Did you know that pea soup and pancakes are culinary compatriots in Sweden? Well, as strange as it sounds, they are – especially on Thursdays. We’re here to show you how to try this quintessentially Swedish tradition. Trust us: it’s better than it sounds!
Hearty and warming, Swedish pea soup is perfect for winter. It’s made from dried yellow peas and cooked for hours with meaty pork chunks – there’s usually some brown mustard stirred in, too, along with some fresh sprigs of thyme or marjoram.
Swedish pancakes are also delicious in their own right: thin crepes served with whipped cream and berry jam that will make you sigh with gratification. But when the pea soup and the pancakes are paired together, your first reaction might just be… why?
The pairing is a common across Sweden on husmanskost menus – those traditional, home-cooked dishes found at typical Swedish restaurants. Today you might spot ärtsoppa och pannkakor (pea soup and pancakes) at family gatherings, on children’s menus, at workplace cafeterias and even in tourist restaurants. But as tradition dictates, the dishes are only served on Thursdays.
Pea soup and pancakes: a Swedish love story
Pancakes were first mentioned in European literature as early as the 1400s, but it’s likely they existed in Sweden much earlier. They often appeared in old children’s tales, rolled and filled with strawberry or raspberry jam, and topped with sugar or whipped cream.
Pea soup is an equal favorite, first appearing in Swedish literature from the 13th century. It was playwright August Strindberg’s favorite dish; he dubbed it gudamat or the ‘good food’. On a darker note, King Eric XIV’s love of pea soup proved to be his undoing. Legend has it that the king died after eating pea soup laced with arsenic.
The marriage of pea soup and pancakes is said to date back to the 15th century, when Catholic Swedish kitchens served large meals on Thursdays in preparation for the Friday fast. Both pea soup and pancakes were inexpensive and simple to make in large batches, so even when Sweden adopted Lutheranism as its main faith, the soup and pancakes had no problem entering the new dogma. Today the tradition lives on and Thursday remains the day of the week that’s forever associated with this culinary combo.
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Trying pea soup and pancakes in Sweden
Since pea soup and pancakes are both affordable, even in the fanciest of restaurants, this is an easy tradition for cheapo tourists to try out.
Chefs may either serve both dishes together or the soup first, with pancakes more like desserts. Sometimes the pork or mustard is served on the side.
More rarely, you’ll find it accompanied by hot Swedish punsch, a rum-based liqueur infused with arrack from the Indonesian coco palm. Punsch was popularized in the 18th century due to trade routes with Java, and is still consumed during holidays and student parties. To properly enjoy it with pea soup, make sure it’s heated up to around 40 degrees in a water bath.
Where to eat pea soup and pancakes in Stockholm
As you might expect, Stockholm has the pick of the bunch when it comes to restaurants serving pea soup. The best area to head to is Gamla Stan, where you can usually find a cosy 18th-century building to bundle up in and stave off the winter chill. Here are some suggestions to get you going.
The name of this restaurant translates to ‘Under the Chestnut Tree’. It’s a homely place in Gamla Stan, offering tourists and locals the chance to step back in time and enjoy classic Swedish grub. It’s also got one of the most affordable places for soup and pancakes, offering both for around 95 SEK, with free coffee to boot!
Sankt Paulsgatan 24
The vibrant bakery in Södermalm specialises in cakes and pastries, but for lunch they offer salads, mackerel, and sometimes a tasty pea soup.
Den Gyldene Freden
This traditional restaurant in Gamla Stan serves the soup with a side of delicious mustard and pork, accompanied by three airy pancakes and tart jam for around 135 SEK.
Magnus Ladulas is all about the cosy atmosphere, with cavernous walls and soft candlelight harking back to centuries past.
This ornate, chandelier-adorned place on Odenplan started as a billiards salon and now spins out traditional specialties with a twist –including viltwallenbergare with potato purée, flounder with shrimp, and even raw steak. The soup and pancakes (around 129 SEK) is as traditional as it gets.
Stora Nygatan 19
Swanky 19 Glas may fool you with its cool, innovative interior, but the house specialty is a homely pea soup with ham hock and house sausage.