Swedes have traditionally been very open to foreign influences, ranging from French cuisine during the 17th and 18th century, to the sushi and cafe latte of today. Emphasis is placed on high-quality natural ingredients - notably fresh, pickled and smoked seafood (particularly herring, crayfish, salmon and eel) and game meats such as elk and reindeer.
The most common ingredients are dairy products, crisp and soft (often sugared) breads, berries and stone fruits, beef, pork and seafood. Potatoes are served as a side dish, often boiled. There is a large variety of breads made of rye, wheat, oat, white, dark, sour-dough, whole grain; soft , flatbreads and crisp breads. Fruit soups such as rose hip soup and bilberry soup) served hot or cold, are typical desserts. Butter and margarine are the primary fat sources, although olive oil is becoming more popular. Sweden's pastry tradition features a variety of yeast buns, cookies, biscuits and cakes; many are very sugary and often eaten with coffee.
Due to Sweden's large north-south expanse there are regional differences. In the far North, meats such as reindeer were traditional ingredients while fresh vegetables played a larger role in the South. Many traditional dishes have contrasting flavors, such as the traditional dish of meatballs and brown cream sauce with its tart, pungent lingonberry jam (slightly similar in taste to cranberry sauce).
Coffee is the universal drink, although tea (taken straight) and milk also are popular. Schnapps, or aquavit, served icy cold, is a traditional and poular drink, Swedish vodka, or "brännvin", is made from corn and potatoes and flavored with different spices. All "brännvin" is served ice-cold in schnapps glasses.
Breakfast is usually from 8 to 11am, noon to 2:30pm for lunch, and as early as 5:30pm for dinner to around 8 or 8:30pm. Unless you decide to have smorgasbord (never served in the evening) at lunch, you'll find that the Swedes do not go in for lavish spreads in the middle of the day. The usual luncheon consists of one course. Dinner menus are for complete meals, with appetizer, main course and side dishes, and dessert included.
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