The Top 10 Worst Swedish Foods (or ones that are just plain weird)…

I recently read a Top 10 on this very subject, and while I realise that things like this are highly subjective I have to say that aside from two or three things, I didn’t agree with the list at all! Indeed, they even put some things on the list which I’d actually put on my “Top 10 Best Swedish Foods”, so I’ve no idea what was wrong with that author (to be fair, I think they “crowd-sourced” the responses, and then just picked the responses from the people who’d sent in the most decent photos).

In any event, I should add a disclaimer that these are purely my personal opinions and I don’t mean to offend any die-hard fans of any of the things on this list. Sweden is a beautiful country with beautiful foods but some of the things just don’t sit well with me. In any case, every country has its own peculiar flavours… no-one here seems too fond of Marmite for example…

If you’re interested in reading the other side of the coin, check out my list of top 10 best Swedish foods here. Otherwise, without further ado, I present to you my list; read on to see the Top 10 Worst Swedish Foods:

10 – Flygande Jakob (Flying Jacob)

Flygande Jakob

 Photo credit: Koldehoff (Flickr) | License: CC-BY-NC-SA-20

Let’s ease into the list with something that isn’t altogether bad… just extremely weird, especially when you hear about it for the first time. The taste is actually quite ok, but you’d be brave person to try it when you hear the ingredients: Chicken, chilli sauce, peanuts, bacon, and… er… bananas. And no – not plantains. Actual “sweet” bananas.

9 – Ugnspannkaka (Oven Pancake)


Photo credit: yvoeri (Flickr) | License: CC-BY-NC-ND-20

Another dish which I have gripes with because it seems like everyone I know loves this stuff. It’s basically pancake batter which is poured into a big pan and baked until done in the oven. Sounds ok, right? Sure, as a dessert… except it’s traditionally eaten as a main course, by itself with butter and jam. My problem with this is that I feel like I need more than just a slab of carbs, fat and sugar for dinner. Bacon is sometimes added, so that’s some protein I suppose…

8 – Palt


 Photo credit: gemstone (Flickr) | License: CC-BY-SA-20

Another thing which a lot of people enjoy, these are just dreadful. Again, like the pancake, they’re often eaten as a main course with butter and jam. Palt are meat-filled potato dumplings. They’re dense, they’re sticky, they’re pale and anaemic-looking. Basically, wholly unappetising and I don’t like them one bit. I also tried to make them one day and they disintegrated in the boiling water so I’ve been bitter about them ever since.

7 – Swedish Sausages


 Photo credit: dahlstroms (Flickr) | License: CC-BY-20

Ok, I can’t write off every single Swedish sausage – I’m sure there are some fantastic local variants out there – but I sure as heck can’t find any here. The UK has a real sausage tradition – A good Cumberland sausage with herbs and apple… you can’t get better than that for your breakfast. Coming here, it seems like 99% of all the sausages are basically hotdogs in various sizes. Over-processed, mechanically recovered meat slurry shaped into a sausage and wrapped in plastic, much like this. Now, I enjoy a hotdog as much as the next man but I want a bit of variation every once in a while!

6 – Kalvdans


 Photo credit: ingelahjulforsberg (Flickr) | License: CC-BY-NC-20

No, it’s not the quenelle of ice-cream in the foreground there. The kalvdans is that wobbly, mayonaisey-looking stuff in the background. This is actually considered a real delicacy because the milk needed to make it is really hard to get a hold of. The name literally translates to “Calf Dance” and it’s made by heating unpasteurized colostrum milk, the first milk produced by a cow after giving birth. Again, it’s not inherently “bad”, I just find it exceptionally strange. It’s all wobbly and squelchy and like eating a thick milk jelly.

5 – Saltlakrits (Salty Liquorice)


 Photo credit: evassvammel (Flickr) | License: CC-BY-NC-ND-20

I might be a bit biased here, since I already detest liquorice, but imagine the worst candy in the entire world, and then imagine adding ammonium chloride to them during the manufacturing process. This gives them a revolting, tongue-numbing, overpowering salty flavour. Need I say more? They’re hugely popular here though. I just can’t imagine why…

4 – Fiskbullar (Fish Balls)


 Photo credit: opacity (Flickr) | License: CC-BY-NC-ND-20

I suppose these aren’t dissimilar to the fishballs you can find in many Asian countries, but I didn’t like them there, so I sure as heck aren’t going to like the Swedish variety. Imagine a rubbery white ball, tasting ever so vaguely of fish, smothered in different sauces – lobster, curry, dill – and then canned along with about 30 other of his bally friends. Heat up and eat from a bowl… or don’t.

