In Sweden, fika is an essential part of the day. It is where ideas are hatched, secrets are shared and alliances are formed. In fact, fika is so sacred that it is even built into many employee contracts. According to a study on Swedish fika habits, known as the Fika Report (Fikarapporten), the average Sweden spends 227 hours, or 9.5 days a year on fika.
Of those 227 hours, Fikarapporten found that 90 hours, or 7.5 working days are spent enjoying a fika at work. And, while newcomers to Sweden are often sceptical about taking so many breaks from work for fika, they soon realise that it is the most effective way to bond with colleagues and reach quick business decisions.
Fika isn’t only a workplace phenomenon, it also happens at home and in cafés, making it the most common form of daytime socialising in Sweden – replacing the mid-morning cup of tea or afternoon pint of beer favoured by other nations.
Cinnamon rolls: the greatest of all Swedish pastries
Nothing says fika like a steaming cup of coffee and a warm, sticky cinnamon roll. The cinnamon roll or bun (or kanelbulle) was first created after the First World War but, as the ingredients (flour, sugar, egg, butter, sugar cinnamon and cardamom) were expensive and hard to find, it did not become popular until the 1950s.
These days, it is the ultimate symbol of Swedish home cooking and the one thing Swedes admit to missing most when they move abroad. The average Swede consumes as many as 230 cinnamon rolls a year and the pastry is so popular that it even has its own day in the calendar. Kanelbullens Dag (Cinnamon Bun Day) takes place every year on October 4th, with an estimated eight million cinnamon rolls sold across Sweden on that day alone.
Semla, kladdkaka and princess cake
It goes without saying that the Swedes are a sweet-toothed nation at the habit shows no signs of dying down. In 1980, the average Swede consumed 2.7 kg of baked goods a year, compared with a whopping 11.5 kg in 2010. Apart from cinnamon rolls, other fika favourites include kladdkaka, princess cake and semla.
Kladdkaka (sticky cake, or mud cake) is a deliciously dense, moist chocolate cake that gets its soft, gooey centre from not being baked all the way through – which is also the reason it is so spectacularly tasty. Princesstårta (princess cake) is a layered sponge cake filled with custard, cream and raspberry jam and draped with a bright-green layer of marzipan often served at birthday parties. Last but not least, the semla is a pastry filled with whipped cream and marzipan that was traditionally baked on Shrove Tuesday (or Fat Tuesday) in a bid to use up all the fat and sugar in the household before lent.
Swedish coffee addicts
Apart from all the sweet treats, it goes without saying that the most central feature of fika is coffee – and more specifically drip coffee. When coffee first arrived in Sweden in 1685 it was an immediate hit. So much so, in fact, that it has had to be banned on five separate occasions in Swedish history. Rumour has it that Swedes continued to drink coffee secretly, out in the woods, during the bans.
Sweden is home to several top coffee producers including global mass exporter Gevalia. These days, however, small-batch roasters like Stockholm’s Drop Coffee and progressive, organic and fair-trade coffee companies like Löfbergs are gradually taking a larger market share.
Trendy fika for the health conscious
While Swedes love their sugar-laden fika breaks, they are also extremely health conscious and trend aware. It follows that Swedish food producers are among the world leaders dairy-free and gluten-free food alternatives. Top names in this booming market include Oatley, with its dairy-free oat milk made from 100% GMO-free Swedish oats, and Kungsörnen with its range of gluten-free flour and baking mixes.