Even though Swedish culture is very similar to Dutch, the small little differences are often the most interesting ones. For me, moving abroad has given me a lot more insight into a different culture than I would have ever had by just being a tourist. Sometimes small differences make me think. Not only about Sweden or the Netherlands, but I get curious how things work in other countries. One small difference between the Netherlands and Sweden is food. Obviously every country has their own typical dishes, but I also find it interesting to see what kind of role food plays within a culture.
As some of you might know, the Netherlands doesn’t really have a food culture. There aren’t many world famous dishes, apart from the cheese we make. And you will probably have a hard time finding a Dutch restaurant outside of the Netherlands (apart from some places on the Spanish Costa Brava and Costa del Sol, where a lot of Dutch tourist spend their holidays). Dutch food is only appreciated by Dutch people and is in general not that healthy either. A large part of the Dutch “kitchen” consists of deep fried meat (like bitterballen, kroketten and frikandellen) and french fries with mayonnaise. You can get this type of food in restaurants (mostly targeted to kids there) or at so called snack bars, but it’s never regarded as good or high class food.
Next to no national dishes, we Dutch people don’t really have a food culture. Food isn’t a big part of festivities and parties. There isn’t a typical dish we serve for christmas or easter for example. If something is typical for a festivity, it’s mostly candy or pastry. During the Sinterklaas celebration kids get a lot of specific candy like pepernoten, chocolate letters and marzipan. And for New Years Eve, we bake oliebollen. But that’s about as far as it goes.
Sweden on the other hand has true national dishes, of which the meatballs (köttbullar) is probably the most well known (made famous by IKEA). In most cities there are restaurants that serve husmanskost or food that you’d make at home. These dishes often contain some meat (balls, bacon, schnitzel, etc), lingonberry jam and potatoes. Also, food is a big part of festivities. Every christmas a julbord is served. This is most of the times a buffet with all sorts of food like meat balls, herring, salmon, ham, etc. The contents of the buffet tend to define if it was a good julbord or not. Forgotten dishes like Janssons Frestelse or the creative addition of previously unknown dishes will render a julbord mediocre.
Christmas isn’t the only celebration that includes food. Typical Easter food (or påskmat) is egg, Janssons Frestelse, herring and ham, mostly served as (surprise, surprise) a buffet. It’s actually pretty close to a julbord, but with a bit more focus on eggs. For midsummer it’s typical to eat fresh cooked potatoes with soused herring and strawberries with whipped cream for desert. For Saint Lucy’s Day Swedes eat saffron buns and for Fettisdagen they eat semla, a pastry mostly filled with whipped cream. In general Swedes tend to be very religious about their food in combination with festivities. No christmas without julbord, no Fettisdagen without semla, no Easter without påskmat. Something the Dutch don’t really care about. As long as there is food on the table.
Next up: drinking culture!