A Swedish Julbord at Styrsö Skäret near Gothenburg

SwedishJulbord © J Horak-Druiff 2013


After our eventful day which had included fika, the Feskekorka and Saluhallen food halls, as well as Gothenburg’s Christmas markets, it was time to put our feet up as we headed for dinner.  The lovely ladies from Go:teborg had very kindly booked a table for Su-Lin and myself at the Pensionat Skäret, an inn on Styrsö island in the Southern Archipelago off the coast of Gothenburg.  Although the entire archipelago is largely car free and dotted with bathing beaches, it’s still only about half an hour by ferry from Gothenburg and your fare is included in the price of a Go:teborg city travel card.  The first leg of our journey consisted of a long tram ride during which we amused ourselves by trying to read out the next destination which flashed up on the screen in the tram before it was announced, giving us a good half a minute to mangle the Swedish language 😉  At the end of the tram line, we found ourselves at a rather chilly ferry port but luckily we did not have long to wait until the next ferry.  Sadly, it was pitch dark by the time we took our ferry trip but I woudl love to return someday and do it during the daytime! On the ferry we fretted – woudl we actually find this inn?  The instructions from the tourist office were simply to “follow the crowd” but barely half a dozen people got off at the stop.  As we rounded a bend in the road, though, it became apparent that the inn is hard to miss.  It is housed in a former hospital for tuberculosis patients from the 19th century (a time when people travelled to the archipelago for the air) and lovely old clapboard building is lit up like a Christmas tree!  After a warm welcome, we were soon seated in the gorgeous dining room located in what appears to be a large enclosed verandah with windows all around the room, facing the water.

Once we were seated, our charming waiter brought us over some glögg, the traditional Christmas drink in Sweden.  Despite the slightly comical name, glögg is in fact largely the same as German gluhwein or French vin chaud, consisting mainly of red wine, sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and bitter orange.  Stronger spirits such as vodka can also be added, but non-alcoholic versions are also available.  Clearly, I opted for the alcohoic version (!) which was delicious served with raisins, slivered almonds and pepparkakor (gingerbread biscuits).  He then explained the Julbord to us and took our drinks order.  I asked what he would normally recommend with a Julbord and he produced a beer: Nils Oscar Kalasjulöl.  This is a dark lager style beer from Nils Oscar Swedish microbrewery, brewed seasonally for Christmas and varying in flavour and alcohol content year by year (the vintage is always printed on the label).  This turned out to be a surprisingly good match for some of the tricker foods like vinegary rollmops and probably did a better job than most wines would have done.  Su-Lin on the other hand opted to go non-alcoholic and was brought a bottle of Julmust (literally “Christmas juice”), a soft-drink consumed almost exclusively over Christmas and hard to find in stores at other times.  Made with carbonated water, sugar, hop and malt extracts, spices and caramel colouring, it bears more than a passing resemblance to Coca-Cola and in fact, the two do compete – sales of Coke in Sweden drop by up to 50% over Christmas when Julmust is on sale! But the hop and malt extracts mean that the flavour is more like root beer, only sweeter.




So – on to the main event:  the Julbord!  Ever heard of a smörgåsbord?  Well, the truth is that a Julbord is just a special kind of seasonal smörgåsbord, traditionally served from early December all the way through to Christmas.  The dishes are largely similar, except for some seasonal specialities like the Christmas ham – so whatever I say about our meal below can probably be applied equally to any good Swedish smörgåsbord that you might encounter.  The Julbord is always served as a buffet, with diners choosing to eat as much as they like from tables laden with various traditional dishes.  It’s not a free-for-all though:  as our waiter explained, there is an accepted order to follow and it goes like this:  first you eat from the cold and pickled fish dishes; then the cold meats and patés; then the warm dishes; and finally dessert and cheese. As you can see below, the room was simply crammed with buffet tables and each one was groaning under the weight of the food! (and before you ask: 1) yes, that is Su-Lin on the right of the bottom picture, taking pictures; and 2) no, I hadn’t previously noticed the bald chap’s uncanny resemblance to Lurch, the Addams family butler!)





On our first trip to the buffet room, I confined myself to the herring table (clearly I was too excited by the food to take photos and Su-Lin has kindly allowed be to use some of her snaps).  Each of those earthenware jars holds a different type of pickled herring.  THIRTEEN types of herring – not counting the bowl of rollmops.  I was in herring heaven (although I found some of the pickles just too salty for my taste – and I like salt!).  My favourite remains the mustard herring, but there is a Christmassy pickle with berries and clove spices that I also rather liked.   My second trip concentrated on the crustacean table containing mussels, prawns, langoustines (like the ones we had in Grebbestad on a previous visit) and one of the best things I tasted that night: smoked prawns. Imagine the sweetness of a prawn combined with the darker flavours of smoke.  Genius!  I had never tasted anything quite like it – my runaway favourite of the night. I also made a stop at the next table which housed all the smoked and cured fish – salmon, gravadalax and some other delicious firm white fish that I could not identify – all excellent.  There were some coarse fish patés too that did not hugely interest me, as well as mayonnaise eggs topped with fish roe, various shrimp concoctions bound with mayonnaise, hard cheeses, and the traditional accompaniment for the herring – boiled potatoes. Which I forgot to take.  Oops.


