Takeaway

Day of the Cinnamon Bun

zac o?yeah | Updated on October 29, 2019 Published on October 29, 2019

Being knotty: The cinnamon bun is believed to have been invented in Sweden in the 1920s   -  ZAC O’YEAH

The cinnamon bun has been recognised by the European Union as Sweden’s tastiest contribution to European cuisine. And October 4 is when the Swedes like to celebrate the sweet confection

It was on one of those drizzly-but-not-yet-snowy days in Gothenburg, a harbour town on Sweden’s west coast, that I noticed something weird. Almost everything was normal — the skies were grey and, because the sun hadn’t been shining for days, even the more colourfully decorated buildings looked greyish. It was time for the mandatory autumn depression to set in.

But, despite the tragic weather, everybody seemed jolly. What could they possibly be so happy about that they stood out in the windy streets eating cinnamon buns? I spotted girls on the sidewalks braving the miserable weather, selling bakery products off folding tables. Eventually the penny dropped, thanks to boards outside the city’s many cafés. October 4 was kanelbulledagen — which means the Day of the Cinnamon Bun.

Mother’s Day, All Fools’ Day, May Day, D-day, Yoga Day are all fine. But come on: Do buns need a special day? Then again, this isn’t the only day dedicated to baking in Sweden.

During Lent, people traditionally celebrate “fettisdagen” by eating cream buns stuffed with an almond paste; Annunciation Day is known as Waffle Day due to a linguistic mix-up of the similar sounding words “Vårfrudagen” and “Våffeldagen” (the former means Annunciation Day and the latter, Waffle Day); Gingerbread Biscuit Day falls on December 9, four days before Saffron Bun Day. However, while these other bakes are associated with Christian calendar events, the secular cinnamon bun is, by far, Sweden’s folksiest sweet treat.

Kanelbulledagen was started in 1999 in Gothenburg by Hembakningsrådet (Home-Baking Council of Sweden) as a way to popularise the baking at home of what is considered the ultimate Swedish snack.

In the intervening two decades, the movement spread across the country and the European Union recognised cinnamon buns as Sweden’s tastiest contribution to European cuisine. More than seven million of these buns were sold on October 4 — which is a lot, considering native Swedes number less than 8 million. And we’re not counting the millions of buns that would have been baked at home by grannies, mums and stay-at-home dads.

Since I am an unrepentant glutton, I headed to the nearest café, which happened to be the classic Eva’s Paley, a 1980s’ style establishment made immortal by the spoof-metal band Black-Ingvars’ old hit Domus-Paleys. Located on the city’s main boulevard Avenyn, it has its own bakery and a sprawling hall crammed with easy chairs, packed to the rafters with single parents taking their kiddies out for a munchie brunch. I bought a cinnamon bun for 29SEK (₹200) and found myself a snuggly corner where I could dissect it.

Basically, the knotty bun is a wheat roll flavoured with cardamom and syrup, sprinkled with coarse sugar on top and stuffed with spice and all things nice such as ground cinnamon, butter and more sugar. It certainly warms up my Nordic noir soul.

The confection is believed to have been invented in the 1920s when exotic ingredients became available again after WWI and some baker somewhere in Sweden thought of upgrading the traditional sweet wheat bun. Then, after WWII, the cinnamon bun spread to other northern European countries and today it can even be found in the US.

It’s tasty, for sure, but it strikes me that the closest thing to a Swedish national snack is made with spices imported from faraway Kerala and Sri Lanka. To top it, the preferred drink to go with it is coffee, which originated in Africa.

Coffee was introduced to Sweden in the late 1600s, thanks to diplomatic relations with the Turks and, by the early 1700s, there were 15 coffee houses in the capital Stockholm, though it was only in the mid-1800s that it attained the status of a national beverage. Annually, a total of 7kg coffee powder is consumed per capita, putting Swedes in the top 10 of global coffee consumers.

Cinnamon had been used by those who could afford it since the 1300s, though it was only after 1731, when the Swedish East India Company was formed in Gothenburg, that such exotic spices became more common. And for the last 100 years or so, the coffee and cinnamon bun combo has cemented its rule.

As we see, the cornerstones of the national favourite pastime fika — a sociable gossip-session over coffee and cinnamon buns — are very multicultural.

All in a day: In workplaces it is compulsory to fika in the morning and afternoon to catch up with colleagues   -  ISTOCK.COM

 

The meaning of fika (which originated as a 1910s’ slang for “having coffee”) should not be underestimated: In workplaces it is compulsory to fika in the morning and afternoon to catch up with colleagues, and no conference is taken seriously unless there’s a scheduled fika session. The easiest way to make new friends is by suggesting “let’s fika” and, therefore, fika is the Swedish word most immigrants learn first.

Having had my fill of kanelbullar and done my share of fika, I thought it would be a while before I would get to experience these again — only to find that on my Air India flight to Delhi, I was served cinnamon buns with the breakfast coffee! And the moment I switched on my phone in Bengaluru, I got an SMS from an expat ladies’ group inviting me to their Fika Day! So perhaps fika — with cinnamon buns — is the next great Swedish cultural export after Ingmar Bergman, ABBA and Stieg Larsson?

30   -  BUSINESS LINE

 

Zac O’Yeah is a part-time travel writer and part-time detective novelist;

Email: zacnet@email.com

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Published on October 29, 2019
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