On a recent trip to New York City, I stopped dead in my tracks as I made my way past shop after shop and café after café on the Upper West Side. What caught my attention? One bold word hung at the top of the doorway of a café: FIKA. That’s all it took. One word and four letters to instantly transport me back to our summer holiday in Sweden and memories of enjoying an afternoon snack in a cozy chocolate shop on a rainy day in its capitol city of Stockholm.
While preparing for our time in Stockholm I read about the tradition of fika, or as Visit Stockholm recently noted in an Instagram post, “an everyday coffee or tea break, preferably with something sweet.”So, in the spirit of wanting to travel like a local, my family happily participated in the daily ritual.
The one afternoon fika that stands out in my mind was a complete and utter chocolate overload. My sons enjoyed hot chocolate and a chocolate pastry. My husband indulged in a scoop of chocolate gelato. I happily selected a chocolate yogurt parfait – with a tiny espresso macchiato on the side.
We dove into the Swedish tradition of fika – coated with lots and lots of chocolate – and it was amazing.
So, when I saw “fika” in large block letters, I knew what awaited me – and so many others – within the cozy confines of the Upper West Side café.
The concept of an indulgent afternoon snack isn’t just limited to Sweden. Thank goodness, no. Many other cultures delightfully enjoy it, too.
While traveling in France, my family enjoyed many sweet treats as part of our afternoon goûter. It's hard not to join with the locals in indulging in an afternoon snack as you see people happily catching up over coffee and a pastry in cafe after cafe.
According to Phoebe of The Lou Messugo Blog, goûter is an institution in France, religiously eaten at 4:30 pm, almost exclusively by children as they come out of school, consisting solely of sweet treats. Phoebe attributes its importance to the fact that dinner in France is usually served around 8 or 8:30 pm and children eat with their parents, so they need something to keep them going until their final meal of the day.
Annabelle of The Piri-Piri Lexicon also notes that goûter is often called le quatre-heure - or the four o'clock - since the snack is usually eaten between 4 and 5 pm, when children come home from school.
Both Pheobe and Annabelle share that the French goûter is usually sweet. Annabelle's family often enjoys a slice of bread with some butter and grated chocolate over the top, a few biscuits (or cookies) and a glass of milk and hot chocolate in winter or ice cream in the summer.
While in Italy, I quickly learned that you never order a cappuccino after breakfast time – but you do enjoy a mid-afternoon snack called merenda.
For my husband and boys, our merenda always included gelato. No mater if we travel to Italy in the summer and winter, we always make time for a mid-afternoon gelato – and maybe one for breakfast and after dinner, too!
Chontelle of Bilingual Kidspot lives in Italy, and knows that "Italians love their 'merenda' or 'merendina' for kids." She shares that it's typically enjoyed at 5 pm - but it can be as late as 6 pm since "they have dinner so late here." And, it's usually something sweet like a brioche or cornetto.
Mariam of And Then We Move To is married to an Italian and has embraced the merenda. Their snack time treat may be fruit, a sweet like a cannoli, or a little sandwich called tramezzino (a triangular sandwich made from two slices of soft white bread filled with meats and cheeses).
Galina of Raising a Trilingual Child also shares that their merenda can include a pizzette (small pizza), focaccia, brioche (or croissant), bread with nutella, fruit, juice or yogurt.
Living in Pakistan, Mariam says people in her country take their evening tea very seriously - as inspired by their British heritage. For them, five o'clock means its chai and samosa time. As shared by Mariam, chai is the Urdu name for tea (black tea with milk and sugar) and samosas are the evening snack to eat with it (a triangular savoury pastry fried in ghee or oil, containing spiced vegetables or meat).
Of course, when thinking about European afternoon “snacks,” I can’t help but think about English high tea. But, I have to admit, while I’ve enjoyed pots of tea and platters of small cakes and tea sandwiches here in Chicago, I’ve never done so in England. For some reason, my husband’s version of an afternoon snack in London always seems to include a stop at a pub – and a pint and some crisps!
Interestingly, according to EducationUK.org, some people, especially in parts of Northern England, call their evening meal “tea” instead of “dinner.”
Growing up with German grandparents, I always knew the importance of Kaffee and Kuchen – or Coffee and Cake. And, not surprisingly, it always seemed to involved apple or plum kuchen (or apfelkuchen and zwetschenkuchen).
Ilze of Let the Journey Begin lives in Germany and gets to enjoy the tradition every day. She shares that many cafes and restaurants have special offers to enjoy for Kaffee and Kuchen.
In Spain, late-afternoon snack time is called la merienda. It can include sweet or savory foods – anything that can tide you over to dinner!
Just across the border from Spain, Portuguese people enjoy lanche, which means snack. While savory and sweet snacks are often enjoyed, lanche also is the name of a snack sandwich with thinly sliced meat and cheese baked inside it.
In Russia, Anna of Russian Step by Step for Children shares they enjoy полдник (or "poldnik"), which kids usually have after nap time. The afternoon snack can be bread with something on it or a small meal.
Much farther away in Japan, people enjoy an afternoon snack called oyatsu. Like many other cultures, snacks can be sweet or savory.
While in Tokyo, my family often enjoyed onigiri, rice triangles filled with vegetables or fish, or doraku, pastries filled with red bean paste.
It's comforting to know the importance and enjoyment of afternoon snack time around the world - and it's ability to bring joy to so many people no matter even all the way back in New York City.
Do you like to enjoy an indulgent afternoon snack? How is it a part of your cultural traditions? What new snack traditions have you embraced based on your travels and experiences? Please share your favorite afternoon snack – and personal stories – in the comments below.