Foodie Underground: Swedish Midsummer 101

ColumnA down and dirty guide to a night of pickled herring and aquavit.

It’s summer solstice this week, which means it’s high time for Swedish midsommar, the best of holidays. Why? Because it’s a classic Swedish tradition that celebrates the longest day of the year, with food and drink at the center. In other words, an event to celebrate the sun. Put good food, a few glasses of aquavit and a table of friends together and you have yourself a party.

I’ve got Evert Taube on the stereo this week and pickled herring marinating in preparation, because if you have an ounce of Swedish in you, you simply can’t miss this holiday. And any self-respecting foodie wouldn’t turn down the chance for an aesthetically pleasing, minimalist Scandinavian event now would they?

Fortunately, you don’t have to be in Sweden to celebrate midsommar; throwing your own midsommar party is easier than putting together an IKEA cabinet will ever be. All you need are some key components, which is why we’ve put the Swedish Midusmmer 101 Guide.

Let’s kick things off with this video by the


A celebration of the summer solstice. In Swedish this is called midsommar. The real celebration take’s place on midsommarafton, Midsummer’s Eve.


Midsommar was originally celebrated on June 24, but in 1953 was moved to the nearest Saturday – after all, good parties are always thrown on Fridays.


You will need some nubbe or snaps, otherwise known as the alcoholic drink that goes with pickled herring and other traditional celebratory foods. If you’re going the full Scandinavian route, be sure to pick up a bottle of Aquavit. You can get the imported stuff, or you can check out two artisanal brands stateside, North Shore Distillery in Chicago, Illinois and House Spirits Distillery in Portland, Oregon. Pair your nubbe with a light beer, and be sure to put a few bottles of sparkling water on the table as well.


Swedish midsommar essentials are potatoes, salmon, pickled herring and any dessert that involves ample amounts of strawberries and whipped cream. There’s always a basket of hardtack on the table along with some cheeses, and you might as well throw in some cardamom for good measure.

Sample menu:


No midsommar celebration is complete without a few snapsvisor, songs that are specifically meant to be sung in conjunction with the consumption of nubbe. If you can only commit to one (Swedish isn’t the easiest language to master in just a few days) opt for Helan Går, which goes a little something like this:

Helan gor sjung hop for a la la la la ley
Helan gor sjung hop for a la la la la ley

Och den som inte helan tar han inte helle halven for

Helan gor sjung hop for a la la la la ley

Confused? Here’s a video to help.


Now that you have mastered the singing, you will need some key Swedish phrases that relate to midsummer.

  • Glad midsommar! Happy midsummer.
  • Mer sill tack. More pickled herring please.
  • Finns det mer gravlax? Is there more cured salmon.
  • Jag tar gärna mer jordgubbar. I would love to have some more strawberries.
  • Är det svensk snaps som vi dricker? Are we drinking Swedish snaps?
  • Jag älskar Sverige! I love Sweden.
  • Ska vi lyssna på ABBA ikväll? Are we going to listen to ABBA tonight?
  • Skål! Cheers.

Now find a farm table, a group of friends, a Swede or two, flowers to turn into head crowns, a good supplier of pickled herring and you’re good to go. Skål och glad midsommar!


Anna Brones

Anna Brones is a food + travel writer with a love for coffee and bikes. She is the author of The Culinary Cyclist and Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Catch her weekly column, Foodie Underground.