The first time I travelled to Stockholm with my boyfriend was during a long weekend in December some years ago. The city was packed with snow and Christmas lights and it was utterly romantic. It was also very cold, so cold that every now and then we felt the need to enter a café and order a hot drink to warm ourselves up from the inside out. What we did out of necessity, we discovered later to be also a very cultural thing in Sweden: the art of fika.
Spending time together with friends or family over a cup of coffee and possibly also something sweet is one of Sweden’s most cherished cultural assets. It’s called fika, and it’s a pretty big part of Swedish culture. This is the reason why every city in Sweden usually hosts an abundance of cozy cafés. Apart from being safe havens to hide in when the weather is too cold and you’ve been spending some time outside, Swedish cafés are the places where people meet, relax and just enjoy each other’s company. Looking back at our first trip to Stockholm, I can see how our coffee stops not only provided us with warmth, but also with precious time to relax and focus on ourselves.
We had the chance to spend a weekend in Stockholm again recently, when we met with some friends from the time when we lived in Poland. With one of them it had been a few years since we last met, so all we really needed was just some time together to catch up and cherish our reunion. Stockholm was a great background for that. We spent the weekend strolling around the beautiful streets of the centre, mostly around Gamla Stan and Södermalm. No fixed plans or specific places to visit, just a very relaxed kind of sightseeing. We enjoyed feeling like being part of Sweden’s beautiful capital city, taking in the view of the historical buildings all around us. From time to time we would stop to enter a café and enjoy each other’s company over a cup of hot coffee. We were introducing our friends to the art of fika.
There is one place that we discovered on our first trip to Stockholm together, one of the many cafés we visited during that cold December weekend. It’s called Muffin Bakery and it’s located on Drottninggatan 73. I am an avid muffin appreciator and when I saw the place from outside I was immediately lured in. My eyes read “Muffin bakery” and in I went, it took that little. Last weekend’s “café crawl” happened mostly in random places where we would just stop when we felt like having a coffee break. Except for one place, where we actually went on purpose.
The Muffin Bakery’s biggest hit is the cheesecake brownie muffin. It’s a giant muffin made with brownie, cheesecake and a gooey heart. They warm it up for you before serving. It’s everything. Two of us went for it, and you can see the two giant cheesecake brownie muffins pictured below. I got tempted by the blueberry cheesecake muffin. It features the same cheesecake part that the cheesecake brownie has, but instead of being made of brownie the rest is actual muffin cake, plus blueberries. I love a good blueberry cheesecake and that was exactly what I wanted together with my café au lait.
The art of fika is a very Swedish thing, and definitely one that visitors to the country should get to know and explore. Meals in Sweden can be rushed through, but if there is one food ritual that deserves time that is fika. This is the time for socializing and enjoying the company of other people. Swedish coffee is large and very hot, drinking it takes time. That time is precious because it’s the time you get to spend with your family or friends, savouring the pleasure of human interaction. We realized that Italy works the exact opposite way. Rushing through a meal in Italy is a capital sin – that is the designated occasion for family time; but coffee can actually be rushed. Espresso is short and usually downed without even sitting, especially in bars.
So it was over coffee, practising the art of fika, that we got to see again our friends from our previous life. Only those who have lived away from home and have created a network of friends in a different city can fully understand the power of a reunion. Getting to meet good friends after months or even years apart is priceless. Suddenly, all the time that has passed doesn’t matter anymore.
The last time the four of us met all together was when we were all still living in Krakow. My boyfriend and I were the first to move out, and have been living in Sweden ever since. Then one of them left for Luxembourg, while the other has recently relocated to Dublin (and we are visiting soon!). All four of us come from four different cities in Italy. Back in Italy, we would have probably never met. But we all happened to end up working in the same office in Poland, that’s where our paths crossed and even now, living in three different countries, our friendship lives on.