Food is 90% of why I travel. A place's food and its behaviors around it, give me an insight to what their culture holds important.
I was unsure of what to expect with Swedish cuisine. I watched an episode of Chef's Table with some Swedish chef living in a very small town. He had long hair and there was a lot of snow. I know Marcus Samuelsson grew up in Sweden. New Nordic cuisine is a thing I've seen cookbooks for. I ate Swedish meatballs and apple cake at Ikea and enjoyed it. I watched Anthony Bourdain rant about ABBA, as if it were still relevant, and eat goose with singing. I knew hot dogs were a thing, as hot dogs or meat in tube form is a thing in most places these days. I learned from Girl with a Dragon Tattoo that there's a beverage called Aquavit and people drink it a lot.
Okay, so I know maybe a millimeter about Swedish cuisine.
Stockholm surprised me with the quality of its food. The food halls were full of colorful produce, meats, and cheeses and screamingly fresh seafood. Outdoor markets showed off piles of mushrooms. Hot dog, falafel, and grilled meat stands pop up next to train stations and high-end department stores.
Hot Dogs, Sausages, and Wurst, Oh My!
It's been snowing all morning and afternoon. I've been dragging around all my belongings; I'm in between accommodations. Finally, I drop my bags into my 19th-century sailboat hostel and do a bit of research: best affordable eats in Stockholm. The name of a restaurant in Sodermalm turns up several times, so I pull on my boots, my down parka, and trek back out into the snow. According to Google maps, it's a forty minute walk. Half hour goes by, my hands are ice blocks, and I don't want to sit with a bunch of people I don't know in a trendy restaurant.
Across the street, in a deserted square above the tunnelbana comes the neon glow of street food. Split decision made. Hot dog for dinner it is. I order a tunnbrodsrulle, something I watched Bourdain drunkenly shove in his face on the Stockholm episode.
I stand in a corner beneath a hulking movie advertisement next to the tunnelbana station. They give you a tiny fork to eat these things. Freezing my ass off, I shovel tiny forkfuls of fluffy mashed potatoes, cabbage, and mustard into my mouth alternating with bites of spicy sausage and a slightly stale lavash style bread. Totally worth the thirty minutes I spent in the bathroom later.
Imagine a permanent food truck, but in a shipping container, that sells delicious, premium sausages. This is Ostermalms Korvspecialist, known locally as Bruno's and considered one of the best sausage stands in Stockholm. Stuffed into grilled pockets of deliciousness, the kabanos sausage is a spicy Polish sausage served with sauerkraut and mustard.
Another one of the thirty sausages served at Ostermalms Korvspecialist is the currywurst. A braut sliced in two, grilled with curry sauce, stuffed into a grilled hollowed out mini-baguette served with sauerkraut and mustard.
I am in love with these places! It's like the most beautiful, cleanest food court and grocery store. Full of colorful produce, enormous lobsters, mounds of screamingly fresh prawns and fish, and beautiful cuts of meat.
First, we ate at Melanders Fisk in the Hotorgshallen, a fishmonger and lunch destination. We ordered a cured salmon rosette with creamy dill potatoes and three cured salmon and cream cheese rolls: one with horseradish, one with roe, and one with lime and ginger. My favorite was the one with lime and ginger. The cured salmon was some of the best I've had (the best was the stuff we accidentally stole from the hotel buffet in Reykjavik). The creamy dill potatoes definitely needed salt and pepper but really, you're not there to eat potatoes.
The next day we ventured over to the Saluhall; the old building is being renovated so it is currently being held in a newer, temporary building. We didn't have any meals here, but I did have a kanebulle (cinnamon roll) and a latte. Sweden is known for its cinnamon rolls, but personally, I found them dry and tasteless, especially eating the best cinnamon roll in my life in Iceland.
One of the oldest continuously running restaurants in Stockholm, Pelikan serves what they call plain Swedish food.
I reserved a 1:00 pm table for two the day before. From what I've read, I would definitely recommend coming here for lunch as it can get crowded into the evening. We arrived five to ten minutes early and were seated right away as there was only one or two other parties there.
The waiter provided us bread and butter; this is something that happened to us at every place where we sat down. And here is where I go into a bit of a pompous rant; I really should not read one-star TripAdvsior reviews late into the night. The server is there to take your order, serve the food, and bring the check. Since service charges are already included in your bill and your server probably makes a reasonable wage, tipping is not really a part of the restaurant culture. Servers here are not going to perform the obsequious rim jobs that American wait staff are forced to perform in order to get their tips.
Yes, it will take a while for your food to come. Personally, I prefer this system for a destination restaurant such as this (i.e. our day is built around going to this restaurant); I am not held hostage to the financial needs of underpaid server and they don't have to perform the monkey cymbal dance to make up for their pitiful wage. I like being able to sit, eat, and conversate with my friends in a leisurely manner without someone constantly interrupting me when I'm in the middle of a sentence or chewing to ask us how we are doing; in America, I would feel like an ass for waving over my waiter, and I cringe whenever I see someone snap their fingers for a waiter. I wouldn't do that in Sweden either. Just politely gesture to your server when you see them and get some more water. If I'm at a Denny's, I'm hungover as shit and I need the healing powers of carbs, maple syrup, and pig, then I love American service, "Why, yes, I would love a third coffee refill. Yes, take my order now. Can I order a side of pancakes to go with my pancakes?" I'm pleased with your concern into my welfare and how my dining experience is going because I need to make my head stop spinning.
Whew. Back to the whole point of this. For our starter, we got a potato and almond pancake served with Kavlax roe, creme fraiche, and raw red onion. No amount of candlelit ambiance can convince me to eat raw red onion. The thick pancake was golden and crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, the perfect serving vessel for the lightly briny roe and tangy creme fraiche (the dairy in Sweden is good, not quite Iceland level of delicious sheep dairy perfection, but much better than our poor watery excuses for dairy in the United States).
My main course was traditional Swedish meatballs (I had to eat meatballs in Sweden) served with lingonberries and mashed potatoes. The meatballs were well-proportioned, flavorful, and close textured without being tough. They were served with a rich brown sauce, and the lingonberries provide a vibrant note on the plate balancing the richness of the sauce. The mashed potatoes were mashed potatoes; mashed potatoes are for me one of the most disappointing things you can do with a potato.
My friend ordered the reindeer (again, have to eat reindeer in Sweden) with mushroom and chestnut puree and pickled apples. The tenderness of the reindeer surprised me. The flavor was mild compared to elk or venison but with more depth than beef. The mushroom and chestnut puree should be avoided at all costs unless you like the idea of a whipped mushroom flavored jello pudding snack. The pickled apple added needed piquancy against the dark meat and sauce.
Yeah, we had to ask for the check at the end and our meal took almost two hours. But those were two hours I got to spend with one of my closest friends talking politics and relationships with delicious food.
Just chill the fuck out. If you need something faster, go one of the grilled meat stands.
Breakfast: Hostel, Hotel, Hostel
European breakfast, I love you. Every morning I sat down to a plentiful spread of breads, cured meats or fish, fresh fruit and juice, and coffee. It's satisfying without dragging you down the way the stacks of pancakes can, and I didn't feel like I was filling my stomach with artificial colors, flavors, and sugary crap (don't get me wrong, I love me some frosted mini-wheats). It was the perfect fuel to start a day. The breakfast at Miss Clara, the upscale boutique I stayed at one night definitely stole the show on the breakfast front.
If you're not sold on Swedish food, check out some of these photos from our wanderings around the food halls and Restaurang Pelikan.