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#AdventCalendar: When Sweden had a state-owned burger chain

Each day of December up until Christmas Eve, The Local is sharing the story behind a surprising fact about Sweden as part of our own Advent Calendar.

#AdventCalendar: When Sweden had a state-owned burger chain
In the 1950s, hamburgers could not be sold in Sweden, but two decades later Sweden tried to compete with McDonalds with a state-run burger chain. For a time, it worked. Photo: Dan Hansson / SvD / TT

Today, Sweden's state-run alcohol monopoly Systembolaget is well-known, but you may not have heard of the country's state-owned burger chain. 

Enter Clock, the somewhat short-lived Swedish alternative to McDonalds and other fast food chains.

It was introduced by state-owned restaurant company SARA (Sveriges Allmänna Restaurangbolag) back in the 1970s, when Sweden had been under Social Democratic rule for around 50 years. At the time, SARA ran restaurants and pubs across the country and was one reason Sweden had so far not seen American chains. In fact, it had been set up partly because of Sweden's strict alcohol policies; the idea was to ensure that if people wanted to drink, the state would make it easier for them to eat something too. 

Just as McDonalds opened their first Swedish branch in 1973, SARA bought up several small burger restaurants and created the chain Clock, its vivid red and yellow branding a not too subtle hint at their main competitor.

The menu too was familiar: burgers (including the Big Clock), fries, and milkshakes were all on offer, and served in a paper box for children with a free toy. But some items were tailored to Swedish tastes, with curry sauce and pineapple available as burger toppings. And the prices at the start were around half of those at McDonalds.

It was popular, partly because up until the 1950s, street stalls were actually forbidden from selling burgers, partly due to worries about their negative impact on health and partly because of rules around mixing different foodstuffs. The items which a particular stall was allowed to sell were strictly limited, so that even serving ketchup often went against the rules.

So for several years, Clock enjoyed success. Franchises started up in Norway, Finland, Japan and Kuwait. But in the 1990s, it started to struggle financially, while the US-born chains continued to soar in popularity, cutting their prices and investing heavily in advertising. By 1999, the final branch of Clock had closed its doors forever. 

Or, had it? The rights to the brand have changed hands on several occasions, with reports of planned restaurant openings surfacing from time to time, exciting those who look back on the bacon-curry burgers with fond nostalgia.

None of these actually transpired until last year, when a new Clock restaurant opened in Härnösand on the northeastern coast, although this time the restaurant is run independently rather than by the state. There are also some more modern additions such as halloumi and vegan options, and it's possible to buy wine or beer to have with your Big Clock.

Each day until Christmas Eve, The Local is looking at the story behind one surprising fact about Sweden, as agreed by our readers. Find the rest of our Advent Calendar HERE and sign up below to get an email notification when there's a new article (you may need to wait a couple of seconds for the sign-up box to appear.

 

 

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FOOD & DRINK

Five sweet treats you should be able to identify if you live in Sweden

Do you know your biskvi from your bakelse? Your chokladboll from your kanelbulle? Here's a guide guaranteed to get your mouth watering.

Five sweet treats you should be able to identify if you live in Sweden

Kanelbulle

The most famous of all Swedish cakes outside Sweden, the classic kanelbulle (cinnamon bun) is the symbol of Sweden abroad, no doubt helped by the fact that Swedish furniture giants IKEA stock frozen buns in their food stores for customers to bake off at home.

Forget American tear-apart cinnamon rolls baked in a pan and slathered with cream cheese frosting: a classic Swedish cinnamon bun is baked individually using a yeasted dough spread with cinnamon sugar and butter. The dough is then rolled up, sliced into strips which are then stretched out and knotted into buns, baked, glazed with sugar syrup and sprinkled with pearl sugar.

Home-made varieties skip the stretching and knotting step, rolling the cinnamon-sprinkled dough into a spiral instead which, although less traditional, tastes just as good.

Kanelbullar in Sweden often include a small amount of Sweden’s favourite spice: cardamom. If you’re a fan of cardamom, try ordering the kanelbulle‘s even more Swedish cousin, the kardemummabulle or cardamom bun, which skips the cinnamon entirely and goes all-out on cardamom instead.

Sweden celebrates cinnamon bun day (kanelbullens dag) on October 4th.

Photo: Lieselotte van der Meijs/imagebank.sweden.se

Chokladboll

A great option if you want a smaller cake for your fika, the chokladboll or ‘chocolate ball’ is a perfect accompaniment to coffee – some recipes even call for mixing cold coffee into the batter.

They aren’t baked and are relatively easy to make, meaning they are a popular choice for parents (or grandparents) wanting to involve children in the cake-making process.

Chokladbollar are a simple mix of sugar, oats, melted butter and cocoa powder, with the optional addition of vanilla or coffee, or occasionally rum extract. They are rolled into balls which are then rolled in desiccated coconut (or occasionally pearl sugar), and placed in the fridge to become more solid.

Some bakeries or cafés also offer dadelbollar or rawbollar/råbollar (date or raw balls), a vegan alternative made from dried dates and nuts blended together with cocoa powder.

Chocolate ball day (chokladbollens dag) falls on May 11th.

Photo: Magnus Carlsson/imagebank.sweden.se

Prinsesstårta

The lime-green prinsesstårta or ‘princess cake’ may look like a modern invention with it’s brightly-coloured marzipan covering, but it has been around since the beginning of the 1900s, and is named after three Swedish princesses, Margareta, Märta and Astrid, who were supposedly especially fond of the cake.

The cake consists of a sponge bottom spread with jam, crème pâtissière and a dome of whipped cream, covered in green marzipan and some sort of decoration, often a marzipan rose.

Prinsesstårtor can also be served in individual portions, small slices of a log which are then referred to as a prinsessbakelse.

Although the cakes are popular all year round, in the Swedish region of Småland, prinsesstårta is eaten on the first Thursday in March, due to this being the unofficial national day of the Småland region (as the phrase första torsdagen i mars is pronounced fössta tossdan i mass in the Småland dialect).

Since 2004, the Association of Swedish Bakers and Confectioners has designated the last week of September as prinsesstårtans vecka (Princess cake day).

Photo: Sinikka Halme, Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0.

Budapestbakelse

Belonging to the more traditional cakes, a Budapestbakelse or “Budapest slice” is a type of rulltårta or “roll cake” similar to a Swiss roll, consisting of a light and crispy cake made from whipped egg whites, sugar and hazelnut, filled with whipped cream and fruit, often chopped conserved peaches, nectarines or mandarines, and rolled into a log.

The log is then sliced into individual portions and drizzled with chocolate, then often topped with whipped cream and a slice of fruit. 

Despite its name, the Budapest slice has nothing to do with the city of Budapest – it was supposedly invented by baker Ingvar Strid in 1926 and received the name due to Strid’s love for the Hungarian capital.

Of course, the Budapestbakelse also has its own day – May 1st.

Kanelbullar (left), chokladbollar (centre) and biskvier (right). Photo: Tuukka Ervasti/imagebank.sweden.se

Biskvi

Another smaller cake, a biskvi (pronounced like the French biscuit), consists of an almond biscuit base, covered in buttercream (usually chocolate flavoured), and dark chocolate.

Different variants of biskvier exist, such as a Sarah Bernhardt, named after the French actress of the same name, which has chocolate truffle instead of buttercream.

You might also spot biskvier with white chocolate, often with a hallon (raspberry) or citron (lemon) filling, or even saffransbiskvier around Christmastime.

Chokladbiskviens dag is celebrated on November 11th.

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