Eating my way through Sweden’s winter

Tipping Point: Detecting a chill in the air, Kathleen Harman decides it's time to add a layer of blubber. Thankfully, traditional Swedish food is more than up to the job.

I awoke the other day from what was patently one of those horrible anxiety dreams, to find myself wailing,` But I don’t know where I’ve put my long johns’.

I know what brought it on. It was seeing the funny SL public transport poster in the underground station showing a man in his arctic clothes, standing incongruously on a summery deck, advising customers that we are now on the winter timetable.

I am all confused. Just as the weather had finally turned out nice, here we are back in winter. Are there only two seasons in Sweden? Are autumn and spring seasons that only happen to other people?

Take autumn, for example, which is really most peculiar in Stockholm. One minute all the leaves are on the trees and there‘s a bit of a chill in the air. The next thing you know there’s an overnight dumping of snow which causes all the leaves to fall off immediately, all in one go. It is quite literally ‘Fall‘. So autumn really does take, to all intents and purposes, twenty four hours. Perhaps it isn’t worth naming a bus timetable or a school term after it, after all.

And as for spring, I just get really cross with it, if it is at all possible to be annoyed with a season. It takes so long to come that one might be tempted to make a rude Viagra joke. Let’s just say that by the time those daffodils appear, I am most definitely rolling my eyes and have probably mentally worked my way through an entire year‘s worth of shopping lists while filing my nails and counting the cobwebs on the bedroom ceiling.

But if I am cross with spring, I am just plain fed up with winter. Even the simplest of things become such a palaver. Taking popping round the corner for some milk, for example. I just can’t face putting on all those layers and SS boots just to go two hundred metres down the road. By the time I‘m all set with hats, gloves, scarves and a team of small but sturdy husky dogs, I have either lost the will to live or completely forgotten what it was that I was going out for in the first place. I usually end up telling my offspring that they will just have to make do with tonic water on their cornflakes, a staple that never runs out in my household.

I have started compiling a list of all the things that I really hate about winter. I got off to a flying start with ‘A for Amnesia, as in ‘I have completely forgotten that I own underwear that doesn’t come from a camping shop’ and I am working my way steadily through the alphabet. There are a few blanks, admittedly, but I am particularly proud of ‘Y’ as in ‘You’ve got to be bloody joking’’, reserved especially for those snow blizzards in mid May.

But in the interests of fairness, I have also set up a ’Not Too Bad’ list to counter the alphabet of animosity. It has one entry so far which is ’F for Food’ , because you need lots of it in the cold and the saltier and the fattier the better. One definitely needs a little layer of blubber to get one through the siege that is winter, especially if like me, you can‘t remember where you have put your thermal underwear. And there is no time like the present to start your campaign against the cold.

I have to admit a great fondness for traditional Swedish food and positively the best dish is Stekt Strömming – lovely crispy herring and big dollops of buttery mashed potatoes, which handily for us is probably not the most slimming thing on the menu. Or failing that, a really nice fish soup with lashings of aioli sauce will really set you up for an afternoon of trudging through the sludge.

The best lunch place to go for both of the above is Kajsas Fisk restaurant at Hötorgshallen, the underground food market. If you choose the fish soup (eighty kronor), you can have a free top up. I once saw a man have three bowls and about ten slices of bread. Very impressing, as we like to say in Swinglish. I bet his long johns were a bit snug after that gastronomic extravaganza.

Make sure you have a good browse around the market when you are there, because it is bursting with both excellent produce and character. It is all good stuff but I recommend in particular the fruit loaves from Tråget Bakery, the friendly service at Jackson’s Ost, and the beautiful uniforms of the staff at Österqvist Deli. And the best thing is that it is all underground so it’s a bit like being holed up in a bunker that just happens to be packed with gourmet goodies.

There are worse ways to spend a winter, I suppose.

Kajsas Fisk & Restaurang AB Hötorgshallen 3-6, 11157 Stockholm

Tel: 08 – 20 72 62

Hotorgshallen, Hotorget, Mon – Thurs, 10-18.00, Fri 10-18.30, Sat 10 -16.00.

Kathleen Harman