It’s late December. You’re writing a Christmas groceries list. Brussels sprouts (who actually likes them?), carrots (yawn), turkey (invariably dry), potatoes (stodge-city), red cabbage (overrated)…yep, it’s all so predictable, not to mention hard work. So don’t do it! Give yourself a break and Nordic up your Noel by taking a leaf from the Swedes' book.
Meet the Julbord – Mother Svea’s answer to your Yuletide yearnings: Minimalist, sleek, streamlined and a cinch to prepare with ingredients readily available to buy across the UK. And, yes… it gets better, custom dictates that guests contribute and bring a dish too, making for a democratic, delegated and delicious dinner – you don’t get much more Scandi than that.
Not a creature from the imagination of Lewis Carroll, the Julbord is a Swedish culinary tradition that goes back hundreds of years. It’s become the Scandinavian equivalent of Christmas dinner – a buffet-like spread of meat, cheese, bread and fish eaten (usually) on Christmas Eve. So it’s a smorgasbord then? Sort of, but not exactly.
The Julbord is a Christmas feast made up of historically significant Swedish foods. Regionally, different areas of Sweden have different Julbord traditions. There are, however, some staples - staples that you can buy in any Ikea store nationwide or across London’s array of Nordic delis – pre-prepped! Hurrah! The first course is a selection of cold poached or cured fish, usually salmon, eel and herring. Then follows the sliced cold meats, as well as warmer dishes such as meatballs or roast pork ribs. The centrepiece is the Julskinka - a Christmas ham which has been cooked in aromatic soup, glazed and topped with breadcrumbs.
Although some say it’s an acquired taste, “Julbord Day” is so popular in Sweden it’s a one-day ticketed event held countrywide in the nation’s Ikeas. Should you wish to host your own, however, we’ve got some ticket-free suggestions - and you don’t even need a ridiculously small pencil to keep track of them.
Gather Your Own Julbord
You have hundreds of options when it comes to creating your own Julbord. There are typically three to five plates (courses) consisting of fish, meats (warm and cold), vegetables, breads, cheeses, salads and desserts. Some chefs start preparation as much as one month in advance. Intimidated? Don’t be. Here’s how you can have your own authentic Swedish Julbord Christmas, minus the epic preparation.
Scandi Kitchen (For the fish and meats)
Scandi Kitchen is pretty much a one-stop shop for all Julbord needs, though it excels in providing authentic Scandinavian fish and meats. To begin, you’ll want Inlagd sill (pickled herring), but it won’t hurt to pick up some Korshags Gravlax (Gravadlax Cured Salmon) and perhaps some eel too. Cold meats are also required, so look to Blindhs Renkorv (Reindeer Sausage) and Grilstad Lufttörkad Skinka (cured ham) as a safe starting point. The star attractions – Julskinka and Swedish meatballs – are also available.
Totally Swedish (for the sides)
Cheese and preserves are another crucial element. For these, Totally Swedish has a good selection. Other side dishes include beetroot salad, red and green cabbage and a sweet bread called Vortbread.
Bageriet (for dessert)
Do not under estimate the importance of Julbord dessert. Luckily, Bageriet specialises in hand crafted Swedish cakes. Think Scandinavian biscuits, breads and treats. A special porridge called Risgrynsgrot is often a featured dessert. Gingersnaps and a Swedish toffee called Knak make welcome additions too.
Skandilicious (for the real deal)
Cooking (or assembling) is not for everyone, so thankfully Skandilicious hosts Swedish Christmas throughout December. This pop-up restaurant changes location each year. Make a reservation and head to Chelsea for the 2015 Skandilicious dining experience. The menu is expansive (over 35 dishes), plus the bar serves festive Swedish cocktails, wines and beers.
Julbord image: Ikea
Scandi Kitchen image: Scandi Kitchen
Skandilicious image: Skandilicious