The quickest way to understand a place is to dive into the culture. In Stockholm, I was extremely lucky to be invited to experience the Swedish ritual of fika. An important part of Swedish life that involves enjoying coffee and pastries with friends, family or co-workers, fika reveals the Swedish love of home life and sweets. Strolling the narrow streets of Stockholm, I noticed that every cafe was crammed with people lingering over coffee and big, puffy, rolls. Turns out those rolls, called Semla, are a hugely popular part of the Lenten ritual of fattening up before the fast. Only people seem to gobble more Semlor (plural) than they practice Lenten fasting these days.
I was fortunate to arrive in February, just when the Semla craze stirs up and even more fortunate to have two Stockholm based friends, Lola Akinmade Akerstrom and Germaine Thomas to invite me to fika and guide me through the tradition. Fika (pronounced fee-cah) is like a coffee break except it's not tied to work or any pre-determined structure, you can have fika several times a day at any time you like. The semla is made from wheat flour, sprinkled with cardamon and filled with almond paste and whipped cream. It sounds rich and impossibly decadent because it is. I have to admit, I was intimidated by the size and heft of the Semla. How do you eat them without making a mess? As we settled into a bustling cafe in the Central station of Stockholm's metro, Lola and Germaine showed me. You take the lid off the bun and you're supplied with tiny spoons the scoop out the cream. As Semla experts, they informed me that these were good Semlor, fresh and made with high quality ingredients. Apparently, all Semla is not created equal and it's possible to get stuck with bad Semlor that tastes terrible. That definitely wasn't the case here. I dug into the creamy sweetness and sipped chai tea, savoring the sweetness. My favorite part was the almond paste but I especially loved trying fika with my Swedish friends.