Swedish butter knives
Wall of post-it notes commemorating the recent terrorist attack in Stockholm
Stockholm herring boats
I stayed with my friend, chef Linn Soderstrom, further from the centre, in Bromma. Her building is surrounded by other modern utilitarian apartments. There is no heating; it is recycled power from the household machines in the building, fridges, washing machines. Recycling the rubbish of the apartments is intrinsic to the structure: the food turns into fuel for local buses.
Sweden is still rather communist. In astrology, it is considered an Aquarian country: with noble ideas of equality and fairness. The minimum wage, which depends on which union or field you are in, tends to be higher than ours and restaurant workers are well paid, working a strict 40 hour week. A chef of 6 years experience wouldn't be paid less than £12 an hour. Swedes famously pay a high percentage of income tax and as a result their lifestyles are better than ours. On the other hand, life is very expensive.
A weird thing I found out about Swedes is they don't use double duvets. Virtually never. Even a couple who are incredibly in love will have two separate single duvets. So in hotel rooms, you'll be given two skinny duvets on a double bed. Maybe they don't like touching each other?
When we think of Sweden we think of sober, disciplined, egalitarian, stylish, genetically blessed people. I've always been obsessed with Vikings. But I wonder about the slow process of transforming their culture from ruthless violent marauding pagan Vikings (although Viking females had more rights than other medieval women) into modern day Swedish people. Are Swedes still Viking?
Where to eat?I didn't eat everywhere I wanted to try, due to a limited budget. As I said, it ain't cheap. Here are the places I did try which I really enjoyed.
Fika or coffee time is a Swedish obsession. The pastries at Vete-katten, 'the cat knows', a rambling, multi-roomed fika house, are superb. I had a cardamom bun, flaky, soft and spiced. Each 'room' has a coffee station with a silver coffee samovar and cups. You can serve yourself as much coffee as you want. Headscarfed waitresses serve your choice of pastry from a counter where you choose. The window is full of big green marzipan cakes 'Prinsesstarta' which are also a Swedish tradition. But I can't stop thinking about that bun.
Why do the Swedes eat so much crisp bread or Knåckebrod as they call it? The reason, according to Linn, stems from the weakness and lack of gluten in their local wheat: it didn't rise when baked. Knåckebrod can last a year, useful during the long winters when nothing grows. Each village has their own style of knåckebrod and people used to bake their own. Some styles have holes in so that they can be threaded through a pole and hung from the rafters over the oven. Whole supermarket aisles are dedicated to different kinds, sizes and shapes of crispbread. We even had it for breakfast. I kind of got into it in the end. Here in the UK, Peter's yard does fantastic Swedish style knåckebrod.
Teatern ('theatre') is an exciting food court concept where new and adventurous chefs can open street food type stalls. Magnus Nilson of Faviken has a food outlet here. The place looks a bit like a modern Roman-style amphitheatre. Here are a couple of stalls I tried:
This was a fantastic vegan place. I tried a tasty 'hammerburger', a black bean and red rice mushroom burger with side veg.
Ostermalms Saluhall:There are several food markets worth visiting but being Sweden, most of them are indoors. The poshest food market is the modern wood lined 'Saluhall' which has delis, restaurants, sells fish products and high end food.
This is the trendy district in Stockholm with art galleries, restaurants and quirky shops plus a food hall 'Soderhallarna' with an English shop.
'Taste this' he whispered gleefully, handing me a white powdery ball.Lars himself has no taste buds (his partner does the tasting), in fact sweets this strong are probably the only thing he can taste. I bought tubs of ammonium chloride which is the salted liquorice powder, of salted liquorice essential oil (who doesn't want a bath smelling of that?), of tar shampoo from Finland and salty liquorice crisps. He also introduced me to the salty liquorice competition. And there are awards! I tasted the 2017 winning entry Gammelstads by Ulrika Fjellborg who also writes Sci-Fi novels. (Who I want to visit).
I choked a little, but manfully continued to chew 'I'd need to work up to that ideally' I responded, not wanting to look like a wimp after all my liquorice boasting.
Below is her liquorice bar called Super Salty Salmiakki. You cannot buy more than 20 sticks per person.
Other restaurants worth visiting:
Rutabaga in the Grand Hotel, led by chef Mathias Dahlgren. Rutabaga is the old name for a 'swede' turnip. Swedes are all the rage in the vegetable world.Rosendalstradgard, a biodynamic farm to fork restaurant run by British chef Billy White. Also has an artisanal bakery, farmshop and plant shop.
Ekstedt: a 'fire' restaurant, where everything is cooked on wood fires, led by Niklas Ekstad, author of 'Food from the fire'. Linn used to chef here when it had more vegetarian options. With a new head chef, it's very much centred on meat. You can order a fixed tasting menu with 4 options or 6.
Where to visit:
Other shops sell mugs and cushions with designs by Elsa Beskow, a famous Swedish children's illustrator.
- I wanted to visit is the new Viking museum Vikingaliv but frustratingly it opened the week after my visit.
- In a similar vein check out ship museum Vasamuseet
- Abba The Museum sounds like a cultural must see.
More shopping:At Hotorget, there is a fleamarket on Sundays.
This is a stylish homewares shop where I bought giant garlic crusher. You know how most garlic crushers you can only fit in a clove. This one you can fit in a whole bulb. Excellent.
More homewares at Lagerhaus. It's a bit like a Swedish version of the Danish chain Tiger. FAirly cheap with good design. I bought some plant holders there.
To enjoy more Swedishness, come to my Swedish midsummer supper club with Linn Soderstrom. This time we will also have Swedish chef Marian Ringborg, who is currently working at Skye Gingell's restaurant Spring.
This is the third year running we have hosted this. If it's nice it'll be in the garden. We will probably construct a birch Maypole.
Look: Wear flower crowns or Viking gear if you feel like it.
Food: home cured/smoked salmon, different kinds of herring, Swedish cheeses, berries, crisp breads. Some bbqed food. Strawberry cake. Salty liquorice. Aquavit. Blaabar. All kinds of Scandi yumminess.
Tickets: £50 (I'm flying chefs over from Sweden).
Date: June 21st.
Where: my place in Kilburn, The Underground Restaurant.
Book at this link: http://www.edibleexperiences.com/p/69/The-Underground-Restaurant/1450001/3rd-annual-Swedish-midsummers-night-meal