Friday, June 08, 2007

Traditional Smorgasbord

We have reviewed many buffet restaurants, but none of them would be considered "true" smörgåsbord in Sweden. The grandfather of all buffets is the traditional smörgåsbord as it is served in Sweden. It has its similarities to the buffet restaurants that we are familiar with, but it is quite formal - and is not approached with the "all you can eat" attitude as many have when they enter a buffet in the United States.

Traditional smörgåsbord is served both in Swedish homes and in restaurants. The word smörgåsbord literally translates to "open sandwich table" but while you may find open sandwiches or food that you create open sandwiches with, the traditional smörgåsbord offers so much more. There is a special smörgåsbord dinner that is served during the Christmas season called julbord. This is an extra festive dinner served in the same manner as smörgåsbord and is eaten in the same way. Smörgåsbord in Sweden goes back to the 1700's when it was served as an appetizer before an even larger meal.

Smörgåsbord is served on a regular table in small platters and dishes. The table is set out with food that is meant to be approached in three or four courses (depending upon whether there is dessert included - which is not always the case). It is definately not the mix everything you can on one plate as high as you can, as some are familiar with.

Dinners come up to the table for "Plate One" or the first course and take selections of cold fish dishes. The "take as much as you want" concept still applies - but it is done with more discretion. After the cold fish is eaten, diners return to the buffet table for other cold dishes which may include salads, cold cuts of meat, cheese, pate, etc. This is "Plate Two" or "the second plate". When this has been eaten, diners come back for the hot entrees, of course, all Swedish delicacies and dishes. This would conclude the meal unless dessert has been included. For the julbord, dessert is almost always included.

Foods found will usually include a number of herring dishes, both hot and cold, and, of course, Swedish meatballs. The cold selections will include fish and meats that can be spread or placed on a piece of bread and eaten as an open sandwich.

What a difference from the buffets that we are accustomed to. ! When I was younger my parents would speak of a traditional smörgåsbord restaurant in New York City, but I am sure in over forty years it is no longer there. Anything that I have been able to find in the U.S.A. that calls itself a smörgåsbord is just a regular buffet restaurant with all that that implies. If anyone knows of any, please share them with us. They certainly do exist in Sweden. In search of one n the U.S., several sources led to a small part of Chicago called Andersonville, which is dubbed, "Little Sweden". While these direct you to where to find the foods to create your own smörgåsbord dinner (especially a julbord for the Christmas season), none have named a restaurant that one can go to for the traditional experience. Cities with significant Swedish populations do seem to have local events that feature a traditional Smorgasbord - as one found in Minneapolis, Minnesota, but these are one time (or perhaps annual) dinners. If you want to taste an approximation of Swedish foods - Swedish meatballs, lingonberries, etc. try an IKEA furniture and home store. This discount warehouse of knockdown furniture is based in Sweden and are now located all over the United States and most of their stores have a restaurant serving Swedish foods - no buffet, all you can eat, or smörgåsbord but you do get to try the food.

Of course, any buffet could be approached like a traditional smörgåsbord, as all of the elements are there. Anyone up for trying the Three Plate approach at Old Country Buffet? It would take a lot of discipline for most buffet lovers.

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