FOOD HISTORY: Smorgasbord

Smorgasbord (smorgas, literally "sandwich" and bord, "table") is a Swedish term meaning an abundant buffet meal consisting of several hot and cold dishes from appetizers to desserts, set out together on the table. The foods are to be eaten in several servings in a special order where the diners help themselves taking their pick from the variety of dishes displayed. Smorgasbord is known and served in all the Nordic countries with each country adding it's special delicacies to the table. In Denmark it is known as Koldtbord, seisova poyta, noutopoyta or voiliepapoyta in Finland, koltbord in Norway and koltbord or hlaoboro in Iceland. The smorgasbord tradition arose out of the "aquavit buffet" or "vodkatable" in the 1700's. It began at social evenings in Sweden. Traveling in those days sometimes involved a long and tiresome ride by horse or coach to get from place to place. Because of that, after arriving at a social event, the women retired to socialize and recover from the journey to the host's home. The men, however, moved on to the "brannsvinsbord"( table of spirits), a table set up to drink brannsvin (burnt wine) - which included all distilled spirits but, especially, vodka and a variety of clear spirits called "aquavits", flavored with things, such as, caraway, lemon, anise, wormwood, etc. (In the early day, aquavits were of low quality, with many impurities, thus, the flavorings were added to the spirits to make them palatable. Current aquavits are of high quality and are called "vodkas". However, the traditional flavorings are still favored.) At the brannsvinsbord, small snacks - bread, butter, cheese, pickled Sprats (little fish), herring, etc. - were offered, as well. As time progressed, this tradition became a competitive one; each host trying to outdo each other with what foods could be presented at their "brannsvinsbord" buffet. As the number of food dishes increased, the buffet offerings became so large that the "brannsvinsbord' became transformed into a buffet which served as a full meal. In the 19th century, this emerged as the "smorgasbord" buffet, served to travelers at train stations and in hotel restaurants and from there, it spread to become nationally and internationally known. Now, according to the Stockholm Restaurant Academy, a proper smorgasbord must have 12 preparations of herring, gravlax (cured, unsmoked salmon), plus other smoked and fresh salmon dishes followed by smoked and cured meats, hot dishes and desserts. With all these foods expected for this one meal and the high costs of the ingredients and the time involved in their preparation, it is hard to find a "true" smorgasbord in most countries now and, even in Sweden, only a handful remain. One more tradition passing into history. A pity!