Saturday, 24 December 2011

Journey to Sweden Pt 3: Gothenburg supper club and Lucia Day

'TIS the year's midnight, and it is the day's,
Lucy's, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks ;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays ;

At this time to the Goat is run
To fetch new lust, and give it you,
Enjoy your summer all,
Since she enjoys her long night's festival.
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
Both the year's and the day's deep midnight is. 

John Donne, A Nocturnal Upon St Lucy's Day
Tuesday 13th of December, St Lucia's Day: I awake groggily with a start. What time is it? I fumble for my iphone. It says 7.15 am but with an hour time difference it's 8.15 am. Maybe. I'm supposed to be at the Gothenburg tourist office at 8.30 am to see a Lucia choir. I flee half dressed downstairs, passing a group of choristers in white.
"What time is it?" I blurt to the hotel employee in the breakfast buffet. It's still dark outside. Swedish people  are piling plates with cheeses, the sour milk yoghurt, the healthy spirulina juice then sitting on Ikea style stools to eat.
"I don't know."
"Is it 7.30 am or 8.30am?"
"8.30 am." 

Panting I run to the trams outside. I've forgotten my glasses and all the numbers are blurry. I ask a transport employee "Where does the number 4 go from? I need the 8.32 tram". In perfect English (you can speak to anybody of any age, any profession or any social class and they speak English which says something about the Swedish education system) she directs me saying "but you have an hour to wait". 
I troop back inside, feeling unreasonable irritation with the hotel employee that didn't know the time.
I again catch a glimpse of the Lucia choir as they exit the breakfast buffet.
I am very lucky to be in Sweden on this day, a festival which celebrates light, a pagan festival which the Lutheran church has co-opted via St Lucia. Each workplace or school selects someone who will be St. Lucia, usually a beautiful blonde girl who wears a crown of lights (historical accuracy would on the other hand mean that St. Lucia as a Sicilian should be brunette, although pale gold hair ringed by fire or electricity serves better as a symbol of light). She wears white with a red sash, symbolising Sweden's blood. Sweden has a long tradition of choral singing, the sweet harmonising of the Abba girls attest to this sound.
At 9am at the tourist office, the employees gather with a glass of glogg or coffee and some saffron buns or pepperkaker biscuits and sit around a large U shaped desk waiting. Slowly a procession of choristers enter the room and sing. This St. Lucia is wearing a headpiece with real candles, we can see the wax dripping onto her hair. Needless to say, she remains upright and immobile but her singing is bright and pure. It's a very special experience.

Afterwards I take a couple of trams through the cold big raindrops to the 'fish church' Feskekorka . I learn that the best roe "better than caviar" is from Kalix, from the clean waters above the polar circle and that you can freeze/defrost it up to five or, some say, ten times.

I eat at the restaurant Gabriel overlooking the fish market, run by chef Jonas Runnberg. When he isn't cooking he's fishing. Even on holiday, he visits Scotland to fish. He looks tired when I meet him, all the electricity had gone off in the restaurant kitchen and he ends up cooking with a head lamp. The food is fantastic with generous portions and clean precise flavours, like snorting sea water. I indulge in a large portion of Kalix roe.
An amuse-bouche of rich creamy fish soup
GravadLax or graveyard salmon.
Dill and sour cream potato salad.
In the evening I visit a Gothenburg supper club, Middagsklubben, hosted by Jasmine Soufi who makes me a traditional Swedish meal in her beautiful flat. I am with five other women and we have such a good time I end up staying until 2 am, talking about many things from racism in Sweden (Jasmine and her sister are half Algerian, their mum met their dad working on the boats) to the 'racist woman on the tram' in the UK who is spending Christmas in jail (yes they've heard of her even over there) to health care in Sweden ("the best place to have a rare illness") what it is to be Swedish ("We don't like to stand out. We like to fit in"). 
Jasmine refurbishes vintage furniture too.
Home made vanilla and lemon schnapps...gorgeous!
 Cabbage salad with figs, walnuts and sour cream. Again, unusual and delicious.
Salted herrings with different sauces, served in jars with hand written labels
A rich Janssen's Temptation, a warming winter dish that includes potatoes, onion, anchovy and cream. 
Perfectly cooked salmon with the best red cabbage, flavoured with juniper, cloves and other Christmassy spices, that I've ever eaten. Must get the recipe.
Jasmine in her kitchen.
 Dinner cost 350 Kroner, a bargain. 
Wednesday 14th of December: I buy Swedish food at the supermarket.
 I like the packaging even on the rice cakes and the potatoes.

Reindeer slices.
Julmust: a non alcoholic drink popular at Christmas which outsells Coke.
 A state owned Alcohol shop 'Systembolaget': one can buy alcohol only from these shops and at restricted times. You must be over 20 years old. Alcohol is highly taxed. Throughout the shops there are notices warning one to drink moderately. Alcoholism has been a problem in Sweden. Another myth about Sweden is owing to the long dark hours of winter, it has the highest suicide rate in the world. This isn't true, Lithuania does.
A gingerbread version of my hotel First Hotel G.
Going home: I spend £40 on salty liquorice at the airport. 

My trip to Sweden was courtesy of  @visitswedenUK


  1. Looks like a lovely trip Kirsten! Those choirs are wonderful. I was lucky enough to catch one in London at a Swedish xmas lunch last year.

    I loved the restaurant at the fish church - wonderful, wonderful fish soups.

    Must check out the supper club next time!

  2. It was really lovely, I've always wanted to go to Sweden. Next time I'd like to see the countryside.
    I definitely recommend the supper clubs I visited.


  3. Looks like you had a perfect introduction to Swedish Yule, lucky you :) Food looks great and I love that you went to a Swedish supermarket (my first port of call when I'm back in Norway is to hit up a local supermarket for nostalgia food...). God jul! x

  4. My favourite thing when travelling is visiting foreign supermarkets and also seeing what gadgets are considered totally essential. I expect it's a waffle maker in Sweden whereas in the UK everyone has an electric kettle and a toaster for tea and toast.
    Have a cool yule Sig

  5. That was the perfect thing to read on Christmas Eve. Beautiful photographs, a wonderful choir....I've yet to visit Scandinavia and this trio of posts has made me want to go all the more.

    Happy Christmas! xx

  6. Thanks so much Catherine. Happy christmas to you all.


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