Friday, January 16, 2009

Pea Soup and Pancakes in Sweden

Yesterday was Thursday. Which can mean only one thing. Pea soup and pancakes. Obviously.

Sweden does good work when it comes to lunch. Most restaurants offer “Dagens Lunch” or “Dagens Rätt.” Lunch of the day. Usually it consists of bread, salad, a drink, and whatever the main meal is. And for a reasonable price. Around $10 depending on the exchange rate. It dates back quite a while as an affordable meal for the working force. Socialism at its best.

Anyway, I quite like dagens lunch. It tends to be delicious and is affordable enough that I can still convince myself that I’m being thrifty. And yesterday, I went in for dagens lunch. Luckily, I knew exactly what I was going to be eating. Because it was Thursday.

Thursday’s dagens lunch is always pea soup and pancakes. Quite the combination. Like peanut butter and jelly. Malone and Stockton. Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.

Anyway. Pea soup, for those of you wondering, looks like green baby diarrhea. It is, despite the coloring, quite delicious. Just a bunch of mushed up peas with some ham thrown in for good measure. And usually eaten with a big dollop of mustard thrown in the mix. The pancakes are of the classic Swedish variety. Thin. Both sides slightly marbled from the pan. They are glorious. And usually eaten with large dollops of jelly and whipped cream.

For reasons absolutely unbeknownst to me, pea soup and pancakes are a Thursday staple in Sweden. I’ve asked around. No one has yet given me a reason that I truly believe. Mostly because every answer I have received has started with the person admitting that it’s a good question. And then they throw out their theory. I’ve heard everything from it being towards the end of the week so restaurants needed a cheap alternative because cash flow was getting low. I’ve heard that somewhere along the line, fancy hotels, which usually had set menus, adopted this meal and so it stuck. I’ve even heard that the military is behind it all because of their need to feed all those young men who were in on mandatory military service a few decades ago. I don’t know.

I do know though that my lunch was delicious.

Welcome to Sweden. Where pea soup and pancakes are a Thursday tradition.

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  1. pea soup with pancakes sounds very not appetizing. but I'll definitely have try it when I go to Sweden next year.

  2. In the Swedish military you always get pea soup and pancakes every Thursday.

    Don't know where they got the tradition from though...

  3. Even though it does not sound appetizing, and sometimes doesn't look so either, it is really good. I spent almost two years in Sweden without once trying it until one day my Swedish friend in Russia invited a gang fo friends, me included, to a Thursday lunch. Peasoup and pancakes. :) It wasn't mushy, though, but with whole peas - but maybe that was my friend's personal recipe. And was it delicious!

    Though I do not know the reason, in some countries there are traditional meals for certian days of the week. So, in Spain (or maybe just Catalonia?), coincidentally also on Thursday, it is typical to eat rice with seafood and tint.

  4. Here's the reason

  5. Jessy, the two together maybe don't sound so appetizing but of course you don't eat them together. The pancakes are the dessert after the pea soup.

    Just for the record, though, I don't like pea soup either. OK, sure, last time I tried it I was maybe 3-6 years old... But to this day, I just can't bring myself to try it again. There's just something with the smell, how it looks and of course, the fact that I have never liked peas.

  6. The link above explains the story that I have heard: basically you eat a hearty meal before fasting (no meat) on Fridays.

  7. I wouldnt go so far as to say that I love pancakes and pea supes but it is damn close. ;)

    I have (maybe) found an explenation:

  8. @jessy – you’re right. It sounds pretty awful. But you have to give it a shot.

    @nevil – I’ve heard that from quite a few people actually.

    @costarossa – I would imagine that pea soup with whole peas probably looks a bit more appetizing. But sometimes its best to just ignore how things look and eat up. Because it is delicious.

    I think that’s very cool about the Spanish Thursday meal. I’m not sure that the US really has anything like that. Maybe some sort of Sunday meal like a roast?

    @Mattias – that’s a pretty good explanation. Gotta get a little bit of extra meat before the religious start to the weekend.

    @Robban - never liking peas would probably put a damper on eating pea soup.

    @anonymous – apparently I hang out with a bunch of people who either don’t know history or religion. But this explanation definitely makes sense.

    @Hannah – that’s what I like to hear. Sometimes its ok to love inanimate objects. Like pea soup and pancakes.

  9. Editor's note: I LOVE pancakes though! The Swedish kind!

  10. Pancakes with jam and ice cream is awesome! You should all try it!

  11. What's the difference between pea soup and roast beef? Anyone can roast beef....sorry Hairy, but this seemed about your speed....

