Sunday, 31 March 2013

SWEDEN: eating in Stockholm

winding cobbled lanes of Gamla Stan
Sweden is a country I’ve longed to visit for some time; particularly its capital of fourteen islands, Stockholm.

I’ve only ever heard great things about the quality of life here – one of the most unpolluted cities in the whole of Europe with waters so clean you can, and are actively invited to, fish for salmon in them. Imagine that, fishing for salmon within a capital city – no need for a permit. 

And on the note of salmon, the Swedes don’t half love the stuff. I’ve eaten more of it raw and cured, enjoying its unmistakable deep orange pink flesh in the past four days than I have in the past six months – I believe my annual omega 3 quota has been fulfilled.

When in Stockholm you are never far from water; usually serenely calm and in our case reflecting the brilliant unbroken sunshine and blue skies for the full duration of our stay.

Imposing and statuesque medieval and Renaissance buildings jostling for space on the gently rippling surfaces were interrupted by solitary shards of ice floating between the islands from the winter just passed. Yellow ochre plaster of the towering 18th century buildings line the steep cobbled lanes of Stockholm’s old town, Gamla Stan. 

To the east lies the large and green island of Djurgården - former royal hunting grounds and heavily wooded, forming the northern side of Stockholm harbour. Prolific with the signs of early spring – crocuses and snowdrops huddling in colourful groups against the early morning frost amongst newly emerging grass; red squirrels with their tufty ears galloping like little dogs across pathways, up trees and onto Matt’s head; great tits and blue tits perching on my finger tips to feed straight from my hand. 

To the south lies Södermalm (where we stayed), rising steeply from the water and is something of a city in itself with its own character, charm and dialect. The slopes are lined with old wooden cottages providing an unrivalled view of Stockholm along with a plethora of restaurants and bars and a lively night life.

An integral part of any international visit I make is sampling the typical local dishes. It was the promise of pickled herrings, meatballs, s
mörgåsbords  gravadlax, dense rye breads, Swedish coffee and cinnamon buns that was the deciding factor for the next city break to cross off the list. 

I’m pleased to say this rather charming city with its abundant and fit waterside joggers, edgy fashion sense, good looking waiting staff and air pure enough to clean out these London lungs did not disappoint. I’ll share a little about my culinary experiences whilst staying here.


water side buildings of Strandvägen in Östermalm

Money Money Money*

One thing you may have heard about Stockholm is that it can be pricey. 


People have provided similar warnings about a lot of cities I’ve visited – New York, Reykjavik, even my home town of London itself – none of which I’ve found to be particularly expensive. This isn’t because I have bottomless pockets but because these preconceptions are often simply down to a lack of research. 

Spend a few minutes of pre-planning and it’s not difficult to locate and plot on your Google maps good value places to eat that the locals themselves would frequent, going against the grain of typical tourist traps and their inflated prices and often poor quality grub. 

But I’ll tell you what, I may well have been defeated in Stockholm. Eating here is expensive. We’re talking on average around £20-£25 for one plate of food at dinner time i.e. the main course. If you’re after something focussed around a steak or perhaps a fillet of elk with some vegetables, we’re talking £30 plus. Add to that starters or dessert and alcohol at around £6 for a glass of wine or pint of beer and your bill will soon tot up.

It's not that these restaurants are particularly high-end, it's just that these are the average prices of eateries in Stockholm. The only cheap eats that really exist are McDonald’s, Burger King, or hot dog stands. So my advice would be to just accept the prices early on and get over it – it’s the only way you’ll enjoy yourself. 


But also, bear in mind this one tip that can go some way in helping you to try and get round the swift departure of your well-earned krona; it seems to be something both tourists and locals alike partake in. Eat your second (after breakfast) and final meal of the day in the late afternoon, say around 3-4pm

Restaurants tend to have lunch menus available until this time which serve similar if not the same food as in the evenings, but for quite a lot cheaper. This tactic worked nicely for us as we filled our bellies with such gusto for breakfast that we weren’t hungry until about 3pm anyway. Punctuate these two main meals with a Swedish coffee and a cinnamon bun (£5-£6) for a fika at some point (see below) and you will be more than satiated for the day.

