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Swedish buffet-Smörgåsbord-01 (cropped).jpg
Place of originSweden
Serving temperatureHot and cold
Main ingredientsBread, butter, and cheese

Smörgåsbord (Swedish: [ˈsmœ̂rɡɔsˌbuːɖ] (About this soundlisten)) is a type of Scandinavian meal, originating in Sweden, served buffet-style with multiple hot and cold dishes of various foods on a table.

Smörgåsbord became internationally known at the 1939 New York World's Fair when it was offered at the Swedish Pavilion "Three Crowns Restaurant".[1] It is typically a celebratory meal and guests can help themselves from a range of dishes laid out for their choice. In a restaurant the term refers to a buffet-style table laid out with many small dishes from which, for a fixed amount of money, one is allowed to choose as many as one wishes.


A Nordic smörgåsbord

In Northern Europe, the term varies between "cold table" and "buffet": In Norway it is called koldtbord or kaldtbord and in Denmark det kolde bord (literally "the cold table"); in Germany kaltes Buffet and in the Netherlands koud buffet (literally "cold buffet"); in Iceland it is called hlaðborð ("loaded/covered table"), in Estonia it is called külmlaud ("cold table") or rootsi laud ("Swedish table"), in Latvia aukstais galds ("the cold table"), in Finland voileipäpöytä ("butter-bread/sandwich table") or ruotsalainen seisova pöytä ("Swedish standing table/buffet"). In Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine, it is a called "Shvedskyj stol" ("Swedish table") (Cyrillic: Шведский стол) or "zakusochnyj stol" ("snack table") (Cyrillic: закусочный стол) or "kholodnyj stol"("cold table") (Cyrillic: холодный стол). Central and Eastern Europe, each language has a term that literally means "Swedish table". In Japan it is referred to as バイキング / ヴァイキング (baikingu / vaikingu, i.e. "Viking").

The Swedish word smörgåsbord consists of the words smörgås ("sandwich", usually open-faced) and bord ("table"). Smörgås in turn consists of the words smör ("butter", cognate with English smear) and gås (literally "goose", but later referred to the small pieces of butter that formed and floated to the surface of cream while it was churned).[2] The small butter pieces were just the right size to be placed and flattened out on bread, so smörgås came to mean "buttered bread". In Sweden, the term att bre(da) smörgåsar ("to spread butter on open-faced sandwiches") has been used since at least the 16th century.

In English and also in Scandinavian languages, the word smörgåsbord refers loosely to any buffet with a variety of dishes — not necessarily with any connection to Swedish Christmas traditions. In an extended sense, the word is used to refer to any situation which invites patrons to select whatever they wish from an abundant selection, such as the smorgasbord of university courses, books in a bookstore, etc.

Smörgåsbord and julbord[edit]

Smörgåsbord foods

A traditional Swedish smörgåsbord consists of both hot and cold dishes. Bread, butter, and cheese are always part of the smörgåsbord. It is customary to begin with the cold fish dishes which are generally various forms of herring, salmon, and eel. After eating the first portion, people usually continue with the second course (other cold dishes), and round off with hot dishes. Dessert may or may not be included in a smörgåsbord.


A special Swedish type of smörgåsbord is the julbord (literally "Yule/Christmas table"). The classic Swedish julbord is central to traditional Swedish cuisine.

A traditional julbord is typically eaten buffet style in five to seven courses (depending on local and family traditions).The first three courses are usually fish-courses. The first plate is an assortment of different pickled herrings served with sour cream and chives. The second is a variety of cold fish, particularly several kinds of lox (e.g. gravlax). And the third plate is hot fish-dishes - particularly lutfisk. Other traditional dishes would be (smoked) eel, rollmops, herring salad, baked herring, smoked salmon, smoked char and shellfish canapés, accompanied by sauces and dips.

The fourth course is often a selection of cold sliced meats, the most important cold cut being the Christmas ham (julskinka) with mustard. Other traditional cuts include smoked sausages, leverpastej, wild game cuts, smoked leg of lamb (fårfiol), pâtés and several types of brawn (sylta). It is also common to serve the cold meats with sliced cheese, pickled cucumbers and soft (vörtbröd) and crisp breads.

