The Swedish Tradition of Fika
The Swedish tradition of fika. It’s more than just a coffee break. Here’s why you need this joy-bringing habit in your daily life.
First of all, what is fika?
Fika (pronounced fee-ka) is the Swedish tradition of taking a break in one’s day to enjoy a cup of coffee or tea and a little something to eat, usually a baked good or open-faced sandwich. While you can take a fika break on your own, most often it’s a social tradition enjoyed with others, whether family, co-workers, or friends.
How is fika different from a coffee break?
While in theory both involve taking a break and caffeinating, in our American culture, a coffee break often means picking up a latte and bringing it back to your desk while you continue to work. In fact, often the “break” part is totally skipped. Also, with fika you eat something, whereas here it is often just about the coffee.
Can kids fika?
Yes! Fika is for everyone. Traditionally kids in Sweden would drink “saft” during fika time, a sweetened drink made from fruit juice concentrate, homemade if you are lucky. Growing up my favorite kind was strawberry or elderflower. Hot cocoa is another delicious fika treat. Of course, in these health-conscious days kids are probably more often served plain water or milk unless it’s a special occasion.
What should you eat at fika?
You can enjoy any snack that you like, but if you want to be very Swedish, make some cardamom or cinnamon buns, oat cookies, or open-faced cheese sandwiches on rye bread.
Other favorites in our house include:
- Cardamom muffins (gluten-free & dairy-free)
- Pumpkin muffins
- Cocoa-coconut bliss balls (gluten, dairy, and egg-free)
- Oat chocolate cookies
- Swedish chocolate cake (kladdkaka) (egg-free)
- Swedish “semlor”
- Flourless pear, almond, and cardamom cake (pictured below) (gluten-free and dairy-free)
If it’s everyday fika at home, you may want to alternate between baked goods and sandwiches. Avocado toast with sliced tomatoes, almond or peanut butter toast with honey and fresh fruit, or cheese toast with sliced cucumbers or radishes are all great ideas. Fresh fruit, nuts, and whole-grain crackers are also great options to include. Smoothies, granola, muesli also make a nice mid-morning fika.
Is fika a verb?
Technically, yes. You would most often use it as a verb, for example:
We are going to fika now.
Do you want to fika?
However, you could also use it as a noun. For example:
Will there be fika?
I’m going to make fika.
My 13-year-old just reminded me that this versatile word can even be used as an adjective. For example:
I made some fika cookies, want to come over?
When should you fika?
You could fika any time of the day, but traditionally it’s enjoyed between meals, like a snack. If you have coffee and a donut when you wake up that is breakfast, not fika. My grandparents were very regimented about their fika, every day they had 11 am fika and 4 pm fika. And when I worked at a hospital in Sweden one summer, there was a coffee lounge where the staff, even doctors, would all go to take a fika break–usually a cup of coffee and an open-faced cheese sandwich.
So what is the special part of fika?
Well, partly it’s just the word. I mean, you have to agree it’s pretty cool to have word that means “let’s savor coffee and delicious baked goods.” (Or, “honey, did you say you were going to make coffee and delicious baked goods now?”).
Cool word aside, it’s a pretty awesome habit.
- For one, it entails taking a break in your day, something that many of us skip over. And not just a quick, distracted break, but a mindful one that will leave you more energized and focused when you return to your work.
- Two, it generally involves not just drinking something tasty, but eating something delicious too! It’s a chance for mindful eating and savoring, not to mention refueling with calories. (One cannot survive on coffee alone. Almost, but not quite).
- Three, it brings people together! Again, while you can fika alone, most of the time you will want to do it with others. It’s a chance to connect, chat, and enjoy each other’s company.
Fika in the time of COVID-19
I will add, that in these days of social distancing you may be doing most of your fika with other household members. However, you could also try a Swedish style, outdoor, social distancing fika. Play it safe and keep it small. Meet up with one or two fika friends and have a 6-feet apart picnic like fika on the beach, in the woods, or in your back yard. In this case, make sure everyone brings their own thermos of coffee and snack. (Bringing a thermos with coffee and enjoying it outdoors is totally Swedish anyway. I mean, if you do that you practically are Swedish!)
Not sure that a social distancing fika feels safe enough? Well, there is always zoom fika! Set a time to connect with your loved ones over zoom or facetime. It may just be what you need to have something to look forward to on your daily schedule these days! I’m in. I will bake muffins!
What you need to bring the Swedish tradition of fika into your life:
- Tasty treats or open-faced sandwiches. Here is some more inspiration:
- Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break with Recipes for Pastries, Breads, and Other Treats, by Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall – A charming collection of delicious Swedish fika recipes with fun, beautiful illustrations
- Good coffee or tea.
- Your favorite coffee mugs or teacups.
- A cozy place to sit.
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