Take the Julbord Challenge this Christmas… | Posted: 25 October 2013
Fish features heavily in the julbord, which you can sample during a Christmas market break to Gothenburg
Steve Jack

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Steve Jack

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One of many typical dishes found on the julbord

Many different nationalities celebrate Christmas with a particular kind of festive meal, and the Swedes are no exception.

For them, this time of year represents an opportunity to indulge in their love of fresh, local produce in general – and seafood in particular – and to take that venerable Swedish institution, the smörgåsbord, to a whole new level.This comes in the form of the beloved julbord (literally, ‘Christmas Table’) which can be enjoyed at many restaurants throughout the country between late November and Christmas itself. The julbord is essentially a multi-course buffet-cum-feast, giving the well-organised visitor a prime opportunity to try the best of everything Swedish.

I emphasise the need for planning, not only because it pays to book ahead, but also because it’s essential to have some kind of strategy. There’s no use rushing headlong into the first course and filling up your plate, only to realise – to your undoubted horror – that no room remains for the cheese or dessert!

Nor is there anything to be gained by rushing things… there’s always more than enough to go around, so the sensible strategy is to take your time and allow most of an afternoon or evening to complete the challenge. Begin with a leisurely glass of glögg (Swedish mulled wine); take lengthy pauses between courses for a toast or two of snaps or aquavit; relax gently into a state of semi-soporific bliss, aided by the surrounding candles, twinkling lights and maybe a dark Swedish ale or two; and indulge in the timeless art of conversation.

And so to the food. Here, my advice is: start at the beginning. Sill (herring), in particular, comes into its own at this time of year, and this delicious fish (once considered a poor man’s food, but now a prized delicacy) is served in a variety of different ways to form the initial phase of any self-respecting julbord.

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Magical Gothenburg

We provide plenty of recommendations for eating out as part of our Christmas market breaks to Gothenburg. These include several restaurants offering a traditional julbord. Enjoy!

More about our festive short breaks to Sweden >

Sauces I have tried include whisky, mustard, dill, blackcurrant, garlic, onion, curry… the list goes on and on. The strong flavour of the juicy, pickled fish seems to be able to hold up to – and indeed complement – combinations of flavours and accompaniments whose only limit is the chef’s imagination.

Assuming you don’t get ‘lost in herring’ (as I very nearly did!), you then move gracefully onto several delicious varieties of gravad lax (salmon cured in salt, sugar and dill), perhaps also sampling the lutfisk (a ling dish for the truly curious) before turning your attention to the meat. Again, you will be spoilt for choice among the different types of paté, cured and cooked slices (up north, the selection will slant more towards the likes of reindeer and elk), amid which the mainstay of every julbord – the Christmas ham – will sit proudly on display.

Add to this the traditional meatballs, beetroot salad and other warm accompaniments such as Janssons frestelse (‘Jansson’s temptation’ – a traditional casserole of potatoes, onion, pickled sprats, breadcrumbs and cream which is my Swedish friend Pia’s absolute favourite) and you may be starting to feel a little full…

But if you have followed my advice and stuck to your plan, you should still be able to find a little room for some tasty morsels from the cheeseboard, accompanied by biscuits and knäckebröd (crispbread), before carefully choosing from the selection of desserts, thus rounding things off in suitably sweet style.

After all this, it’s wise to go for a short stroll and then maybe plan to take a little nap! If you’re Swedish, of course, you’ll love the julbord so much that you’ll do it all over again on Christmas Eve, the day the Swedes celebrate Christmas. But now is perhaps not the time to contemplate more food!

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