SuLinHerringPhoto courtesy of Su-Lin


 Photo courtesy of Su-Lin



From there, I moved on to the cold meat dishes which occupied two long tables.  The first table contained various sliced patés and salami-style smoked sausages; while the second one contained cooked and cured sliced meats including pork, beef and duck.  There was something that looked like brawn, a couple of types of beef (one of which was almost pastrami-like), some utterly decadent smoked duck breast and at least two types of ham, including the traditional Julskinke or Christmas ham with its mustard crust.  To accompany the meats there were various pickles and mayonnaissey sauces scattered throughout the table and at the end of the spread there was a selection of no less than five different mustards to choose from!





Photo courtesy of Su-Lin


The least impressive part of the meal, for me, was the hot foods.  Dishes included blamelessly tasty meatballs (of course!), moreish little sausages (think IKEA hot dog but smaller and tastier!), pork ribs and lutfisk. It was also the part of the buffet that contained the most vegeetables and I fell on these ravenously as I was feeling distinctly scurvy-ish (beware the smörgåsbord  if you are vegetarian!).  There were at least 3 types of cabbage, creamed spinach and peas (although I think the peas were actually part of the fixings for the lutfisk!).  The red cabbage that I chose was served slightly sweet, as it is in this country, but what really surprised me was that the creamed spinach was sweetened too!  It wasn’t inedibly unpleasant, just very surprising on the first mouthful and I’m not sure it’s really an improvement on saltier versions! Is sweet creamed spinach common in Sweden?  Would love to find out.  The lutfisk which I tasted on Su-Lin’s plate was underwhelming – possibly boiled until all trace of its former saltines and texture had dissipated.  It needed its fixings, which included peas, bacon, clarified butter and a bechamel sauce.  What I did rather like, though, was the Jansson’s Temptation, a traditional dish matchstick potatoes, onions, anchovies, breadrcrumbs and cream that is oven baked until the potatoes are soft and the to has formed a crust.  But once again, it was particularly salty – clearly the Swedes love salt even more than I do!


SuLinHotDishesPhoto courtesy of Su-Lin


 Photo courtesy of Su-Lin

And then it was on to dessert.  I have to admit that I am not a huge fan of dessert at the best of times and by this stage I was feeling as stuffed as a foie-gras goose!  But we valiantly trooped back to the buffet to see what was on offer.  The two main events were aggost, a traditional cheesecake-like dessert that is pressed into an elaborately carved mould to set before serving; and ris ala Malta a sweet rice pudding served with jam or fruits.  I skipped the rice pudding but tried a little of the aggost which had the consistency of pressed ricotta.  There were also a couple of sweet pastries on offer, my favourite being what appeared to be a deep fried pastry shaped like a snowflake and dusted with sugar.  And of course, there were more pepparkakor on offer! There was also a selection of soft cheeses on offer but by this time I seriously had no more space left.


SuLinDessertPhoto courtesy of Su-Lin

Sadly I did not take a picture of the thing that impressed Su-Lin the most:  a tall glass-fronted cupboard filled to the brim with bowls of sweets, toffees, and fruit jellies.  After you had finished the rest of the meal (if you had space left!) you could grab a selection from this cupboard to enjoy with coffee.  Such a good idea!

When we had initially looked at the ferry times that the tourism office had suggested, we had wondered how we were going to fill close to four hours at the Inn, but suddenly we looked at our watchs and realised that the ferry’s arrival was imminent.  Hint:  a Julbord takes a lot of time! So we said our goodbyes and dashed out into the clear, still night to await our ferry that sailed around the headland in a blaze of light, like some kind of alien mother ship come to ferry us to dreamland.

Pensionat Skäret
Skäretvägen 53

Tel. +46 3197 3230
E-mail: info@pensionskaret.se

DISCLOSURE:  We travelled to Sweden and enjoyed this meal as guests of the West Sweden Tourist Board, Visit Sweden and SAS.


Thank you again to the West Sweden Tourist Board (Facebook pageTwitterBlog) and Visit Sweden (FacebookTwitter) and also to the Gothenburg Tourist Board for organising this wonderful Christmas trip for us. Our flights were provided by SAS and a return trip to Gothenburg from London Heathrow is about £103 including all taxes and charges.  We stayed at the very lovely Hotel Royal in central Gothenburg where a single room costs about £140 per night. 

For my previous travels to Sweden, please see my older posts (and full Flickr photo set): 



P2P_badge-SomersetDid you miss our our super-successful  Tuscany Plate to Page workshop last October? Well, registrations are open for Plate to Page Somerset due to be held in the UK in Spring 2012!  Have a look at the programme, details about  accommodation, and if it looks like something you’d like to attend, register here – but hurry: places are limited to 12. It would be great to see you there!




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  1. says

    Yes, this is how we do it :=) After a couple of times (and years) you get quite experienced and only eat the real good stuff, but still it’s hard not to have a bite of everything

  2. says

    Wow, that is some serious buffet you got there and 13 kinds of herring… Ugh… I struggle liking herring at all (but then I only really know the raw variety they serve here.. o and rolmops ofcourse!) but I think – by the looks of this buffet – that I would find something of my liking too.. :)