A cup of coffee with a pastry or slice of cake. A treat once in a blue moon? A once a month chance to catch up with friends? Something that only happens in your office when it’s someone’s birthday?
Lemon cake courtesy of Q Gardens Farm Shop, Oxfordshire; Blue Moroccan-style plate courtesy of Snowbunting
Imagine living in a culture where everything stops for a hot beverage and a slice of cake. Every day. No working feverishly at your desk whilst trying to grab a gulp from a rapidly cooling cup of tea. No feeling guilty as you take twenty minutes off cleaning the house and/or entertaining your children to savour a strong coffee and a slice of carrot cake.
Moroccan Mugs courtesy of Snowbunting; tea courtesy of PG Tips!
No feelings of guilt at all - because stopping for coffee and cake is officially ‘a thing’. It even has a name.
The only trouble is that fika is a Swedish name. And a Swedish ‘thing’.
But we’ve embraced IKEA. We listen to Abba. We drive Volvo cars. We certainly have room in our lives for fika, and according to the Swedes - who know a thing or two about happiness, well-being, and quality of life - it would do us a power of good.
Hazelnut Chocolate Cake courtesy of Q Gardens Farm Shop, Oxfordshire; Mouse Grey plates courtesy of Snowbunting
I recently visited northern Sweden to visit my niece and her new baby. Harley (my niece, not the baby - not yet, anyway) has become a complete fika convert and was eager to introduce us to the ritual (not that we needed much persuasion). We also met up with friends in Stockholm, where we were informed of ‘the best places to fika’ (it appears that the word is a verb as well as a noun).
Vete-Katten - a Stockholm fika institution. Greta Garbo used to eat cake here!
So we fika-ed. We fika-ed at the top of the television tower in Stockholm, we fika-ed in a rather smart café in Skelleftea (the gateway to Swedish Lapland, fact fans!), and we fika-ed at the airport when our flight home was delayed. No-one could accuse us of a half-hearted attempt to sample this particular activity.
Cafe at the top of the Television Tower, Stockholm. Apologies for the poor quality of this photo - it does not reflect the quality of the cake and hot chocolate!
The Swedes believe that fika gives everyone a chance to slow down, take a break, meet with friends, and return refreshed to either their workplace or their domestic lives. The theory is that this nourishment of both body and soul increases productivity, and gives each workplace a feeling of community. In most places fika doesn’t happen at your desk while you work, but instead each workplace has a communal space in which everyone mingles during their fika break – it gives colleagues a chance to talk (it doesn’t have to be about work, but it often is) and share ideas and experiences. Some companies even have two fika breaks a day!
However, fika isn’t just for the workplace; weekend fika is equally important. Meeting friends for fika is an important part of Swedish social life, and inviting friends to your home for fika is common. Cookies, chocolate buns, cake, and the ultimate fika pastry – the cinnamon bun – are usually offered, and when entertaining at home Swedes will choose their prettiest plates and make sure to light candles to create a welcoming and informal mood.
The cinnamon bun is particularly popular as batches can be made on an industrial scale and stored in the freezer until a suitable fika opportunity arises. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sweden has enough cinnamon buns stored at any one time to last them through a nuclear winter or a zombie apocalypse.
Buns & Pastries courtesy of Vete-Katten, Stockholm
‘So why aren’t Swedes all enormously fat?’ I hear you cry (in a somewhat jealous tone). That’s because they also have willpower, and will only eat a small quantity – maybe one cookie, one small slice of cake…and NEVER the last pastry on the plate (this is very bad form, apparently). This ‘just enough and not too much’ philosophy is called Lagom - and that’s a whole new blog post….
Watch out soon for a cinnamon bun recipe - and my attempts to make them!