Husmanskost is tough to translate directly into English.
It's approximately equivalent to 'traditional Swedish food', 'everyday food', or 'good, plain food'. Think simple meals based on ingredients readily available in Sweden: meatballs and mashed potatoes, reindeer or elk stews, simple fish recipes, and so on. It's the kind of food you can expect to be served at a classic, no-frills krog.
As well as being based on local ingredients, key features of husmanskost are that the ingredients are fairly cheap, and the dishes are high in fat, because traditionally this food needed to sustain agricultural workers. Some of the most typical cooking methods are stewing and boiling, and spices are rarely added to the food. For extra flavour, you'll instead see lingonberries served with almost every dish.
If we break the word down into its separate parts, it's quite intuitive.
First, we have husman, which means 'house/property owner' (from hus – building/house and man – man). This referred to people living rurally, who owned just their home rather than any surrounding land and who ate very differently from richer upper-class people who could employ cooks and afford more expensive ingredients.
Then, kost is an older word meaning 'diet' or 'fare'. Look out for it in many compound words, such as vegankost (a vegan diet), kosttillskott (dietary supplement), or råkost (raw food or raw food diet).
So, husmanskost is old-fashioned and unfussy, traditionally eaten at home. But from the early 20th century onwards, even as Sweden underwent industrialization, this type of food began to appear in taverns and inns, and it's still remarkably popular among locals and tourists alike. These days, the word husmanskost on a restaurant sign or menu is intended to indicate high quality, hand-cooked food.
And over the past few years some chefs and restaurants have reinvented or updated the classic dishes, resulting in what's been called nouvel husman. These dishes may include non-Swedish ingredients or spices, and may also reduce the butter or cream to be lower-fat or be cooked using faster methods.
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