3 – Lutfisk


Photo credit: magnuskolsjo (Flickr) | License: CC-BY-NC-SA-20

Lutfisk, or “Lye Fish” is common on the Swedish Christmas table. I’m very glad I got to try it last Christmas because now I know never to touch it again.  It is made from aged stockfish (air-dried whitefish) or dried and salted whitefish and lye. It smells vile and is like putting fish jelly into your mouth.

2 – Smörgåskaviar (Fish roe spread)


 Photo credit: dharder9475 (Flickr) | License: CC-BY-NC-20

This stuff… I hate it with every fibre of my being. Unfortunately my wife loves it, and now so too does my son. Don’t get me wrong… I love fish, but this smells like some kind of fishy nightmare. You only have to open the tube for a few seconds and the smell has permeated every corner of the room. Of course my son gets it all over his hands and then he decides he wants a big fishy hug after dinner. They do have a clever advertising campaign though

1 – Surströmming


Photo credit: lionsthlm (Flickr) | License: CC-BY-ND-20

 No list would be complete without these bad boys. You may remember this from my post back in February. I don’t even care that it doesn’t actually taste half as bad as it smells. No food should smell putrid and rotting!

So – what do you think? Do you agree? Did I miss anything from the list? Let me know in the comments below!


  1. says

    Ok, so I’ve tried nothing on this list but the way you’ve described textures and tastes, I now know never to do so.
    You are right, food is so subjective and one person’s taste is not like another’s. Which is why restaurant reviews baffle me a bit. My taste is totally different to someone else’s. But reading what you’ve written, seems like we are very similar!!

    • says

      Number 6 and 10… they’re just weird… when someone offers me kalvdans I’ll never eat it now because I find it so strange… kind of rubbery and thick and wibbly-wobbly, but it’s not unpleasant though I don’t think. True though – we all have different tastes… as can be seen by the number of Swedish people who rushed to tell me how wrong this list is! 😀

  2. says

    You’ve definitely got some winners … err losers there. Most of the fish ones would be automatically purged from my memory in horror as the combination of pickling and preserved fish are anathema to me from childhood when my dad brought home a package of butcher wrapped stinky fish which he’d dig in at the kitchen table. My brother and I would take our food and leave as quickly as possible. I’m sorry that you lost William to the evil fish roe spread addiction. Maybe you can save your next little one. :)

    The sausages don’t look bad though … kind of like a peeled and sliced Polish sausage. We’d fry them up and serve with fried eggs and crusty bread.

    I’ll end by agreeing that liquorice is horrible and I can’t understand why people actually eat that stuff.

    • says

      Meh, the sausages… don’t get me wrong, they’re perfectly edible, but I just end up thinking “for the love of God, why do all the sausages here have to be processed meat mush”. It gets really annoying after a while. I want something which doesn’t look like mechanically recovered meat garbage.

  3. says

    That’s one heck-of-a-roundup Charles. I have to agree with you on the majority but I’ll confess to a couple of things:
    1) anchovy paste, quite handy in making dressings or sauces, would it be similar to the fish tube paste?
    2) I make a savoury (sometimes sweet) bread pudding but we usually have it for breakfast or brunch.
    I’ll be sure to stay away from your top ten list for sure, thanks for the tips!

    • says

      Hi Eva,

      1) No, anchovy paste is nothing like the fish roe paste. Anchovy paste is actually nice… spread on some toast, it’s really delicious I find. The tube stuff here is just… dreadful. It’s the most fishy, obnoxious-smelling foul-tasting stuff I’ve ever seen. Horrid!

      2) Bread puddings are nice… it’s been ages since I had one. To be honest, this pancake isn’t terrible… the thing I object to is that it alone, along with butter and jam shouldn’t be a “dinner”. Perhaps a breakfast or snack, but I’m really the kind of person who needs a bit of protein and some nice veg in my evening meal!

  4. The Wife says

    You’ll find your pillows on the couch… 😉 The only gross things on your list are lutfisk and surströmming. Everything else is either fine, or plain delicious. Salty licorice, palt, kalvdans… those are the food of gods. Give it a few years and you’ll think so too. Gobble, gobble, my love. Gobble, gobble!

  5. says

    Ha ha ha ha ha! So funny! And educational. Thank you for the list. I will sent this (warning) list to my husband niece who is going to Sweden for missionary work.

