“SMÖRGÅSBORD” Swedish National Table

“SMÖRGÅSBORD” Swedish National Table


With several hot and cold dishes, from appetizers to desserts, laid out together on the table. Following a special order consisting of several servings, the diners serve themselves, taking their pick of the variety of food. The word smörgåsbord literally means "sandwich table" or "bread and butter table".


Smörgåsbord buffet is known and served throughout the Nordic countries, enriched with local delicacies in each country. This type of buffet is known as koldt bord in Denmark, seisova pöytä, noutopöytä or voileipäpöytä in Finland, koldtbord in Norway, and kalt borð or hlaðborð in Iceland. Also the famous Russian appetizer buffet, zakuska table, has several characteristics similar to smörgåsbord.


In its most lavish form, smörgåsbord may be seen served at breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner time in restaurants, hotels or the largest of the passenger ferries crossing between Finland and Sweden and the other Nordic countries, the Baltic countries and Russia. On a smaller scale, it is a popular way of serving guests at home, whether at a small, intimate gathering or a large, formal party. The occasion can be anything from a light late night snack served to friends after a night out to an elaborate wedding banquet.


History of smörgåsbord


Smörgåsbord has its origin in the 18th century Swedish upper class tradition of serving spirits and small appetizers for the gentlemen before the meal. The beverages and snacks were placed on a separate small table which hence was called brännvinsbord  -  "table of spirits". The guests enjoyed the snacks and drinks while standing. The drinks on brännvinsbord consisted of several differently flavoured clear spirits or aquavits. There had to be at least two or three different varieties, flavoured either with caraway, anise, wormwood, lemon, etc. Also today in the Nordic countries it is a custom to have a shot of vodka or aquavit at the start of festive meals.


The snacks consisted of bread, butter, sharp cheese, sprats pickled in spiced marinade and pretzels or small rusks spiced with anise seed, fennel seed and/or bitter orange peel. As the number of appetizers on the brännvinsbord grew, they were transferred onto dinner table, forming a large buffet served as proper meal. Thus the separate brännvinsbord disappeared from homes. In the late 19th century it re-emerged as the smörgåsbord buffet, served to travellers in railway station and hotel restaurants, from where it spread to become widely known among the public.


Nowadays in Finland, smörgåsbord buffet may be served at any occasion, from house warming, cocktail and garden parties to graduation, confirmation, birthday and engagement parties, at christenings, anniversaries, weddings and funerals, or as Midsummer, Easter or Christmas dinner.


Smörgåsbord table setting


Since the diners pick up the food themselves going round the smörgåsbord table, the table setting has to be planned in a way that allows them to proceed effortlessly in an even flow, not blocking each other's way and without any "bottlenecks" forming around the table. The table itself is usually placed in the middle of the room, with enough free space around it. Like any dinner table, it may be decorated with flower arrangements or garlands, fruit bowls, candles, etc, provided that there is enough room on the table surface.


Smörgåsbord starting point Smörgåsbord has a starting point, from which the collecting of food will be started by the diners. For a large group of diners there may be two starting points, so that they can go around the table simultaneously from two directions. The starting points can be placed in the centre of the longer sides or at the both ends of the table. In this case also the plates, cutlery and dishes have to be divided so that the same foods and things can be accessed on both sides. If there is only one starting point, the table may also be placed one side against the wall.


The cutlery and drinking glasses are set at the end, so that the diners will not have to carry them while picking up the food. The cutlery, glasses and napkins may also be set on a separate table, as well as the beverages and dessert dishes, if there is enough room. Separate plates must be provided for savory dishes and desserts. Because of their strong taste, also herring dishes require plates of their own, separated from the other savory dishes. The host or hostess must see that the serving platters are refilled from time to time and the used dishes removed.


* Disposable plates, cups, cutlery and other serving dishes may be used at very informal gatherings, when dining outdoors, on a picnic, at a summer cottage, etc..