What is fika? The quickest answer would be that it’s a kind of Swedish coffee break. But there’s so much more to it than that. Pull up a chair, grab a mug of something hot and let’s have a chat about the meaning of fika. And how you can bring it home.
Fika. So said the letters, so said my host. It was not yet four in the afternoon and I began to brace myself.
The word fika, I decided, had all the hallmarks of a potent local spirit, the sort that could stand in for paint stripper on an identity parade and would give you a headache as soon as look at you.
My second best guess was that fika involved some kind of furniture shop with utensils made from see-though lime green plastic.
Happily, both guesses were wrong.
Fika, as it turned out, is something of a social institution in Sweden.
Pronounced fee-ka, the best explanation I’ve heard so far is that fika is a kind of “afternoon tea” half-remembered with a touch of romantic indulgence from England in the 1950s.
Apparently fika can be both a noun (let’s have some fika) and a verb (let’s fika now…) but like those other delicious letters in the Swedish alphabet (an ö, an å and an ä for example) sometimes a hint of mystery can still be a good thing.
Fika often involves tea or coffee, with a cinnamon flavoured cake thrown in to melt away the cold outside.
In Ystad, my first fika involved custard-based Princess Cake and a cup of hot Sweet Love.
Not a bad introduction to a country.
Tack så mycket Sverige – Jag ser fram emot att få veta mer. Thank you very much, Sweden. I look forward to finding out more. (According to Google translate at least…)
Related: How to Make Candy in Sweden
Well, yes and no. It doesn’t have to include coffee (although it often does.) The big difference between fika in Sweden and coffee breaks in, say, America is the intent behind the whole thing.
A rushed coffee break tries to “trick” the body into carrying on and working harder.
Fika is about genuinely slowing down, getting back in touch with your body and the people around you, and recharging on a deeper level.
The cinnamon and cake element doesn’t try to squash down the bad feelings. Quantity isn’t the key here. It’s genuinely to treat yourself to something cosy, something in moderation, something that your body deserves.
It’s hard not to draw the comparison with hygge in Denmark: another cosy concept.
Friendship is a key part of it but fika can take place with your family, colleagues, strangers or on your own. It’s about connecting with people and yourself.
Fika has its own traditions, especially in Sweden where it started. But there aren’t fika police. Live, eat and enjoy!
You can find some gorgeous Scandinavian recipes here, though.
Abigail King is an award-winning writer and author who swapped a successful career as a hospital doctor for a life on the road. With over 60 countries under her belt, she's worked for Lonely Planet, the BBC, National Geographic Traveller and more. She is passionate about sustainable tourism and was invited to speak on the subject at the EU-China High Level summit at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris.Here she writes about food, travel and history and she invites you to pull up a chair and relax. Let's travel more and think more. Welcome!
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