by Jayna Valen
How Sweden Got Me Hooked On Fika
I’m a person who’s constantly evolving. I tend to adopt snippets of culture from around the world easily, embracing ways of life and practices that move and inspire me. This is especially true of places and societies that I’ve had the privilege of immersing myself in and experiencing the native culture first-hand, as a local.
Sweden changed me in more ways than I can coherently describe. I became so Swedish that I underwent a permanent personality overhaul. I lived in Stockholm for a number of months and experienced life in the Scandinavian capital from the standpoint of a local Swede. From picnics in Skansen to buying acrylics from Clas Ohlson, from butter-frying kantarell to my ready acceptance of unyielding laundry schedules (tvättstuga stories for another day), I dove in with enthusiasm. One day, someone asked me what was the thing about Swedish culture that fascinated me the most. My answer? Fika. Hands down!
Those unfamiliar with Swedish culture may mistakenly consider fika to be just another regular coffee or tea break. Undeniably, that’s what it involves – a spread of coffee, pastries, jams and other snacks that’s shared with family or guests.
However, the best part of fika is that it’s an excellent way to hone your skills in (and experience) the art of conversation – something which is all but dead in today’s smartphone-obsessed society. It’s almost a subculture in itself, made up of those who truly know how to indulge in and embrace the art of fika.
The authentic fika experience is a concept as sophisticated as the Swedes themselves, and reflective of their discerning palates. Am I exaggerating? Hell no. Just ask any self-respecting Swede. Better still, go to Sweden and observe this interesting phenomenon for yourself. Heck, you can even do it at your local IKEA.
Funny thing is, I’ve been practicing fika all my life without realizing it. I love long, deep conversations about anything. I’ve always invited friends over for coffee (green tea for me) and snacks – I just didn’t call it fika back then. Sweden just taught me how to fine-tune the art of hosting, attending and enjoying fika. Has it been a life-changing experience? You bet. Then again, everything is for me.
So, What’s Fika?
Fika is basically a break that involves quality food and the good-company-good-conversation combo. The real art of fika lies in the ability of the host (and often, the guests) to successfully merge food, drink, company and conversation to create unforgettable experiences. Although there are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to fika, the best sessions I’ve had are when everyone is feeling warm and relaxed, respected and included. Then, the conversations begin to flow like magic.
There’s no fixed time to have fika in Sweden, though they generally have it twice a day – late in the morning and sometime in the evening. If someone invites you over for fika in Sweden, here’s what you can expect:
1. Good-quality coffee, tea or other beverages (usually more than one type).
2. A spread of food that usually includes pastries, jams, butter, fruit, cakes and more. If your host is non-vegetarian, you may also see food like gravad lax (cured salmon) or cured meats.
What always surprised me about fika with various people in Stockholm was the variety and quality of the food served. Swedes take their fika seriously, especially if they’re hosting it at their homes. Hosts who invited me over were of the opinion that having instant coffee for fika was borderline sacrilegious (that probably doesn’t apply to everyone in Sweden).
My Fika Experiences In Stockholm
I’ve had the privilege to have fika with some really amazing people. What’s great is that the experience of fika differs significantly, depending on the people involved.
For instance, fika with my good friend Tony Särkkä, a black metal musician, was always an experience that reflected his fine tastes and artistic inclination. Like me, he was a gourmet tea enthusiast, so fika at his place meant anything from Japanese sencha to white Darjeeling. He had an exquisite dining table made of reflective black glass, which showed off the fika spread wonderfully – vegan butters, almond and oat milk, fruits, nuts, pastries and an assortment of traditional Swedish breads.
We often spoke about books, art and music. Leisurely, sometimes pausing to watch the snowfall through the window. There were times when we wrote poetry together. We delved into topic after topic deeply, unhurriedly. Fika was our way of spurring the creativity of our minds and exploring novel ideas or concepts. Tony has since passed on, but I will always remember him fondly as the first person who introduced me to fika, and forever cherish the conversations we had.
How To Host Fika At Your Place
I personally think everyone should embrace the art of fika. At least, try it out – it’s fun. And you know what? It’s so easy to do. All you need is the following as a base, but remember, the more variety of food and drinks, the more interesting your fika will be. Fika can even be done like a potluck, where everyone brings a dish.
• A good-quality drink of your choice, like coffee or tea (I don’t recommend alcohol for fika)
• Some good food. A diverse variety of things to eat makes for pleasant sense indulgence, besides encouraging interesting conversation.
• A comfortable place to have your food and drinks with your fika guests. A couch, a café or even a nice shady spot under a tree are perfect.
Candles are optional but make a great addition. Then, invite some people over! This is where the art part comes in – the art of choosing / combining various food and drinks plus keeping good conversation going.
If your fika guests aren’t the talkative type or are just plain shy, gently get them to open up. Introduce interesting topics to discuss or bring something to the fika, like a good book or a poem. Encourage everyone to share their ideas, thoughts and opinions. Keep things pleasant and light-hearted – fika is not the time to bring up sensitive topics or start heated debates. If the conversation takes a negative turn, gently steer it back to something more conducive.
Want to incorporate the art of Swedish living into your current lifestyle? Fika is where you start. It’s easy to organise, fun, sophisticated and a great way to bring people together.