I was a little skeptical at first, especially given my hatred of seafood, but in the end I found many great things to eat in Sweden. Of everything I tasted though, these I think best encapsulate the Swedish experience.
I was in Sweden as part of the Car Plus Vacation promotion, highlighting Volvo’s program that allows overseas buyers to receive complimentary tickets to Sweden and to drive their new car around before Volvo ships it home for them. They’re also running a sweepstakes right now that will give one lucky winner and guest the opportunity to experience the Swedish Road Trip of a Life Time just like I did. Even though Swedish Tourism and Volvo sponsored this trip, all opinions are of course my own and as you’ll see I had carte blanche in how I experienced Sweden.
1. Cinnamon Roll – I never dreamed that IKEA would prove to be a good indicator of Swedish culture, but I don’t think it’s too far off based on my own experiences. One thing we always buy at IKEA are the cheap but delicious cinnamon rolls, and as it turns out there’s a reason for this as I learned in Gothenburg. At Café Husaren the roll has taken on a life of its own and is quite literally the size of one’s head. If you don’t want this belly buster though, never fear, the rolls are everywhere. They’re a little different from the ones I’m used to at home. American rolls tend to be glazed with sticky sugar, but in Sweden they instead sprinkle large grains of sugar on them. At first they look like salt, but never fear, they aren’t and the Swedish version is sweet and delicious. It’s not just in Gothenburg, everywhere we went we found these freshly baked bits of yummy goodness, in manageable human sizes. Sweden’s baking prowess doesn’t end there though. The bread was one of my favorite parts of eating in Sweden, they clearly know what they’re doing. Baked goods come in all sizes and shapes, but freshness and taste are prized above all. This is not a country where you’ll find dinner rolls from a plastic bag on the dinner table.
2. Meat – As a confirmed and ardent carnivore, I was really pleased with the main course options throughout Sweden. At first I was a little surprised, I frankly expected to see seafood everywhere, but a drive through the countryside gave me the answer. There is a lot of farmland in Sweden and not a small portion is devoted to raising animals: pigs, sheep and of course cows. This has created a great tradition of well-prepared and nicely sauced dishes, something I enjoyed almost every day during my trip. A personal favorite was a hearty stew I had at the rustic Hotel Rusthållargården in Skåne. Organic veal cooked for hours combined with a rich but not leaden sauce and served with potatoes and vegetables made for a savory and surprisingly light lunch. No matter what you go for though, good old-fashioned meat is not to be missed.
3. Rhubarb – I don’t personally enjoy rhubarb (it’s not a dessert food!) but I was obviously in the minority in Sweden. Quite literally, in the dessert section on the menu of every restaurant we visited in Sweden was some sort of rhubarb concoction. I don’t understand the appeal, but apparently the Swedish do. It’s such an important part of the culinary tradition that Malmo has included it in its list of ‘authentic tastes.’
4. Coffee – The Swedish have a term for taking a break to enjoy coffee with friends at a cafe and just chill out – fika. The fact they have a separate term and tradition for an afternoon coffee break won me over immediately – how can you not love that? They definitely practice what they preach as well. Coffee shops are everywhere, sometimes multiple cafes on a single block. Someone told me that Sweden is one of the top ten countries in the world for coffee consumption and after visiting I believe it. The tasty warm drink isn’t just omnipresent, it’s also wonderful. I’m a coffee lover myself and I can attest to the fact that not every country makes a good cup ‘o Joe; but Sweden does. It’s dark and rich without tasting burned. One of my favorite coffee shops was Barista, in Malmo. Barista is an organic, fair trade chain that combines social activism with delicious coffees and is a must visit establishment for all of my fellow coffee lovers out there.
5. Ugh, ok, FISH – I resisted including this, but I can’t avoid it. If you’ve been reading LandLopers for a while then you know I can’t stand seafood of any kind, the reasons for which I detailed in this post. This feeling is not shared in Sweden. It’s a seafaring nation and seafood isn’t just appreciated, it’s an important part of the culture. Pickled herring is almost revered and served on the highest of holidays, a fact that makes me shudder a lot. I was able to avoid it, so it’s possible, but it’s not always easy. If you want truly great and fresh fish, the Salt & Sill on the herring island of Klädesholmen is the place for you. We stayed at their floating hotel, but the restaurant was packed with diners who had traveled from near and far just for the legendary menu. Luckily for me they also know how to cook a mean steak, and the views were simply stunning.