Julbord aboard the cruise boat Gustavsberg VII in 1990

The fifth course would be warm dishes (småvarmt). Traditionally, the fifth course begins with soaking bread in the stock from the Christmas ham, which is called dopp i grytan. Warm dishes include Swedish meatballs (köttbullar), small fried hot dog sausages (prinskorv), roasted pork ribs (revbensspjäll), pork sausages (fläskkorv), potato sausages (potatiskorv), and Janssons frestelse (literally "Jansson's Temptation") - a warm potato casserole, matchstick potatoes layered with cream, onion and sprats. Side dishes include beetroot salad in mayonnaise and warm stewed red, green or brown cabbage and boiled potatoes.

The sixth and seventh course is a cheese plate and a dessert plate. Julbord cheeses include stilton, cheddar, västerbottenost and Christmas edammer. Desserts include rosettes (struvor), klenäts (klenäter), polkagrisar, knäck, dates, figs, ischoklad, saffron buns, mandelmusslor, gingerbread cookies, marzipan figures, different kinds of nuts, risalamande and most importantly rice pudding (risgrynsgröt) sprinkled with cinnamon powder. Traditionally, an almond is hidden in the bowl of rice pudding and whoever finds it receives a small prize or is recognised for having good luck.

A julbord often also include local and family specialties. Among them are isterband, baked beans, omelette with shrimps or mushrooms covered with béchamel sauce, äggost, saffranspannkaka, långkål, rörost, ostkaka, kroppkakor and julgädda.

Beer and the occasional snaps, brännvin or akvavit are common beverages to this Christmas meal. The seasonal soft drink julmust is also served at the julbord, as well as during the whole Christmas holiday.

The Christmas ham is either boiled or broiled and then painted and glazed with a mixture of egg, breadcrumbs and mustard.

Lutfisk, lyed fish made of stockfish (dried ling or cod), is served with boiled potato, thick white sauce or mustard sauce, green peas and sometimes cubed bacon. More and more families opt to eat Lutfisk as dinner the day before or after Christmas Eve rather than as a dish among other at the Julbord.

Julbord is served from early December until just before Christmas at restaurants and until Epiphany in some homes. It is traditional for most Swedish and Norwegian workplaces to hold an annual Julbord between November and January.

In Denmark a typical tradition resembling the Swedish julbord is julefrokost ("Christmas-lunch"), which involves a well-stocked Danish smörgåsbord with cold as well as hot dishes, and plenty of beer and snaps. It is distinct from the Danish Christmas dinner, which is served on 24 December, and is served as a lunchtime meal, usually for family and friends on 25 or 26 December. It is also a tradition for most Danish workplaces to hold an annual julefrokost some time during the months of November to January.


The members of the Swedish merchant and upper class in sixteenth-century Sweden and Finland served schnapps table (brännvinsbord), a small buffet presented on a side table offering a variety of hors d'oeuvres served prior to a meal before sitting at the dinner table.[3] The most simple brännvinsbord was bread, butter, cheese, herring and several types of liqueurs; but smoked salmon, sausages and cold cuts were also served. The brännvinsbord was served as an appetizer for a gathering of people and eaten while standing before a dinner or supper, often two to five hours before dinner, sometimes with the men and women in separate rooms.[4] The smörgåsbord became popular in the mid-seventeenth century, when the food moved from the side table to the main table[4] and service began containing both warm and cold dishes. Smörgåsbord was also served as an appetizer in hotels and later at railway stations, before the dining cars time for the guests. During the 1912 Olympic Games, restaurants in Stockholm stopped serving smörgåsbord as an appetizer and started serving them instead as a main course.

Since March 2020, many smörgåsbords were suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic, as there are restaurants offering take-away or delivery.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Straight-up Scandinavia: Understanding the smörgåsbord". Gadling. Retrieved 12 January 2015.
  2. ^ Catharina, Grünbaum (2006-12-13). "Smörgåsar men datormöss". Dagens Nyheter (in Swedish). Archived from the original on 2009-03-05. Retrieved 2009-03-05.
  3. ^ Bertil Falk. "The Smorgasbord". Retrieved 12 January 2015.
  4. ^ a b Nordiska Museet, in Swedish

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