I want to talk to you about fika. Fika may be a new word in my vocabulary but the concept has, for me, the easy familiarity of an old friend.
“Functioning as both a verb and a noun the concept of fika is simple. It is the moment that you take a break, often with a cup of coffee but alternatively with tea, and find a baked good to pair with it. You can do it alone, you can do it with friends. You can do it at home, in a park or at work. But the essential thing is that you do it, that you make time to take a break; that is what fika is all about.”
This eloquent definition of fika comes from the introduction of “Fika” by Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall. It is a book about “The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break – with recipes for pastries, breads and other treats.” Yes ‘fika’ is a Swedish word. Google suggests that fika translates as ‘coffee’ but, after enlightenment in the form of wise words from Anna and Johanna, I known that this little word stands for so much more.
My Grandmother ran a bed and breakfast for the entirety of my childhood and her daily routines gave me some much needed rhythm and stability as I grew up. If you walked through the door anytime between 7am and 9am the house would smell sweetly of bacon and toast. Arrive late morning and you would be greeted with the smell of furniture polish and the echoes of industrious whistling. Lunch was always at 1pm or after. Tea breaks occurred every morning without fail. The red melamine biscuit tin would come out and the kettle would be set on the AGA until it began to whistle. Everyone would stop what they were doing to sit around the table for a hot drink and something to eat. Tea breaks would often occur in the afternoons too, if everyone were home. I feel as though these breaks, though taken less religiously, were taken more seriously in terms of offerings. As well as a slightly dusty biscuit you might be offered meringues, brownies or chocolate cake depending on occasion, circumstance and season. The crockery was (and still is) Thomas Minton’s willow pattern. Proper teapots were deployed and heaven help you if you tried to take sugar from the bowl with your wet teaspoon. As a child I joined in with this ritual, sipping a milky cup of tea that i would later abandon, eating five or so biscuits (especially the pink wafers) and promptly slithering down from the table to go and play with the dog.
This was my first experience of fika. I was part of a cultural tradition without knowing it. I am British and grew up with the institution of the rather un-poetic ‘teatime’ or ‘coffee break’. Whilst we can take cultural pride in multiple-tiered afternoon tea, which is an entirely separate subject, our coffee breaks are essentially an opportunity to gulp some instant coffee and scoff a digestive before scurrying back to work. Whilst reading about fika in Swedish culture I couldn’t help but fall vehemently in love with idea. It is taken seriously in Sweden and, in terms of baking there are an array of traditional recipes that align with it. Fika in Sweden means Cinnamon Buns, Sticky Chocolate Cake and Nutmeg Biscuits. Proper fika requires good coffee, tea or fruit cordial. There might be freshly made breads, crisp breads or small open sandwiches. Alongside the food there is a requirement to take time out of whatever task one is wrapped up in. In its simplest form fika is an earmarked time to enjoy the simple things, in its grandest form fika is an earnest reminder to be present.
Scandinavian baking is an interest of mine; simple, spiced, wholesome recipes, anchored in tradition and deployed generously and sociably. I intend to embrace the idea of fika as a licence to bake, share and enjoy with abandon. There is a phrase in Swedish “Ska vi fika?” which literally translates as “Shall we fika?” Socially I can think of no warmer greeting. With connotations of good coffee and home baking fika is probably my favourite thing to do. I just cant believe there is a word for it.