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Why the Swedish 'Fika' Blows a Visit to Starbucks Out of the Water

Where: Sweden
April 11, 2014 at 2:21 PM | by | ()

In a new weekly Friday column, we'll explore street food and other culinary specialties and customs from around the world. Last week, it was smoked-meat sandwiches in Montreal. This week, we head to Sweden for a cup of coffee.

As anyone who has been out of the country understands, coffee is drank differently in other places than it is here in the States. Traditionally, if you asked for a coffee "to go" across the Atlantic, the Europeans would be confused. In America, coffee is a drug that wakes us up and keeps us going. In other countries, it's an experience, a timeout, never to be drank while driving. You "take" a coffee, you don't "drink" it. In Sweden, this concept is taken so seriously that they have an official name for it.

A Swedish “fika” refers generally to a coffee break. Speaking casually, it can be used as a noun, as a substitute for the word coffee. "I need a fika," one coworker might say to another. But when enjoyed during leisure time, the term expands beyond coffee to include a piece of cake or cookie to create something of a coffee happy hour. In this case, the word can also be used as a verb, as in, "Let’s fika, baby."

You might laugh at that last part, but it's true. Meeting for a fika is a common date in Sweden, and it's not hard to understand why. The photos you see above are from our recent island-hopping trip up the west coast of Sweden, the setting and formality just a tad more romantic than meeting someone at Starbucks.

The word "fika" came out of Swedish slang for drinking coffee, dricka kaffe, and that's about as deep as the history goes. If you say dricka kaffee ten times fast, you might get closer to hearing how the leap to "fika" was made. Next time you're in Sweden, participating in a fika is obviously a must. It won't be hard to find an opportunity, and it can be as formal or as casual as you'd like, taken on a hillside in the country or in a city cafe.

[Photo: Will McGough]

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