*ABBA reference intended

Breakfast

I’ve mentioned it before in this post about how much I look forward to and actively revel in the joys a hearty breakfast can provide. Once decided upon a destination, our hotel choice almost entirely comes down to the range and quality of breakfast on offer. I don’t want scrambled eggs and baked beans on cellophaned white bread – I can get that easily enough in London. I want to make like the locals and eat like they do. And the breakfast at our hotel certainly delivered.


If presented with foods that are not a standard in your daily consumption, it always takes at least the first day in a hotel to work out what you like over everything else. And it’s then this combination that you’ll tend to stick to or hover around for the remainder of your stay. But you should try everything on offer before you decide – one of my pet hates are people who won’t try something before deciding they don’t like it. How on earth do you know you don’t like it if you haven’t tried it? Looking at it is not enough.

My pick of the breads available included a freshly baked large loaf of mostly white flour and I suspect enriched with butter or eggs - it had a wonderfully flavoursome chewy crust and an open and light texture. 


There was also a dark and dense rye with a sticky glaze, each slice punctuated with generous chunks of walnuts. And my goodness this bread was impressive – every time I had a bite I felt the urge to declare yet again just how good it was, having already exclaimed it every morning, several times. 

On a large slice of the former I smashed up a soft boiled egg and topped it with crispy bacon rashers. On the rye I spread cream cheese, layered thickly cut succulent chunks of moist cured salmon, and topped it off with pickled gherkins and a twist of pepper. I looked forward to the salmon on rye as early as dinner the night before – that’s when you know you have a good thing going at breakfast. 

With these I also had a bowl of fruit, a cup of Rooibos (while the Swedes do excellent coffee, they also love their tea – a vast range available in every café), a shot of the home made smoothie available that morning (my favourite was the raspberry, strawberry, ginger and rhubarb combination),  and washed it all down with an excellent cappuccino and croissant.

Three slices of dense rye with cream cheese, salmon
and gherkins. Soft boiled egg and bacon on the loaf.
My assembled concoctions, along with a bowl of fruit,
shot of home made smoothie and cup of Rooibos

All finished off with an excellent Swedish cappuccino
and an oversized croissant

You would be correct in thinking that this is quite a lot of food for one sitting. But as the saying goes, 'breakfast li
ke a King..'. It certainly met the criteria of adequately fuelling us for most of the day ahead whilst still being completely delicious.

Mariatorget 3, Stockholm (Södermalm)


'Fika' - the Swedish coffee break

A
fika or to fika - you decide as it can be used as both a noun and a verb. The fact the Swedes have a specific expression to describe their institution of taking a break to socially interact with friends, family or colleagues over coffee demonstrates that this is a pastime to be taken seriously.

According to the International Coffee Organization (ICO), Sweden ranks second in the world after Finland in terms of coffee consumption per person, and it is through fika that this coffee drinking culture is fostered.
 

Fika is often enjoyed with freshly baked pastries such as cinnamon buns (kanelbullar), collectively called fikabröd. What makes the concept of fika so intriguing to us foreigners is the sheer frequency at which it is observed each day

It’s apparently not uncommon to grab a cup of coffee after breakfast, after lunch, before dinner and after dinner. This tradition is an opportunity for Swedes to set aside a few moments each day for quality bonding over coffee, and it’s a tradition I fully support.




We found a great little place to fika on the island our hotel was on, Södermalm. Gildas Rum was packed full of clientèle when we entered, but we managed to nab two armchairs and a little table in a cosy corner of the room. 

The décor is stylishly kitschy, with muted red and gold tones and the bookshelf pattern on the wallpaper and those comfy armchairs lend the feeling of an old-fashioned reading room. The counter was heaving with home-baked goods of which I decided upon a square of brownie. And hands down, this was the best brownie I’ve ever tasted – gooey, deliciously dark, speckled with chunks of walnuts and topped with some sort of chocolate cream. 

