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S.W. Florida Daily News


The Distinctions Between a Smörgåsbord and a Traditional Buffet

How A Smörgåsbord Differs From A Regular Buffet

When it comes to indulging in a wide variety of delicious foods, buffets have long been a popular choice. However, if you’ve ever encountered the term “smörgåsbord,” you may wonder how it differs from a regular buffet. While both options offer an array of dishes for guests to enjoy, there are distinct characteristics that set them apart. In this article, we will explore the unique features of a smörgåsbord compared to a regular buffet, highlighting the cultural significance and culinary delights that await.

Origin and Cultural Significance

A smörgåsbord is a traditional Swedish feast that has been a part of the Swedish culture for centuries. Its name literally translates to “sandwich table” in English, which is derived from “smörgås” meaning sandwich and “bord” meaning table. Originally, smörgåsbords were small appetizer tables set up before the main meal, where guests could enjoy various open-faced sandwiches accompanied by herring, cheese, and other small dishes.

Over time, smörgåsbords evolved to become grand affairs featuring a wide assortment of hot and cold dishes. In Sweden, they are often enjoyed during festive occasions, such as Christmas, Easter, and Midsummer celebrations. These feasts have become an integral part of Swedish culture, representing the importance of community, hospitality, and the enjoyment of good food and company.

Layout and Serving Style

One of the key differences between a smörgåsbord and a regular buffet lies in their layout and serving style. In a regular buffet, all the dishes are typically placed on a long table or several stations, and guests serve themselves using plates and utensils provided. The dishes are often organized by category, such as salads, entrees, and desserts.

On the other hand, a smörgåsbord has a more elaborate and segmented layout. The table is carefully arranged with different dishes, often divided into several sections with their own unique flavors and themes. Traditionally, a smörgåsbord starts with a cold table, where guests can find an assortment of pickled herring, cured salmon, gravlax, and various salads. This is then followed by a warm table, featuring hot dishes like Swedish meatballs, Janssons frestelse (a potato dish), and different variations of cooked fish.

Furthermore, in a smörgåsbord, guests are encouraged to take multiple trips to the table and sample various dishes throughout the meal. It is also common to find a selection of bread, butter, and condiments, allowing guests to create their own sandwiches to accompany their meal.

Culinary Highlights

While both a smörgåsbord and a regular buffet offer a wide range of dishes, the culinary highlights of each differ significantly. A traditional Swedish smörgåsbord showcases a variety of dishes specific to Swedish cuisine, providing a unique gastronomic experience.

Some of the must-try dishes in a smörgåsbord include Swedish meatballs, which are often served with lingonberry sauce; gravlax, a cured salmon dish; and Janssons frestelse, a creamy potato casserole with anchovies and onions. Other delicacies often found in a smörgåsbord include pickled herring, smoked salmon, sausages, pickled vegetables, and a medley of beautifully crafted cheeses.

On the other hand, a regular buffet may offer a broader range of international cuisines, catering to a wider audience with dishes from various cultures. The choices in a regular buffet can range from Chinese stir-fries and Indian curries to Italian pastas and American barbecues. While the diversity of flavors in a regular buffet may be enticing, a smörgåsbord offers a unique opportunity to dive into the depths of Swedish cuisine and savor its traditional flavors.

Traditions and Customs

The cultural traditions and customs associated with a smörgåsbord further differentiate it from a regular buffet. In Sweden, it is customary for guests to start their smörgåsbord experience by singing a traditional drinking song called “helan går.” This song is often followed by a traditional toast, where everyone raises their glasses, typically filled with aquavit or another regional spirit, and says “skål” before enjoying the meal.

Another interesting tradition is the order in which the various dishes are enjoyed in a smörgåsbord. While it may vary from region to region and from household to household, there are generally accepted guidelines. For example, herring dishes are typically enjoyed first, followed by smoked and cured fish, before moving on to warm dishes like meatballs and casseroles.


In summary, a smörgåsbord and a regular buffet may both offer an extensive selection of dishes, but their differences lie in cultural significance, layout and serving style, culinary highlights, and traditions. A smörgåsbord provides a unique experience, representing the rich culinary heritage of Sweden and allowing guests to immerse themselves in the flavors and customs of this vibrant culture. So, if you ever have the opportunity to indulge in a smörgåsbord, embrace the tradition and savor each bite as you embark on a culinary journey like no other.


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