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On a sultry Saturday in Mumbai, a small group of journalists gathered at Swedish consul general Fredrika Ornbrant’s residence for what we learnt was called fika. Our hosts were chefs Mark Phoenix and Fredrik Forsell. Chef Phoenix has been associated with InterContinental London Park Lane and Stockholm’s Restaurant Söders Bönder, among others. He is a member of the Nobel Committee, which decides the annual banquet menu, while chef Forsell, who took our questions, has worked on the Nobel banquet for several years. Edited excerpts from an interview:

What’s ‘fika’?

Fika is coffee, tea, even Ribena (an English blackcurrent-based drink) eaten with cinnamon buns, sponge cakes or cookies. It is a Swedish communal activity.

Consul Jan Campbell-Westlind joins in: Fika is the actual coffee, tea and buns together. We say, “Shall we fika?"

Swedes have a strong sweet tooth. What are some of the iconic pastries?

Cinnamon rolls (kanelbullar), which are taken with a cup of coffee for fika, would definitely be one. Another of Sweden’s most popular cakes is prinsesstårta (princess cake). It is made with cream, raspberry jam, almond paste and marzipan, and is always green. I do believe they have made another one, I think it’s called prince cake (chuckles) and it’s pink. I don’t know why...perhaps it sells more.

What are some of the ingredients that Swedes regularly cook with?

Lots of seafood, such as salmon, cod, herring. We pickle fish, eat it fresh, cure it (gravad lax or cured salmon is a Swedish favourite). We have a special sausage called falukorv (made with minced pork and beef), which we fry, stew and even gratinate. We eat lots of beef as well. And plenty of root vegetables like red beetroot, yellow beetroot, carrot, celeriac, artichokes, cabbage.... We also cook with a lot of potatoes; in springtime especially, the thin-skinned small potatoes, färskpotatis, are delicious. We cook them with the skin on and all of Sweden waits for them.

Is there a lot of variation in regional cooking in Sweden?

Up north, we usually cook with lots of wild animals like elk or reindeer. We eat a lot of beef and the ones up in the north taste different from the ones in the south, because the pasture is different. In the south, we eat more fish, especially cod, because of the proximity to the coast. In Gothenburg on the west coast, we get different types of fish, and also shellfish like lobsters, crayfish and river crayfish. (Protectionist laws ensure) we can only fish for them in late August/September.

Sweden is well-known for its commitment to the organic and the local.

Yes, we have been expanding our organic food scene for several years. Now, it has even filtered down to the community, to hospitals and schools. We buy mostly fresh, organic ingredients and don’t use a lot of processed food in our cooking.

How would you introduce Swedish food to someone who has never tasted any?

I would get them to try river crayfish with dill, sugar and salt. Also, some strong Swedish cheese and rye bread.

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