It went perfectly with yet another very good coffee. An excellent venue to rest weary feet after a day of meandering across the city.

Skånegatan 79, Stockholm (Södermalm)


Swedish meatballs

One of the main reasons anyone pays a visit to Ikea is not to fulfil a burning desire to ogle flat pack MDF and buy tea lights, but to eat the meatballs in their restaurant. Few would dispute that they're pretty good (whether they contain horse meat or not - which I don't have a problem with, incidentally). 


But you haven't tasted true Swedish meatballs until you've eaten them in Sweden. And after a bit of research and review reading to source the most favoured meatball establishment in Stockholm, I decided upon Pelikan. Assisting with this decision was the visit paid by Anthony Bourdain in his 'No Reservations' episode on Stockholm - if he went, it must be good.


The high-ceilinged
interiors of Pelikan

Pelikan is regarded as somewhat of an establishment in the city and serves traditional Swedish fare through and through in its rustic, high-ceilinged beer hall setting. There's a lot of wood and waiters in black and white suits to help ease you into the warm atmosphere of its old world charm. 


The menu is brief, I always regard this as a good sign of the quality of what's on offer. Do what you do well, and leave it there. I also suspect it hasn't changed for years, and why should it when locals and tourists alike regularly fill out its seating area. 

Starters consist of the ubiquitous pickled herrings, roe with eggs and anchovies, soups or duck sausage. 

We decided to share a plate of the assorted pickled herring and cheese (£12). It included herring in a sweet dill sauce, herring in cream and chives and herring with red onion and seasoned with pepper. In the middle of the plate was a soft boiled potato and the cheese was speckled with something slightly sweet, perhaps lingonberry. Whilst conservative in its portion, this was a tasty little appetiser to ready us for the main to come. 


The mains on offer include cured salmon with dill and potatoes, potato dumplings, Swedish hash with eggs and beets, boiled knuckle of pork (what Tony had on his show), spring lamb in red wine, and a schnitzel of veal. But of course, we came specifically for the meatballs. And at £20 for a portion, I was expecting great things.

What I probably wasn't expecting was the sheer mass of what I was presented with. I had heard the Swedes were generous with their portions (and I do wonder if this is an attempt to appease the high prices of their food in general), but these were almost laughable. 

Four huge and dense meatballs on both of our plates, each the size of a snooker ball. Served with pickles, wonderfully sweet and slightly tart stewed lingonberries (mostly whole rather than saucy) to cut through the weight of the plate, and a dish of soft smooth mash. 

Estimating, I reckon there was about 350-400g of meat there. Think of a pack of mince you purchase in a supermarket being 400g-500g - there was a lot of protein on our table.


the meatballs at Pelikan

But praise be to the Viking gods, these were exceptional. Soft and melting in the mouth, these were moist and beautifully savoury, detecting a good amount of heat from the liberal use of pepper in the seasoning. 

We were trying to work out how they would have gone about cooking a parcel of mince of that size without drying it out - I'm not sure we figured it out. The dish was delivered submerged in a pool of meaty gravy of which the waiter happily fetched some more at Matt's request. 

I coupled this with a glass of beer (it was a beer hall after all) and despite not having had lunch (see above for the big breakfast reference), I was defeated. It was me vs. the meatballs and the meatballs won

I managed to polish off two and a half with some difficulty along with some of the mash, but I couldn't accommodate another bite. They were just so BIG. Matt put in a sterling performance and through controlled breathing and mopping the meat sweats from his brow, he managed to clear his plate.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and if I visited again, a single portion of these shared between two along with the mash, table bread and a starter would have more than sufficed. As well as help keep down the costs. But regardless, you must try meatballs if you visit Stockholm and I highly recommend trying them here.

Pelikan
Blekingegatan 40Stockholm(Södermalm)


Vegetarian Stockholm

Eating so much meat and fish will invariably result in a yearning for at least one meal away from the delights of the flesh. Not to mention it being good for the gut. 


