Sweden has given the world many great gifts: Greta Garbo, progressive socialism, those little meatballs passed around at cocktail parties. One of its greatest innovations has remained a relative secret, however. Until now.
The notion and practice of fika – "the art," as a new book on the subject puts it, "of the Swedish coffee break" – has been gradually migrating to foreign shores. Toronto's popular FIKA Cafe, in the city's Kensington Market area, celebrates its second anniversary this month, while FIKA NYC, which operates 15 cafés around Manhattan, recently opened its latest in Tribeca.
More than a dash to Starbucks and not quite British tea, fika refers to the concept of setting aside time during the day for a cup of coffee (or tea), a sweet roll (or slab of rye with cheese) and the company of others (or not). Significantly, the word is both a noun and a verb in Swedish, reflecting the tradition's flexibility. As Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall point out in their newly released guide to it, Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break with Recipes for Pastries, Breads, and Other Treats, "you can do it alone, you can do it with friends. You can do it at home, in a park or at work. But the essential thing is that you do it, that you make time to take a break: That's what fika is all about."
Sounds civilized, right? It is. But fika's versatility shouldn't be mistaken for anything goes. "To truly fika," Brones and Kindvall write, "requires a commitment to making time for a break in your day, the creation of a magical moment in the midst of the routine and the mundane." To that end, they offer a primer on everything a non-Swede might need to fika for him– or herself.
That includes tips on the proper drinking vessels (cups and saucers, please), suggestions on how to stock a fika pantry and a host of relatively simple recipes that "even the beginner baker" can pull off (everything from ginger snaps to coffee cake to caraway crisps make the cut).
Among the highlights of the book are the many charming illustrations that are scattered throughout – just the thing to peruse during a fika-induced reverie. Unless, of course, you're fika-ing with friends, in which case you might consider kaffegok, coffee laced with a shot of vodka (also acceptable).
"Eating," the writers conclude at one point, "is often emotional. A cup of coffee and a piece of chocolaty kladdkaka, for example, feels comforting. It is, in its own way, grounding." This is true – and it's something to consider here in North America, where we caffeinate and commiserate but rarely calm down