The Swedish Smorgardsbord's history goes back to the beginning of the 18th century. A table consisting of hard liquor was popular during those days. When the railway extended itself through greater parts of Sweden, a similar table was found in the railway station's restaurants, with the addition of small items such as small savory dishes, bread and butter. Hence the name "Sandwich Table". As the smorgardsbord developed and more dishes were added, the Swedish mentality, which demands that all things are to be done in order, found its way to the kitchen. A kitchen with an inclination towards the French cuisine began to place the dishes in a "parade formation" on a long table and the tradition, that still remains, began.
The French gave the look but it was from the English that the manner of serving was taken: the guests are not served; instead they walk around the table and choose what they wish to eat according to their own taste.
The smorgardsbord is enjoyed throughout the year but it is by far most popular during the Christmas season. During the holiday season, the table is renamed "Julbord" (Christmas table). Every county adds its own specialties to the already bountiful traditional Julbord which makes traveling through Sweden during the holiday season a very special culinary experience. And if you decide to take a trip to the East, you'll find that the Finns appreciate their vegetables in a vide variety of casseroles even during Christmas.
Due to the great variety of delicatessen found on the traditional Julbord, a "system" has been created to enhance the experience and to make enjoying the dinner easier for everyone. The main table(s) is divided into five categories which are enjoyed in a set order. This is especially true for restaurants and formal dinners. If the Christmas table is enjoyed in a home, there is usually only one table and not all the items listed below are present. In this case, it is customary to begin with the cold dishes but the set order observed in a more formal dinner is not required.
The First Round
The first round includes a wide variety of pickled herrings, salads and cheeses
- Spickesill, inlagd sill, glasmästarsill, senapssill, kryddsill, gravad strömming, ättiksströmming, gubbröra, sillsallad, potkes, Västerbottenost.
The Second Round
The second round includes fish and shellfish such as gravlax, cold salmon and other Scandinavian fish and shrimps.
- rökt fisk, gravad lax, kall lax, inkokt strömming, inkokt ål, ålaladåb, böcklingsallad, räkor.
The Third Round
The third round includes the Christmas ham, other cold meat products and egg salad
- leverpastej, julskinka, fårfiol, kallt kött, grisfötter, kall griljerad grisknorr, kalvsylta, pressylta, rullsylta, korvsallad, äggsallad, ostsallad.
The Fourth Round
The fourth round includes all the hot dishes such as Jansson's temptation (see below recipe), meatballs and blood sausage
- Jansson’s frestelse, ansjovisfräs, sillbullar, stekt salt sill, lertallrikssill, sotare, laxpudding, kokt rimmad oxbringa, kalvfrikadeller, stekt fläsk, fläskkorv, hackkorv, julkorv, blodkorv, köttbullar, revbensspjäll, brunkål, rödkål, långkål.
The Fifth Round
The last round completes the dinner with a variety of sweet desserts such as fresh fruit salad, cold rice pudding with whipped cream, ginger cookies and apple cake. Enjoying sweets is not limited to the end of the dinner during the Christmas season in Sweden: chocolate is found in almost every home, and is enjoyed any time of the day.
- bärkompott, fruktsallad (på färska frukter), ingefärspäron, pepparkakor, punschtårta, risgrynsgröt, ris á la Malta, spettekaka, äppelkaka, klenäter.
To the great sorrow of the Coca-Cola Company, the Swedes prefer a drink called "must" (a soft drink similar to Coke, but malt gives it a unique, slightly savory taste) during Christmas, which is the only time of the year it can be found in stores, except for Easter. Homemade beer is also highly appreciated, alongside with glogg (warm red wine with spices).
When you approach the table, don't begin to pick and choose as soon as you can. It is customary to walk around the table once to get a good look of what is served. This way you will show your appreciation to the host who has spent days preparing for the dinner and will avoid missing the dishes you enjoy the most. The next definite mistake is to pile up. If you do, you will be noticed by everyone and will most likely receive a comment or two. Instead, take small portions and take a new plate and set of silverware each time you return to the main table (if you are in a restaurant. In a home, use the same plate and silverware). The only limitation on how many times you can return to the main table is your own stomach. Whether you should wait for everyone to finish before heading to the main table for more depends on who you are dining with. If you are in a home, among family and friends, you may come and go as you please. But if you are participating in a more formal dinner, follow other guest's example.
You don't have to wear the best attire you have, but it is customary to show respect and appreciation to your hosts and dress nicely. After all, to provide a Christmas table takes a lot of time, effort and money.