While deciding upon a meal for our third day, we happened across some favourable reviews for Hermans, a well visited and reviewed vegetarian restaurant serving buffet style meals for £17 a head. This includes unlimited tea, coffee and tap water but does not include any additional drinks or desserts.

The restaurant is situated on the north side of the island of Södermalm and provides some beautiful views over Stockholm. The bill is paid for in advance at the till, where you are provided with a plate per head and let loose on the buffet. 

The buffet consisted of both salads and hot foods whilst involving flavours from around the world including: creamy mushroom potato gratin (my favourite thing there - delicious), fantastic humous, tzatskiki, Greek salads with feta, antipasti with roasted peppers, aubergines in yoghurt with dill, dhaal with raita, tiny spiced florets of cauliflower, diced beetroots with cashews, red cabbage and white cabbage salads - the list went on for quite a bit more. 

It was all plentiful, fresh, colourful and delicious.






We wrapped the meal up with a slice of gluten free chocolate cake (£6) to share which I initially didn't care for with my first bite, but quickly grew to like the unusual paste-like texture due to the lack of standard flour, I presume. 

Washed down with some quality filter coffee on Matt's part and a few cups of organic Rooibos for me (caffeine after 3pm means I won't sleep) and we were happy to call it a very successful meal. The place was packed at 4pm and whilst a little bit hippy-dippy with some of its wall art, I really enjoyed it. Quality buffet style vegetarian meals should be available in London - I would visit.


Amen to that
That's what all the
tree-huggers say

Hermans
Fjallgatan 23Stockholm 11628(Södermalm)

Smörgåsbord

A s
mörgåsbord is typically Swedish and is a meal served buffet style, with multiple courses of both cold and hot food. I was keen to have one reasonably blow-out meal in Stockholm and trying out the s
mörgåsbord at the Grand Hotel is reputedly the best way to fully appreciate the experience in the city.


They've provided a little excerpt on their website titled 'The art of enjoying a smörgåsbordto whet your appetite:
  • Everything is delicious, but start with your favourites. It’s easy to overdo it
  • Make sure to make room for all the courses. Make several trips to the table, taking a clean plate each time
  • Start with the herring dishes, traditionally served with hot new potatoes, crisp bread and cheese. Accompany it with the perfect libation, a cold beer or home made snaps
  • Then it’s time for the gravlax with hovmästare sauce. Don’t miss the smoked salmon with pressed lemons
  • Now sample the salads, egg dishes and charcuterie
  • On to the hot dishes! Don’t miss our home made meatballs with lingonberry jam
  • For dessert we recommend a little of everything, but he fruit salad is a must. Finish off with a cup of coffee and an ice-cold punsch. Skål!
I''m actually going to stop there as I think this meal is deserving of a post all on its own, so watch this space for a link to it soon. It will be a good'un.

This post has now been written and can be found here.

Grand Hotel
Sodra Blasieholmshammen 8Stockholm 103 27

Stockhom is a stunning city and I'm almost certain I'll return. The people are incredibly friendly and have the right mentality when it comes to enjoying the good things in life

Now that my Swedish fix has been fulfilled, I find myself with the unenviable task of trying to source that impeccable glazed and fresh walnut rye I had for breakfast, somewhere here in the UK. I don't think the Ikea food shop is going to cut it.

Afiyet olsun.

4 comments:

  1. Great article!
    Do you know if it's necessary to book the Pelican? Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! If I recall correctly, I don't think you can. So we got there quite early (around 6pm) and it was practically empty. Best to check the website though.

      Delete
  2. Hi! Your article was so helpful, I really appreciate it! Any recommendations for restaurants in Gamla Stan?? Thanks. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you very much. I think we avoided eating in Gamla Stan as we heard it was the equivalent of eating in Leicester Square in London! Over-priced tourist traps. Sorry that wasn't more helpful :)

      Delete

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