Lagom: the real food of Sweden

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31 October, 2017

Food writer Steffi Knowles-Dellner’s new book looks beyond Scandi-chic, hygge and the next Scandinavian food trend – instead she introduces the food of her heritage, and offers an inspiring look at the Swedish approach to diet, as a way of life that we could all learn from. With the launch of the book in the Cooked library, we chatted to Steffi about what exactly is lagom?

What does Lagom mean?


Lagom doesn’t really have a direct translation in English, but it basically means not too much, not too little. Think of Goldilocks finding the just right porridge, chairs and beds – then take that deep into the heart of a nation’s psyche. It’s about fairness and an aversion to anything too ostentatious.


Does that mean average?


Yes. One definition is average, or in the middle. We have a lagom attitude towards our economy, and our stance on gender equality, for example. The Volvo is a classic example – it’s the most lagom car: practical, dependable, not too flashy.


How does this relate to food?


For me, I think Swedes have achieved something in their eating habits, which a lot of other nations struggle with – a balance, or harmony. The Swedish diet is very varied with a healthy mix of whole grains, lean protein, such as fish and game, a focus on vegetables and berries and fermented dairy – all things that have been hailed as part of the healthy Nordic diet.


What about a cinnamon bun?

Swedes also have a really sweet tooth and understand that life has to be lived and enjoyed and food is part of that. So they have fika (a word to describe the act of sitting down with a cup of coffee and something sweet like a cinnamon bun). Or a dessert after a special meal.


Does eating with lagom in mind mean sticking to the classics?


The Swedes do have a rich heritage of classic recipes, however, they have also embraced new ideas and influences. Swedes are early adaptors to trends, so while we have our own traditions that we hold very dear indeed, we also think new things are fun.


Was this what inspired you to write the book?


While you may think of Swedish food as what you find in the IKEA canteen, or very high end Nordic cuisine, that image doesn’t paint the whole picture. When I go home I see that people are really interested in food and in a wide range of flavours. It’s a lot fresher than it is given credit for, and I really wanted to show that off because I’m proud of Swedish food.


As you mentioned IKEA first, can we ask about meatballs? Do they feature in the book?

In my book, there is a section called, OK, let’s talk about meatballs… I’ve got three recipes, but none of them are traditional. There’s a lamb and lentil version with lots of cumin and fennel, but also spicy Pollock dumplings in a Thai red curry noodle soup.


Finally, can you tell us something that will surprise us about Swedish food?

One of my favourite examples of something that is surprisingly Swedish is the taco phenomenon for Fredagsmys (Cosy Friday). This is when you gather together with friends or family, hunker down and watch a film. Normally you’d have some really relaxed, more indulgent food and tacos are definitely the most popular. My recipe is made with venison, grilled guacamole and quick pickled red onions.


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