    • says

      Glad you enjoyed it! Be sure to link her my post coming out tomorrow so she can get an idea of what she *should* be eating! 😀

  6. says

    I hate the look of all of these dishes and I don’t know how or why anyone would want to eat them. Sweet pancakes for dinner with bacon thrown in? Those sausages! I agree with you on the cumberland sausage – wonderful. But you have one in this list that is an absolute favourite of mine and that’s the salt licorice! I adore it and can’t get enough of it. It’s not all that common here and you have to have your looking-eyes on to find it and yes, it all comes from Europe; mostly Holland. I used to find a packet of salt licorice at the bottom of my Christmas stocking and knew Father Christmas had to be real because he brought me something from so far away xx

    • says

      Bah, you’ve let me down Charlie… just when I thought I’d found a true comrade in arms, so to speak, you go and tell me that you love salt licorice.

      All I can say is: “What’s wrong with you?!”. I don’t understand how anyone can think it’s even edible! 😀

  7. says

    I agree with 8 on those list! Living here now for two years I cannot eat those things either.

    But! Flygande Jakob I love it l, it tastes really nice actually if it is proper made. And of course being Dutch myself salty liquorice nom nom nom no better candy then those things especiall turkisk peppar!

    • says

      But of course, I should have expected you to be a salt licorice lover! Flygande Jakob… yeah, I put it low down on the list because it’s not terrible, but it sure is weird. Telling people outside Sweden you’re having Chicken and bananas for dinner will usually elicit a few raised eyebrows :D.

      • LG says

        You forgot to mention that the chili sauce is mixed with whipped cream and poured on top before the whole concoction goes into the oven…

  8. says

    Fascinating post, Charles! It was an excellent idea to post the weirdest – according to you – Swedish food. Am I the only one intrigued by these dishes rather than disgusted? I want to taste all those I haven’t from this list (that is all apart from salted liquorice and fish roe paste).
    I have never tasted the nr one (but I will if I can; I think every food-curious person should live this experience), but for example fish roe paste is one of my favourite food products in the world. Of course home made taramosalata (I posted it once and prepare it often) is much better than the one from the tube, but I have been eating this Swedish brand since I was a small child (like your son I loved it since I can remember). I am not a fan of the dill version though (or any “fancy” versions). I think we are many millions in Europe enjoying fish roe paste.
    I suppose US visitors shouldn’t find the pancake weird. I keep on seeing pancakes served with syrup and bacon in many US films, so I suppose it’s not rare there….
    In Poland there are also sweet dishes treated as full meals, but it’s not a main course for me either and I don’t like them (apart from one exception I will post one day). If I remember well in Hungary too. (Pasta with fresh cheese and sugar, I think). As for the liquorice, many people love it (in France for example) and I have a friend who is crazy for salted one (it can also be bought here, but imported from Netherlands), so I’m not surprised it’s popular in Sweden.
    I haven’t tasted dried stockfish (it’s sold by 2 kg huge fillets here…), but I would like to. I love salted dried cod and I think the strong smell is a part of the flavours, like certain cheese kinds, (though it’s not gelatinous when cooked… it’s just like cod texture, but tastes 100 x better than fresh cod).
    I have never been a fan of finely ground sausages: they are a great occasion to put 80% of stuff which shouldn’t be a part of any sausage, so they are often tasteless (here however Wiener sausages are good: smoked with crunchy edible delicious casings…).
    The meat dumplings don’t look like Polish ones, but your description does sound like this. Polish ones are also very difficult to make, but they are fabulous, though the filling has herbs and spices while I have heard Swedish food is barely seasoned.
    All the people I know who visited Sweden, said the food is underseasoned (well to be frank: bland) or strangely sweetish (which some of the photos above confirm). Is it true? (I don’t mean at your parents-in-law’s house because I suppose they like seasoned food :-) ).
    Excellent post , Charles! I hope you will post the opposite one day too! Your beloved Swedish dishes/products! (And don’t be politically correct there: tell us the truth!).

    • says

      Hi Sissi! Thanks for the nice comment – it was fun to read! If you ever have a chance to visit me in Sweden I’ll be sure to throw a special surströmming party just for you. And by that I mean you can sit in the garden by yourself with the can of stinky fish while I take shelter inside :D.

      I absolutely LOVE taramosalata… but would you consider it the same thing as this tube garbage? The stuff in the tubes I just abhor. It’s so fishy and almost intoxicating… bleurgh. Makes me feel sick even thinking about it.

      I never met a single person in France who loved salty licorice – I’m really surprised to hear you say it. It was a favourite trick of Swedish people in my office to bring back this “saltlakrits” from vacation and feed it to French people in the office to see their reaction, haha.

      Stockfish isn’t terrible, but it’s the lye that really ruins it. I can’t understand why anyone would want to eat it… this strange, almost tasteless jelly-like white fish. So odd.

