Wrapping Up Warm For Tacofredag

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Written by Georgia
Published on 26th January 2023 at 12:35 • No comments yet, be the first!

When I think of Swedish food, the dishes bring to mind a myriad of flavours: tangy pickled herring, rich, juicy meatballs, sharp lingonberry jam, earthy rye bread open sandwiches, salty black liquorice, sweet, sugar-studded cardamon buns and fresh, grassy dill. One word that’s certainly not among these, however, is spicy. I was therefore quite surprised when Spicery boss James asked if I fancied utilising my Scandinavian roots and taking a trip to Sweden to research… Mexican food? Known for its big, bold flavours and fondness of the chile pepper, this seemed incompatible with the mild and subtle seasonings I associated with Swedish cuisine. I got in touch with my family in Sweden to find out if Swedes really were going mad for Mexican food, and if it was true, could I come and see what it was all about?

My cousin Mika’s response: ‘How wonderful that we used to be known for our meatballs and now it’s Fredagsmys’ (more on that word in a bit) ‘But it’s absolutely true. In fact, we’re having tacos tonight.’ So, that settled it, Mexican food really is a big thing in Sweden, and we pencilled in a date for me to come and join them in Norrköping - an industrial city about 160km Southwest of the capital Stockholm, nicknamed ‘Sweden’s Manchester’ - for ‘Tacofredag’ (Taco Friday).

So why Friday? Well, whilst Friday evenings in the UK might be spent grabbing drinks with colleagues and hitting the town, Swedes tend to opt for a softer end to the working week. A country big on routines and traditions (sweets are bought and eaten on Saturdays, for example, a custom known as Lördagsgodis, but we won’t get into that now), Fridays are for coming home from school/work, enjoying a tasty, no-frills meal with your family, and then sitting on the sofa to watch TV together - hence the term Fredagsmys, ‘cosy Fridays’. For the last 30 years, supermarket-bought tortilla kits and taco shells have been the go-to Friday night dish for their family-friendliness, feel-good flavours and simplicity to whip up, making Sweden one of the biggest consumers of Mexican food in Europe, and solidifying Mexican food as the symbol of Fredagsmys for so many.

Wandering around Stockholm, I see its presence for myself. There are churro stalls on snowy streets, and a chain restaurant called Taco Bar (popular in Sweden since the early 80s) that seems to pop up around every other corner, with 12 locations in the capital city alone. All of the supermarkets - even small convenience stores - have a Mexican food section, stacked with tortilla chips, soft wraps, hard-shell tacos, sachets of seasoning, jars of jalapeños, cheese dips, and salsas of varying heat levels. In the freezers are Mexican pizzas topped with seasoned minced beef, and the elusive Tacopaj (pronounced ‘taco-pie’) - a rich, quiche-like creation that we’ve been trying to perfect in the Spicery kitchen of late!

I arrived at Mika and his wife Anna’s apartment in Norrköping on Friday night, fairly confident that I knew what to expect from a Swedish ‘Tacofredag’ feast - after all, the Mexican food I’d seen in the supermarkets was so reminiscent of the produce that lines our aisles in the UK. And for the most part, I was right - there were all of the familiar components: wraps, taco shells, tortilla chips, salsa, guacamole, grated cheese, sour cream, chopped salad veg, seasoned chicken and minced beef. There were a few curveballs, however, in the form of olives, sweetcorn, cottage cheese, and perhaps most surprising of all, fruit. My great aunt, Rut, who was clearly unfamiliar with this addition too, asked: ‘Do you put any spices on the fruit?’, to which the response was: ‘Of course not, we’re Swedish, we don’t put spices on anything’. I asked if having fruit in your tacos was an actual ‘thing’ or just a personal quirk of theirs, and Mika told me: ‘It’s enough of a ‘thing’ for people to frown upon it, like pineapple on pizza’. Well, I’m firmly in the ‘pineapple does belong on pizza’ camp, so I put a bit of mango in my chicken fajita - when in Sweden, do as the Swedes do?

The dish used to serve up the chips and dips is from Anna's childhood - part of a 'tacoset' that everyone used to have in the 90s (this is verified the following day, when while browsing a charity shop in Stockholm I spot the matching set of tequila shot glasses!). She laughs as she tells me that there was also a spoon and fork with chile-pepper-shaped handles which are long gone now, but the serving platter, that lives on a shelf in its original box, still comes out whenever they have tacos. I think this says a lot about the Swedish fondness for Mexican food - it's nostalgic, taking adults now in their 30s back to that Friday night feeling, rushing home after school to eat some feel-good finger food, then relaxing on the sofa with their family and favourite TV show. It's no wonder this wholesome tradition is still embraced with such enthusiasm (who wouldn't want to spend a Friday night like that?), and if this generation passes it on to the next, the Scandi-mania for Mexican food shows no signs of slowing down. 

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