What is Fika? The Meaning of Fika in Sweden and How to Bring it Home

By Abi King | North Europe

Dec 03
What is fika? The gorgeous Swedish tradition of fika explained. How to do it. Where to find it. #fika #sweden #travelsweden #food

What is Fika? The Meaning of Fika Will Warm Your Soul

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 in Saltsjobad Sweden princess cake and tea

My First Fika

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.

Related: 7 Things You Didn’t Know About Sweden

Fika snuggles in Sweden

Snuggles in Sweden

What is fika? A rare treat that shouldn’t be rare.

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.

Saltsjobad Hotel & Ystad choosing tea

Choosing tea for fika in Sweden

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

What is fika a chance to catch up with friends

Fika is a chance to catch up with or make new friends

So is fika just a coffee break?

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.

A cosy fika coffee break indoors behind a window

A cosy fika coffee break

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.

Jam and cake perfect for fika

Jam and cake perfect for fika. But there are no set rules.

Is fika just for friends?

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.

Are there specific foods that make up fika?

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.

How do you pronounce fika?

Feekah!

Have you ever tried fika?

The Cool Side of Travel to Sweden

Fika - a gorgeous tradition to discover when you travel to Sweden via @insidetravellab

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About the Author

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!

  • Roy Marvelous says:

    So it’s like high-tea? Mmm cake.

    • Abi says:

      Kind of…Except I think you can “fika” in the morning as well…

  • Bird says:

    I shouldn’t have read this post. I have been craving cake all day, which in hot and sticky Jakarta where I am isn’t easily satisfied though the fried bananas in coconut milk do help…

    I will definitely get my Fika on the next time I’m in Sweden.

    Bird x

    • Abi says:

      Fried bananas in coconut milk do indeed sound very good ;)

  • Tobias says:

    Fika is the best there is. Best moment of the work day for me.

    With the christmas fika coming up, I’m prepared to gain a few pounds just from all the goodies they put on the table for the “fika paus” at work…

  • Eurotrip Tips says:

    I had no idea Sweden had a somewhat equivalent to afternoon tea. Looks yummy :-)

  • Have you been to Denmark? We used to live there, and they have a concept called “hygge” that is not so much a tangible thing as a sort of sense of togetherness. Every time I hear about fika, I think of hygge as I imagine hygge is the warm, fuzzy feeling you get while having fika =)

  • Never heard of this before, but I would definitely enjoy as many fikas while you can!

  • Kirsten Alana says:

    My Swedish mother introduced us to this when I was a child! Now, when I need a fix, I travel to the closest IKEA or Swedish cultural center in American to pick up Princess Cake and Swedish tea. It doesn’t happen that often but I do enjoy it every time.

    • Abi says:

      That’s a great idea. I’d never thought to look in Ikea (am normally too frazzled after I’ve spent more than about 30 seconds in there to look for anything much!)

  • There’s totally a Swedish place called (I think) Fika in east London – amazing cakes and meatballs too!

    • Abi says:

      Aha – shall have to look for that the next time I’m in town. Loved the meatballs as well but they didn’t look quite as good in the photo as the cake ;) #soshallow

  • Matt G says:

    Mmm…Great post reminds me of all the fikas I experienced. The coffee is so strong it had me jittery and awake at night but I couldn’t say no to a fika. Kannelbulle och Kaffe alla dag. Trevlig Resa!

    • Abi says:

      Luckily, Spain has primed me for the coffee…I know what you mean, it is strong! Tack for!

  • JoAnna says:

    I visited Sweden a long, long time ago and don’t remember fika. Maybe it’s time to take a trip back to the country.

    • Abi says:

      I’m amazed they let you through passport control in that case without pulling you over and showing you what it is ;) I’d love to go back as well – was there for such a short (though beautiful) time.

  • Nancy says:

    ok, today my coffee break is going to be a fika instead.

  • I’ve never heard of it, but it sounds really nice! Plus, that cinnamon cake … mmm!

  • Lindsay says:

    That cake looks delicious!! I love the ‘afternoon tea’ concept, and miss that about living in England (even though we just had kind of an informal afternoon tea sesh instead of sitting down with the whole nine yards of cakes and custards).

    The Danish hygge also sounds lovely. I wonder if I can start a fika/hygge trend here at home…..

    Thanks for sharing! Enjoy the rest of your stay :)

  • Abi says:

    Well, tea and biscuits are still pretty common in the UK, although they’re not quite as cosy as fika…Start a fika/hygge trend, I say! The world will thank you ;)

  • Anji says:

    I learned a new concept and word today! Fika! Interesting concept, we can actually have fikas anywhere in the world!

    • Abi says:

      Yep – it’s certainly something I’m keen to encourage!

  • Gayla~ says:

    The Dutch do ‘koffiedrinken’ in a similar manner and aways serve ‘gebak’ on the side (a cookie or piece of cake). Koffietijd can also be done with tea instead of coffee. A new trend is British-style High Tea, available at many hotels and cafes. I’ve never experienced Swedish fika, but now have something to look forward to on my next visit. Thanks!

    • Abi says:

      Ooh – I did have coffee and cake in Amsterdam but missed the significance of it. Thanks for letting me know…

  • Moa says:

    As a sewed I just love that the word “fika” and that the definition has started to travel around the world. It´s quite odd actually that everyone, including me, is still a bit crazy about our fika when it has been such a huge trend to work out. Quite ironic because taking a fika it´s not that healthy.
    A tip to the next time you take a fika is to buy a “kanelbulle” (cinnamon bun?) and a coffee and then dip the kanelbulle into the coffee. An incredible taste!
    /A Swedish girl who loves to take a fika

    • Abi says:

      Welllll…the food may not be that healthy but the cosy social aspect is. And that counts for something! Happy people tend to live longer…

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