Paris, like a lot of other cities around the world, has a love affair with Scandinavia. Maybe it’s the functional, yet attractive nature of Scandinavian design, or maybe it’s because the French secretly want to be eating dark rye bread for breakfast. But whatever it is, there’s a scattering of Scandinavian-focused places around Paris, meaning that when you’re craving a shopping extravaganza for modern Danish furniture finished off by a hearty Swedish cinnamon bun, it can be yours.
While visitors might scoff at the idea of doing anything non-French while in the capital — ”But you’re in Pareeee… why would you want to do Scandinavian stuff?” — sometimes you simply need a break. And when you do, there’s one place to go: l’Institut Suedois, for a proper Swedish fika.
l’Institut Suedois is actually the only Swedish cultural center that the Swedish government maintains outside of Sweden, which means it gets a lot of love. Expositions, concerts, even Swedish courses – it can all be had here. But what the Swedish Institute has come to be known for, even among tourists, is its cafe, importing a little taste of Sweden into the heart of the Marais.
Housed in a building that was constructed in the 1500s, the Swedish Institute has its own beautiful, protected, cobblestone courtyard–the old architecture a stunning backdrop to cafe tables set out on warm weather days. It’s here that the Café Suèdois does its magic, offering up a daily lunch menu, full of open-faced sandwiches, as well as an assortment of traditional Swedish baked goods. Which of course makes this the ideal setting for fika.
Fika is essentially the Swedish word for “coffee break,” functioning both as a verb – “do you want to fika?” – and a noun – “it’s time for fika.” The Swedes after all are some of the biggest consumers of coffee in the world; and the rituals of consuming those many cups do much to tie Swedish culture together.
More often than not, fika comes with a baked good, and while there is a long list of tasty things that you can eat with your cup of dark drip coffee, kanelbullar, fluffy Swedish cinnamon rolls, are the most iconic. If you have even an inkling of love for Swedish culture, you’ll have a hard time choosing what to pair with your coffee at the Café Suèdois, because beyond the sweet, fluffy and cinnamony kanelbulle, there’s always another Swedish classic on hand: kladdkaka, a dense chocolate cake best served with whipped cream.
Certainly Swedish coffee culture has changed over the ages, but enter into any cafe in Sweden, and you can be sure that there will always be strong filter coffee on hand. You drink it with a kanelbulle, you drink it with an open-faced sandwich, you drink it on its own. It’s the fuel of Swedish fika. Café Suèdois has decided to served Cafés Richard for their filter coffee, a more mass-market French roastery, instead of choosing to highlight exciting Swedish coffee brands like Drop Coffee or Koppi. Though perhaps that’s all part of capturing the fika magic–it’s a mainstream practice that’s as much about the experience (and the cake!) as the coffee.
For me, sitting at a Parisian cafe overlooking the activity on the sidewalk — fashionable women walking by, scooters dodging cars in traffic, and little dogs everywhere — has a certain romance. But sometimes I want to feel quaint and cozy, and a bit of fika time at the Institute is perfect for that. If the sun is out, I ride my bike into the Marais and wander the streets, eventually slipping into the peaceful courtyard, filled with a blend of people speaking French and Swedish. For me, it’s a taste of comfort, a moment to pause and indulge in some of my favorite baked goods. For others, it’s just a hidden place in the Marais that offers the chance to relax in a beautiful setting. You come to read a book, write a letter, sit in the sunshine. And above all, get just a little dose of the country up North.