Smörgåsbord Definition

What is a smörgåsbord? Your complete smörgåsbord definition

Today, we’re going to elaborate on the smörgåsbord definition, and provide you with tips on how to create a Scandinavian feast of your own. So, if you’ve been asking yourself ‘what is a smörgåsbord?’, you’ve in for a treat!

Smörgåsbord is one of the few terms from Scandinavia with a persistent presence in other parts of the world. The term smörgåsbord is usually used to refer to a broad selection of something, “she has an entire smörgåsbord of shoes up there.” 

However, it actually refers to a kind of meal. 

There are few things more inherently Scandinavian than smörgåsbord (other than a harsh winter), though the term itself is Swedish. The Danish or Norwegian smörgåsbord is a “koldt bord”, which basically means “cold table”. Although all regions share the same interpretation of the meal. 

Of course, just because you may have heard the word smörgåsbord before doesn’t mean you know exactly what it means, or how it’s different from a buffet. 

So, if you’re ready, let’s dive in…

What is the definition of a smörgåsbord?

So, what is a smörgåsbord?

The best way to define smörgåsbord is as a feast made up of many smaller dishes. The word smörgåsbord comes from the Swedish word smörgås, which means “buttered bread” or “open sandwich”. The word bord just means table. 

Known as ‘koldtbord’ or ‘koldt bord’ in other parts of Scandinavia, a smörgåsbord, is essentially a table filled with different kinds of food. There’s a trick to eating a smörgåsbord correctly, regardless of whether you’re indulging in one from Sweden, Norway, or Denmark. 

This makes the meal a little different to the basic western buffet. We’ll look into this in a moment. 

The word smörgåsbord first appeared outside of Scandinavia in the New York World’s Fair of 1939, when a Swedish restaurant served one of these feasts. 

Before this, people around the world still created something called an “aquavit table”, similar to the smörgåsbord we know today. This table would contain a selection of foods, with shots of aquavit.

Smörgåsbord Definition

Smörgåsbord definition: What makes it special?

The essence of a smörgåsbord is similar to many Scandinavian traditions. These feasts are special not for the wide variety of foods you get to eat, but for the unique experience you enjoy with loved ones. 

To have a true smörgåsbord celebration, you need to take your time to enjoy the tastes, as well as the conversation with others. 

No smörgåsbord is over within an hour, and many people nibble on the food all throughout the day or night. A Danish smörgåsbord at Christmas, for instance, often takes an entire afternoon to eat, and can even lead to a few hangovers the day after. 

You can also enjoy a Norwegian smörgåsbord or Swedish smörgåsbord on other major days of the year, like Easter. 

Midsommar is a common time for the Swedish smörgåsbord, though the menu might switch up a little to include a lot more herring (and schnapps). 

Although a smörgåsbord menu might seem like a buffet or tapas table, it’s actually a little more complicated than it seems. For a beginner, it’s easy to get caught up and end up eating a little of everything as quickly as possible. 

The biggest smörgåsbord of the year for all countries of Scandinavia is often the one you have at Christmas. The Julbord, known as the “Christmas table”, generally takes the longest to complete, with many rounds, dishes, beer, and aquavit to enjoy. 

There are also songs specifically about the Julbord which often appear frequently towards the end of an evening.

What’s the difference between a buffet and a smörgåsbord?

So, what is the difference between a buffet and smörgåsbord? 

It’s easy to assume both options are very similar, as they both contain large amounts of food. However, a buffet generally has less order to it. 

With a buffet, you simply pick the food you want at any time you choose and fill your plate however you like. With a smörgåsbord, you eat your food in “rounds.” 

The word “buffet” comes from the French word for a cabinet where people would store china and silverware in the past. It could also refer to the side cutlery and cooking utensils you have for a meal

The word smörgåsbord comes from sandwich table in Sweden. The two are connected because side sandwiches in a meal seem closely connected to the word for a French sideboard — both are “side” objects associated with food. 

Aside from the language connection, a smörgåsbord and buffet are quite similar because they both feature large amounts of food. Although, as mentioned above, the smörgåsbord is served in rounds. 

A Swedish smörgåsbord might seem more like a buffet because everything is laid out at the start of the meal in a buffet style. 

A Danish smörgåsbord involves serving one dish at a time. Think of it like sharing a pizza on a pizza stone, just like this one.

Smörgåsbord Definition

What does a smörgåsbord menu look like?

Your smörgåsbord definition and menu can differ depending on where you are, and the time of the year. The dishes on a smörgåsbord will vary regionally and seasonally, and some families even make special smörgåsbord feasts of a person’s favorite foods for a celebration.

Usually, the main dishes of a Swedish smörgåsbord, Danish smörgåsbord, and Norwegian smörgåsbord all contain things like meatballs, and herring. You’re also likely to find alcohol accompanying the meal in every part of the region. 

The rounds of the smörgåsbord menu might look like this:

  • Round one: Round one always starts with pickled herring. You eat your herring first with shots of aquavit, and you never mix your herring with other foods, although you can add a little onion, chives, and other dressings. 
  • Round two: The second round is seafood dishes (separate from the herring). Usually, you’ll eat cured or smoked salmon, bowls of prawns, smoked mackerel, and warm fillets of plaice if you’re enjoying a Danish smörgåsbord. 
  • Round three: Pate and cold meats are the top choice for round 3. Cold roast beef is common, as is smoked ham, salami, liver pate, and special kinds of sausage. You can also stock up on various toppings and pickles. 
  • Round four: Warm meats are popular in round 4, including meatballs, which appear in all parts of Scandinavia. Roast pork is a good choice, though it’s only suitable for a Danish smörgåsbord around Christmas. You can serve all kinds of lamb, venison, and other meats. Alternatively, try a traditional food like Swedish casserole, Jansson’s Temptation, served in a dish like this
  • Round five: In round five, you’ll eat a selection of cheeses, along with grapes and green peppers if you’re so inclined. Around 2 or 3 cheeses is often enough, and it’s recommended to explore hard options vasterbotten, or blue cheeses. For people with a less experienced palette, you can offer some milder cheese flavors too. 
  • Round six: This is where the smörgåsbord starts to come to an end, with a delicious cup of coffee to take the edge off all the alcohol, and a soft cake. Strawberry cakes and pastries are common here. In Sweden, you might throw in a couple of fika treats for good measure. Depending on the time of year and occasion, you may choose specific desserts, like rice pudding. 
  • Round seven: The final dish of a Danish smorgasbord is known as the Skrub-Af Mad, which basically means the “time to go” food. This is a meal you give people when it’s time for them to go home, like a light soup or a biscuit. 

Alongside all of those rounds, you can also add side foods to your smorgasbord like beetroot salad, crispbreads, crusty bread, pickles, dill and mustard sauce, condiments, and plenty of booze.

Enjoy your smörgåsbord

This is a celebration you’re sure to love at any time of year. The smörgåsbord is a wonderful thing, and an excellent insight into the lifestyle of people throughout Scandinavia. 

Next time you’re planning your big celebration or buffet-style event, why not try something a little different? 

Whip up your own smörgåsbord and see how many people can complete it. 

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