      I can definitely agree that spices aren’t that common… as a result people generally have a low tolerance for heat. I remember being at a friend’s house for dinner with my wife. There was another friend of my wife’s there and there was a jar of homemade chilli jam on the table, made with a really hot chilli. I tried a bit and it was strong, for sure, but very good. Beautiful, complex flavours. The other friend tried it… and, well, it didn’t end well!

      • says

        Charles, I said “liquorice”; not “salty liquirice”. The friend I mentioned is the only one I know who likes salted one (that’s why I have mentioned her), while standard liquorice is quite popular. It can be find at the supermarkets’ cashier, so it’s the proof it’s not a rare buy.
        Taramosalata… I think that the Swedish industrial cousin of taramosalata is much better than for example the stuff sold in France as taramosalata (which is bland and oily… while the Swedish thing has a lot of taste at least!). For me taramosalata must be strong-tasting and fishy (this is what lacks in the French one, as often made tasteless for French tastebuds not used to certain tastes). Of course nothing beats the home-made one!

        • says

          (Sorry for the typos… I cannot correct them alas :-( ). I shouldn’t write in English when I’m tired 😉 or reread at least…

        • says

          Ah, of course – yes, you’re right… regular licorice is very common in France… I did indeed think it was strange if you were saying that French people were big fans of the salty stuff!

          I must admit – the stuff sold in France as taramosalata (it’s sold as “tarama”, right? I think it’s the same thing…) I am very fond of. I love it because it’s just the right amount of “fishiness”, without being terrible like the Swedish kaviar junk.

          I’ve been considering making it, but if it’s going to end up being super-fishy like kaviar perhaps I’ll give it a miss.

        • says

          Oops, I forgot to say: don’t worry about typos! In fact I experimented with a plugin which allowed people to edit their comments for 5 minutes after submitting, but because I have quite a bit going on to try and make my site as speedy as possible it wasn’t 100% compatible sadly and would have needed no small amount of work to make it function well.

      • says

        Oh, so if you like the French delicate thing, I see now why you don’t like the “Swedish blue tube with a boy” as I call it 😉 I think you would hate my taramosalata, even though homemade because it’s very strong compared to the French tarama (though of course it’s less salty and more natural than commercial ones). I absolutely must have the strong fishy taste in it!
        I like fish roe in general, but I prefer good foie gras rather than caviar if I had to order somewhere 😉 .
        Thank you for the kind words about my errors (the good side is I have checked my words and learnt that liquorice is also an accepted spelling in English! which doesn’t change the fact that I have left other typos, of course ).

  9. says

    Sorry for such a long comment (I have realised only after submitting…). Your post was too fascinating and I’m too talkative 😉

  10. says

    “You’ll find your pillows on the couch”… heeheeh, yes indeed, I was especially interested in hearing the other voice in the family on this one :). It would be utterly unfair of me to opine on this selection, I am truly not a natural fish person 😉 but that has nothing to do with the quality of the food or the Swedish preparation, just my peculiarities. I would totally dig that salted liquorice though!!! :) Fun post Charles.

    • says

      I love fish, really I do. I find it so interesting how fish is viewed across different cultures. For example, salmon here is really not considered as something that special. In fact, my wife’s grandfather hated it. He always said it was complete garbage… basically the kind of thing you eat if you’re poor and there’s nothing else in the whole house, whereas in England – at least until 10 or 20 years ago – it was really considered quite a luxury.

  11. says

    Charles, we are in complete agreement. I would not remove a single thing from your list. Have you ever heard of an American television show, animated, called King of the Hill? There is an hilarious episode when the new minister in town is of Norwegian background and brings lutfisk to the church picnic and Bobby Hill eats the whole thing. You should definitely see it!

    • says

      Hi Jean, I’ve heard of the show – never seen much of it though, and definitely not that episode. How fun – would love to check it out. I looked on Netflix but they don’t seem to have it (at least not on Swedish Netflix).

  12. says

    This post had me laughing so hard Charles! I loved it. Mike actually came into my office curious what I was laughing about. I have to say I’m in agreement with you from afar (haven’t not seen or tried any of these dishes). The first one, with the bananas, is curious to me though. I have to admit I might try that one. I do love bananas. The flavor combo sounds odd and one I’m not sure I’d like, but it’s one I’d try. Saltlakrits and fish roe spread, however, there’s no way I could try those. I can’t stand licorice either and anything with a strong fish smell sends me running. Don’t get me wrong, I love seafood, but I have a strong sense of smell and things with intense odor (particularly unpleasant odors) don’t sit so well with me. I can just imagine the sticky fishy hug though. LOL. As for marmite…well, I tried it recently. I can’t say I hated it, nor can I say I liked it. It was interesting. The kids on the other hand…they thought it was horrible. Poor Mr. N had no idea what he was trying. Miss A tricked him into thinking it was something sweet. The reaction was priceless.

