Swedish snacking – a culinary journey from south to north

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open air eating in Malmo

open air eating in Malmo

In recent years, Nordic food has gone from culinary strength to strength, with Sweden, Norway and Finland joining Danish initiatives to create a fresh approach to gastronomy, firmly placing the countries on the foodie map. The focus is on making the most of local produce and seasonal cooking, often with an innovative, international twist. What better time to undertake a journey through my native Sweden to check out the food scene.

Malmö and the south

Malmö, Sweden’s third city, just across the strait from Danish capital Copenhagen, has evolved into Sweden’s most diverse city ethnically. This is reflected in its restaurant scene, making it a great place to try Middle Eastern, Sicilian or pan-Asian cuisines, to name a few. That said, Malmö and the southern county of Skåne (also known as Scania), of which Malmö is capital, are also both known for excellent traditional Swedish home-cooking. Southern hospitality Swedish-style might include eel or goose and the dishes tend to be substantial in both size and calories. Perhaps surprisingly, this part of Sweden is also leading the way in terms of sustainability, green technology and organic food, something that’s easily spotted when wandering around the city streets – all the buses are “green”, using renewable energy. There are also numerous delis and markets selling local products, including cheeses and chocolate. Although there are many places to sample great food, there’s hardly anywhere better than in someone’s home and luckily a scheme in Skåne offers just that – a slice of Swedish hospitality –  has families across the county opening their homes to visitors for home-cooked Swedish meals, a wonderful way to connect with people and enjoy food in an informal setting.

Gothenburg and the West Coast

the floating hotel

Salt and Still – the floating hotel

Having started off with cheeses, chocolates and organic, home-baked bread in Malmö, I continued north along the coast towards Gothenburg, Sweden’s second city and a major port. Gothenburg is the gateway to the thousands of islands, islets and skerries that dot the West Coast county of Bohuslän, summer holiday getaway no.1 for many Swedes, best known for its seafood. The city has four Michelin-starred restaurants and plenty of lunchtime and dining options, often with beautiful waterfront views. For an unusual setting, Feskekörka, aka the Fish Church, a fish market with eateries, set inside a converted church, is hard to beat for authentic, fresh-off-the-boat lunch. Heading north out of Gothenburg, the big city rapidly changes into tiny fishing villages and low-key holiday resorts, very busy Jun – Aug, but pleasantly quieter at other times of year. About an hour north, on Klädesholmen Peninsula, lies one of Sweden’s most unusual hotels, Salt & Sill floating hotel, also home to an excellent restaurant, specialising in herring. This tiny fish is ever-popular across Sweden and here it’s prepared to perfection in a variety of ways. Then there’s crayfish, local lobster and that favourite of tipples, Swedish schnapps, to wash it all down.

North Atlantic prawns and white wine South Koster island

North Atlantic prawns and white wine South Koster island

Further north still, on the borders of Norway, lie the two tiny islands of North and South Koster, part of Sweden’s only marine national park, Kosterhavet. Staying a few days by the sea provided some of my most memorable meals of the journey – the picnic of freshly caught North Atlantic shrimp accompanied by a bottle of crisp white wine stands out as one of the best, for all its simplicity. Sustainability and organic food are high on the agenda in these coastal communities as well, with places such as Kosters Trädgårdar (the website is only in Swedish) leading the way and creating excellent culinary experiences for visitors to these mostly car-free islands, reached by boat from nearby Strömstad on the mainland.

Värmland – land of lakes and forests

After the abundant fish and seafood on the West Coast, I was ready for a bit of forest fare. Leaving Bohuslän and heading northeast, inland, I reached my home county of Värmland, one of the most rural in Sweden, replete with lakes and forests. Värmland is a great place to experience both rustic cooking and rustic living, a place to really get off the beaten track, commune with nature, spend time in the sauna or go skinny-dipping – just don’t frighten the elks.

part of the varmland forest with one of many huts in which you can stay

part of the varmland forest with one of many huts in which you can stay

Although busier in summer than at other times of year, there is still a great sense of spaciousness about the place and nowhere is this more apparent than in the forest. I opted to spend one night sleeping in a forest hut, built to resemble the hut a charcoal maker would use in the olden days, living alone out in the forest (http://www.visitvarmland.se/en/stay/larstomta-bb-hostel-27728 or www.larstomta.se organises hut stays). After a peaceful night, only occasionally interrupted by wild animals, probably elk, munching on my grass roof, it was time to try some suitably rustic cooking. Scenically located, well-back-of-beyond, Tvällen Inn (again, only in Swedish) serves up the finest of country cooking with an emphasis on local game dishes. If fish and seafood rule the day in Bohuslän, unsurprisingly, Värmland is home to some of Sweden’s best cuisine for carnivores. At Tvällen there is everything from elk and venison to partridge and wild boar – there’s even bear on the menu, on occasion. They also make ample use of the forest’s resources, with seasonal berries and mushrooms featuring heavily.

Lapland and the far north

Running out of steam with over half the country to go I had to have a little break and return in winter, in my opinion the best time to visit Lapland in the far north. The 17-hour train journey from Stockholm dropped me off in Lapland’s main hub, Kiruna, a short drive from what is undoubtedly one of Sweden’s best-known sights, the Ice Hotel, in the small community of Jukkasjärvi.

an Arctic starter in the Ice Hotel

an Arctic starter in the Ice Hotel

This fantastic abode of ice that springs up every winter is also a culinary haven with the finest of Arctic cuisine. Even if not staying the night, it’s worth a visit for the spectacular surroundings and the excellent nosh – Arctic char sashimi, ptarmigan soup, reindeer chops and crowberry sorbet all made for a very memorable meal. The Ice bar also rounded off the evening nicely with a Wolf’s Paw cocktail (vodka and lingonberry juice). Continuing northwest by train along one of Sweden’s largest lakes, Torne Träsk, I stayed in several beautiful ski resorts, including Europe’s northernmost, Riksgränsen (the website is only in Swedish) and visited nearby Låktatjåkko mountain lodge, celebrating 75 years this year. Incidentally, waffles are a firm favourite up north and said lodge does some of the best waffles I’ve ever encountered, served piping hot with a gorgeous helping of cloudberry jam and a dollop of sweet, whipped cream – truly a winter snack to keep you warm in the cold.

For more about Sweden, click here.

Getting there:

Several low-cost and national carriers fly to Sweden, including Norwegian.com, SAS, Ryanair, British Airways and others. Sweden is easy to get around by car, train or bus (ferries on the West Coast), there are also excellent cycle and hiking routes.


Images and story © Anna Maria Espsäter

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