  12. @robban - swedish pancakes are pretty delicious.

    @anonymous - I had an old girlfriend who used to put yogurt on pancakes. despite thinking it was kind ofw eird it was quite tasty.

    @anonymous - I love it. its funny because its true.

  13. Perhaps this is a little bit of topic, but I wouldn't say that the concept of "Dagens lunch" is "socialism at it's best". And this is not because I think that socialism has ever created anything that is better than "Dagens lunch", but rather because socialism has very little to do with "Dagens lunch".

    If you were a restaurant owner and you know that there will be a lot of workers who want to eat lunch between 11 and 13, you would of course try to get as many of these people to your place as possible. These people are likely to bring food from their homes in lunch boxes if the price of eating out is too high, because very few people can afford 150 SEK lunches on a daily basis. But if you manage to get the price down to around 60 SEK it's a lot more likely that it will be "worth it", since restaurant food often tastes better and since people wouldn't need to cook in advance.

    So basicly the workforce demands cheap meals that can compete with lunches brought from home, and that is why the markets supply it. So I'd say that this is the market economy at work, raelly.

    But is this concept Swedish or are there similiar things abroad as well?

  14. In Tokyo I guess you could say there is a similar concept. Although here normal restaurants have "lunch specials". That means the italian, chinese, korean, a.s.o restaurants have lunch specials.

    Normally that is one of their lower cost dishes in a set including soup, salad or so.

    In Sweden a lunch restaurant seems to have different menu every day whereas here the menu is mostly constant but with more options.

  15. You’re right, but my understanding is that the idea of dagens lunch came about more as a social program to feed the workers. The problem is I can’t remember where in the hell I read that. So its possible that I am wrong. But its because of that that I made my smart ass comment about it being socialism at its best. Although, I think it would be very easy to argue, as you do, that supply and demand is at work today.

    I’m not sure how common programs like these are. There are obviously lunch deals in the US, but not quite to the same extent as dagens lunch that is found in Sweden.

  16. @nevil - you snuck in on me while I was commenting on snefald. I think the lunch special is probably more common. which for some reason I don't see as being the same thing as dagens lunch.

  17. Pancakes are awesome...

    Yeah, you're right, there's something about pea soup and not liking peas that don't really go together... I wonder if it has anything to with the peas?

  18. no. definitely not. it has to be the ham that they throw in there.

  19. Neat, I just found your blog! I am a Swede in Canada, and I think I will have to show your blog to my husband to be. He (not me, i am perfectly happy here!) is considering moving to Sweden.

    Saved in Favourites... I will be back!

  20. You wrote:
    my understanding is that the idea of dagens lunch came about more as a social program to feed the workers. The problem is I can’t remember where in the hell I read that.

    I have heard the same thing. And I can't come up with an authoritative source either. Maybe it's got something to do with Rikskuponger (a tax-favorable program that lets employers subsidize the lunches of their workers). I know there are some set requirements for what is supposed to be included in a Dagens: Entrée, bread, salad, something to drink, and if I'm not mistaken, coffee afterwards.

  21. its out there somewhere. ot its just some sort of urban legend. you know. for history nerds like me.

  22. Pea soup and pancakes. Green pea soup. Mmmm~! It works well with pancakes. I'm going to ask my girlfriend to make me some pea soup and pancakes in the morning. She's Swede; she should be able to make that if not anything else.

  23. it does work well... it seems like such a strange combination but its delicious.

  24. The most important thing imo is what kind of pea soup you eat.
    The best, the only "real" pea soup if you will, hehe, is of course "Soldatens Ärtsoppa" (The Soldiers Pea Soup)!

  25. I grew up in a Swedish neighborhood in Chicago, which is a LOT like having Scandinavia plopped in the Midwest, given the Chicago neighborhood system makes many such enclaves. Anywho, on Thursday at the old Villa Sweden or Svea both served pea soup and pancakes on Thursdays. Don't know about the 28-year "new" Ann Sather restaurant, but in the 1960s, that's what was served. I was told the fortified pea soup held people over for Friday's fasting and meatlessness, which the Lutherans in the area as well as the Catholics observed. Taaksamycket!

  26. it does make for a hearty meal that is for sure. plus its delicious.

  27. Quite an old post by now, but I know the reason for soup on Thursdays. In the olden days that was the maids day off (or afternoon off), so they prepared a meal that could easily be reheated. Not sure if that explains the combination with pancakes, but at least it explains the tradition of soup on Thursdays.