My hosts in Sweden have many family members, all of whom want to fika when I’m in town.
One of the first things we always do is visit the various family members, living and dead. Since it’s too late for the ancestors to fika, we bring them flowers instead, and then go fika with the living.
The other day, I wanted to show some of the family my Reykjavik pictures. Although they were polite about it, they insisted, “first we fika!”
In preparation for this fika, I went to my second-favorite konditori, Toftastrand, to buy kaka, or cakes. The process of choosing just the right cakes to bring to my hostess is delightful, taking me back to my childhood, when my grandmother, raised by Russian maiden aunts, would not think of visiting friends without a pink bakery box of handmade pastries, tied with string. I’m carrying on the tradition.
Toftastrand, unlike all the other konditori I usually visit while I’m here, is not within walking distance. Instead, we drive out to Tofta Lake (‘lake’ is sjön in Swedish, utterly unpronounceable unless you’re Swedish, since it involves your mouth moving in ways mouths are not really supposed to move in polite society).
The beautiful lake view makes this konditori unique, a wonderful location for eating a small lunch (fika #1 of the day) before fika #2, when we ate our light, fluffy, lemony-fruity, yet somehow creamy cakes.
Before coming to Sweden, I was thoroughly confused about konditorier (the plural of ‘konditori’). For one thing, I had no idea how to pronounce it, putting emphasis on kondi-TORI, rather than the proper pronunciation, kon-DIT-ori.
Swedish, much like Cantonese, is a language that relies heavily on pronunciation, so if you say something incorrectly, everyone either ignores you or says “what?” very sharply. It’s extremely embarrassing, so learning how to pronounce things in a way they recognize as language is crucial to social survival outside of Stockholm, where their ears are more attuned to weird American attempts at pronounciation.
The tiny little cakes I chose for this particular fika had three layers, all in varying shades of yellow-orange, and were decorated with little red lingonberries.
I wanted to take pictures of them to show you, but they were eaten so fast, it wasn’t possible to stop everyone and say, hey, can you let me photograph that piece of cake you’re putting in your mouth?
By the time they’ve been cooked and thrown into a jar, and then shipped thousands of miles, lingonberries are bitter and sour and do not taste fresh, sweet, and tart, the way they do here. Fresh lingonberries have a sharp, clean taste, nothing like the unhappy version I always pushed around my meatballs at Ikea.
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