Students in Dr. Karen Metheny’s Summer Term course, Anthropology of Food (MET ML 641) are contributing guest posts this month. Today’s post is from Norma Tentori.
During discussions and readings in Anthropology of Food, the class delved into many different human cultures and their social traditions that surround food. A topic I found especially interesting was how cultures can have such distinctly different rituals and traditions around a certain food item. In this instance I am talking about coffee. These discussions caused me to reminisce and reflect on a recent trip overseas to Sweden when a new word that was deeply embedded in both coffee and tradition was introduced to me: fika.
Coffee in Swedish translates to “kaffe,” but pairing coffee with something to eat is defined as “fika” – both a noun and a verb. It is a part of Sweden’s tradition that many engage in at least once daily.
During my time this past summer in Gothenburg, it seemed as if every map and brochure defined the Haga neighborhood as the ultimate place to engage in fika. Haga is also one of the oldest and most popular districts in Gothenburg.
A cobblestone pedestrian street threaded through the neighborhood lined with wooden houses, plenty of shops and, most important, a cafe on seemingly every corner. Signage proved we had reached the correct destination as it stated “Haga: cosy shopping & fika.”
After receiving a recommendation from a local shop owner, we decided to have our first fika break after shopping at Cafe Husaren. The cafe is most famous for its hagabullen rolls. Hagabullen is most similar to a cinnamon roll, and the ones at Cafe Husaren are known specifically for their size and distinct flavor, most similarly compared in size to a small pizza as they barely fit on a dinner plate and are certainly a ‘meal’ to be shared.
Cafe Husaren is a Swedish cafe that also offers prepared foods and, most important for our fika break, coffee. The hagabullen are warm from the oven, and a cinnamon and clove scent wafts through the air as soon as you walk through the entrance. They have no icing compared to our traditional expectation of cinnamon rolls, but are instead dotted with pearl sugar which gives the roll an extra punch of sweetness.
As we attempted to get through the pizza-sized hagabullen and drank our coffees on one of the cafe’s outdoor tables, we enjoyed watching the people who walked through the city and completely disconnecting ourselves from the otherwise busy parts of the city.
For Swedish social engagements, fika is the ultimate food custom as it represents their love and passion for coffee. Fika symbolizes tradition. The comfort of fika therefore does not simply lie in the warm cup of coffee and baked treat you are eating, but in the emotional connection that is tied to slowing down and truly taking a break. Asking to grab a coffee with someone in English does not carry the same meaning as asking someone to fika. Fika does not exist for the purpose of having a snack or an afternoon caffeine pick-me-up, but rather exists to appreciate slow living, spending time with others and simply taking a break. The coffee and food that come along with it are a bonus.
Whether we choose to engage in fika on our own or with others, we can all take a little bit of inspiration from this Swedish tradition by making our daily coffee break a designated time to slow down, relax or socialize with others.
Brones, Anna, and Johanna Kindvall. 2015. Fika: the Art of the Swedish Coffee Break, with Recipes for Pastries, Breads, and Other Treats. Ten Speed Press.