    • says

      Yeah, the first one isn’t the worst (first one? Well… number 10, I mean). It’s just so … weird-sounding. Chicken, peanuts… bananas?! Perhaps I’ll post it one day so you can see it.

      I find it hilarious that Miss A tricked Mr N into eating marmite. What a horrible shock that must have been if he was expecting something sweet. I can well imagine his poor face!

      So, erm, I’m guessing you don’t want me to send you a can of stinky fish… or a tube of stinky fish spread? 😀

  13. Shashi @ RunninSrilankan says

    What – the Swedes don’t like Marmite but like Salty Liquorice???? No way!!!!
    And looks like weirdly preserved fish is a big item there – I haven’t tried any of these 10 items – and couldn’t say I have an opinion till I taste them – with the exception of that salty liquorice – that’s just ghastly sounding!!

    • says

      Bleurgh, I’ll never understand the attraction personally, but I’m not a “sweets” person. I used to like them as a kid, until I discovered “good” chocolate, and now I never eat candies.

  14. says

    This is SO funny Charlies. If I didn’t know you were serious, I would look at this food and think someone made it for the sole purpose of being bad and ugly. So is butter and jam the solution to make anything taste better? :)

    • says

      Ha, well, not sure about the butter, but to be honest I should think the jam is probably a throwback to the old days when fresh fruit and veg wasn’t available here in the long winter months. People would pick berries – notably lingonberries – in the autumn, and they have so much pectin in they can be preserved by literally just leaving them in a bucket of water. They’d make jam out of them and eat it with their meal (of potatoes and meat) and I suppose it was a way of getting some vitamins in the snowy nights :)

    • says

      Haha, that’s the reaction of a lot of people to lutfisk it seems, but mysteriously some people really seem to love it…!

  15. says

    I am sorry but I can’t agree with you on all of this. I adore liquorice, the saltier the better! And I like Kalles Kaviar – lovely with a boiled egg :) But the rest are all valid!

  16. Jessica says

    Living in Sweden, I both agree and disagree.

    You really need to taste a good sausage. If you visit again I can point you to to a bunch of places that sell the real thing.

    But yes, food is subjective, and I don’t really do these kinds of lists myself. The only thing I just totally won’t eat is anything involving offal. On occassion, I have black pudding. I don’t eat Kalles kaviar, nor am I in for kalvdans, surströmming or svartsoppa. Ugnspannkaka was a frequent food in the school cafeteria growing up, which pretty much messed up whatever delight the dish may hold.

    I know people that will kill for good salty licorice, although I will only eat finnish sweet licorice at times.

    • says

      Hi Jessica, actually I do live here now – up near Skellefteå so by all means, please do let me know the locations of “good sausage” vendors. You’d make my day if I could find a nice one, although I’m starting to suspect I may need to resort to making my own… not that that is a bad thing. I never tried making sausages before and must admit to being quite excited by the prospect of trying it.

      I had some Swedish black pudding just a few days ago and was very disappointed. I was expecting it to be like the English version which has oats and a much stronger flavour – more spices. The pudding I tried tasted very plain and flat… are they all like that?

      • Jessica says

        I live in Mälardalen so I’m at a loss for where to find good sausage up north. I know of a few places around here but it’s small-scale production and all is sold locally.

        Since I rarely eat black pudding, I buy from a butcher when I do. It should be savoury yet somewhat sweet. I prefer if they haven’t dropped a tub of allspice into the mix, but that seems to vary rather significantly.

  17. Charlie says


    I don’t know about the stuff in the tube.. I like beluga caviar. Does your stuff come close?

    Also the sturstrommg (sp?) is that like pickled herring? Love pickled herring as do my girls and grandchildren.

    • says

      Hi Charlie – no… not even close I’m afraid… on both counts.

      I love “real” caviar, and “pure” fish roe in most forms, but this is smushed up with something creamy, like mayonnaise, maybe some breadcrumbs too. It smells REALLY fishy and is not good at all. It’s kind of like fish paste.

      As for the surströmming… no, we have pickled herring here, that’s called “inlagd sill”. “Sur” literally means sour, and it’s basically fermented herring. The cans have so much gas inside that they bulge out on all sides and make a loud hiss when you open them. The smell can only really be compared to a pile of old fish bits which has been thrown in the garbage and left out in the sun for 2 weeks. It’s a terrible smell of fishy garbage and decomposition and I don’t understand at all why anyone would subject themselves to this 😀 (pickled herring however… is indeed delicious!)

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