation of the Nobel Prize in his will. Being the inventor of dynamite (among 355 other things), he had a large fortune to share. After his brother died in 1888 there was an obituary titled, “The Merchant of Death is Dead,” in a French newspaper that thought Alfred was the one who died. Upon reading this he revised his will many times concerned with how he would actually be remembered. 94% of his 31 million kronor ($4.7 million) fortune was to be used to create awards for those who give the “greatest benefit on mankind” in Medicine, Physics, Chemistry, Literature, and Peace. It took years to verify the authenticity of the will, set up committees that would award such prizes, and to create guidelines for the awards.

Since 1901 these awards have been given annually by four different committees. Each committee only awards and has influence over the Nobel Prize/Prizes they are responsible for. All of the committees were specifically created for this purpose after Alfred Nobel’s will was approved: The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Nobel Assembly of Karolinska Institute, the Swedish Academy, and the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

The award ceremony and banquet for the Nobel Prizes are always held in Stockholm, and the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, on December 10th – the anniversary of Alfred  Nobel’s death. The week leading up to the banquet is “Nobel Week” when the Nobel Prize winners give lectures on the topic for which the award was given. This year each Nobel Prize will award 8 million Kronor (Most split among two joint winners) along with the traditional gold medal and ornate diploma.

Some Interesting History:

  • It wasn’t until 1968 that Economic Sciences was added to the Nobel Prizes.
  • Nobel’s will specified that prizes should be awarded to scientific discoveries from the preceding year, which had to be changed due to awarding someone a Nobel Prize for finding the cure for cancer in 1926. Nobel Prizes are now given to discoveries that have withstood the test of time and which the full impact of has been recognized, which sometimes takes decades.
  • At the time of Nobel’s death Sweden and Norway were in a union, and Nobel asked that The Peace Prize be awarded by the Norwegian Parliament, which in turn created a new committee to do the job. The Norwegian Parliament selects the 5 members in the committee.
  • 77% of the Physics Prizes have been given to discoveries, only 23% to inventions.
  • The Norwegian King did not support the Nobel Prize ceremony and refused to participate because it would be awarded internationally- to foreigners. Unlike in Sweden where Prize winners personally receive the award from the Swedish king, a chairman traditionally gives out the Nobel Prizes in Norway. In 2006 the King and Queen of Norway started to attend the Nobel Peace Prize awards.
  • In 1948 the peace prize was not handed out due to “no suitable living candidate” after Gandhi died that year.
  • 1949 5,000 lobotomies were performed in the US immediately after it received the Nobel Science Prize.
  • The Norwegian Nobel Committee building was a safe haven from the invasion of Nazis into Norway during WWII because it was Swedish property and Germany was not at war with Sweden.
  • In 1979 Mother Theresa refused to have the five-course banquet for 250 people and instead used the money to feed 2,000 homeless people on Christmas day.
  • The Nobel Foundation has assets of 3.628 billion kronor ($545 million US dollars) and has been exempted from taxes since 1946.


Standing in Shakespeares Inspiration

As I crossed the cobblestone courtyard, ducked through the small dark and narrow passageways, climbed the steep and sagging brick stairwells, marveled at the untouched chapel, watched the swans swim around  the castle moat, heard my voice echo in the tremendous ballroom, looked out the windows to see the cannons pointed towards the coastline of Sweden – I was imagining Hamlets plight. Envisioning the ghost of his father, eavesdropping, deceit, secrets, murderous plots, revenge, and a death stained fencing match. Shakespeare may or may have not ever been to the Kronborg Castle (known as Elsinor), but he was inspired by it nonetheless, and framed the most famous play in history within these walls.

Exploring the underbelly of the castle, originally built as a stronghold fortress in 1420. Continue reading


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