• Sweden's news in English

Strange foods, and how to find them

The Local · 13 Jan 2010, 17:21

Published: 13 Jan 2010 17:21 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

The strangest thing when changing country of residence is not the new language, nor the temperamental weather, nor on which side of an escalator one should stand in order not to annoy the natives. No, the biggest smack in the face is undoubtedly the food, and nothing can make an expat experience that grinding churn of homesick misery like a casual wander through the aisles of the local supermarket.

Moving to Sweden is not like moving to Mars or to Narnia; it is still basically western Europe and all of the familiar foods are present, many of them with the same packaging and often with the names in English. But despite this, many surprises are in store.

Take yogurt. The Swedes are very fond of yogurt. Never before in fact have I seen such an array of yogurt and yogurt-like products offered in the average supermarket. The Irish also like a bit of yogurt but there tends to be only two types in Irish shops: yogurt loaded with sugar that is marketed at kids; and yogurt loaded with sugar that is marketed at adults. The Swedes take yogurt to a whole other level, a swirling cornucopia of yogurtness the likes of which the world has never seen. If you want yogurt, or something even remotely like yogurt, then you've undoubtedly come to the right place.

But elsewhere things are a little greyer. Consider, for example, potato waffles, those chirpy, crispy, processed-to-within-an-inch-of-their-lives potato squares that are ideal for breakfast, dinner or random snacking. These are truly the kings of quick-and-dirty cuisine and can be prepared using nothing more than a toaster. Yes, you heard me, a toaster!

And they are not available in Sweden at all. Anywhere. Ever.

At this stage I would normally launch into a rant about salt and vinegar crisps not being available in Sweden either, except for the fact that, right now, after years of absence, they are indeed available. I don't however expect this state of affairs to last very long, so as soon as they are pulled again in favour of crisps with troubling names like "Sourcream and Dill" or "Pistachio and Hermit" you can be sure that you will hear some irritated squeaking coming from my general direction.

But it's not just in the shops where the foods can confuse. Outside in the real world one occasionally comes across items that appear to be identical to food in the old country, but cruelly aren't. A case in point is fish and chips. Many of the bars in Stockholm offer fish and chips on their menus, but what you get is not actually fish and chips at all. It is similar, I grant you, and the dish contains the same basic ingredients, but in some strange way it is just all wrong.

It's like in a B-movie where you wake up to find your whole town has been subtly changed but you can't quite put your finger on how or why, until the inhabitants start peeling off their faces to reveal their big shiny bug-eyes and chase you across fields of towering corn at a lively stagger, arms outstretched and fingers twitching.

These fish and chips pretenders are simply not the real deal. The chips are the wrong shape, as well as the wrong texture, all crisp and perky and thin instead of fat-soaked and limp and juicy. The fish isn't quite right either - in place of a great slab of succulent flesh wrapped in a multidimensional layer of batter, you get a small fillet or two with a neat bread-crumbed surface or a light coating of batter substitute. It's all very tidy and polite but not at all fish and chips as they should be.

It strikes me as odd that a country like Sweden, obsessed as it is with both fish and potatoes, could not find the customers to keep a single traditional fish and chip shop going. But I guess it's just not their thing. I wouldn't either trust my native Irish culture with the preparation of a nice bit of sill or a plate of saffron buns, and you can still encounter the belief that coffee is just an odd flavour of tea and should be prepared and served in a similar fashion, at a similar strength, and sometimes even in a similar teapot.

And then there's the Guinness. Although the old black and white can be found at most bars in Stockholm these days, not many of them really understand how it should be served. There are depressingly many bars where the Guinness is pulled in a single draught and presented to the customer as-is, with a head deep enough to drown a leprechaun. This is just shockingly wrong.

One would think that a bar serving Guinness would put aside the ten minutes required to teach the staff how to pull it properly. It isn't difficult. Here, look, I can do it in a single paragraph, without even drawing breath:

Tilt the glass at a slight angle and fill it 2/3s of the way to the top. Allow it to sit for 2 minutes. Fill the rest of the pint with the glass sitting level, pushing back on the pump for the last few seconds. And there it is, the perfect pint.

Story continues below…

And so, with a good pint of the black and white at hand when one needs it, life in Stockholm is almost perfect. Now if only there were some crispy potato waffles to have with the pint then I would be a very happy camper indeed.

Paddy's Tips: There are indeed places in Stockholm where one can experience the dubious joy of English/Irish comestibles. Try the legendary English Shop at Söderhallarna where you can get hold of, among many other things, two kinds of suet. Or there is the excellent Taylors and Jones on Hantverkargatan 12 for all your spicy, meaty, crusty needs. As for excellent Guinness, I have it on good authority that Bronco's basement, at Tegnérgatan 16, is great and I can personally attest to the fact that Pub Anchor around the corner on Sveavägen 90 is no slouch either.

If you want to hear more from Paddy, be sure to visit his world-ignored blog which can be found here. And it's a pretty good bet that he's complaining about something.

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

22:15 January 18, 2010 by Ben Mowbray
Probably one of the best written articles on The Local. Ah, yes, spot on, the grub. What I wouldn't give for a meat pie and tomato sauce, or a good old Aussie barbie with steak and onion sandwitches or a sausage sanga!

Paddy's a lucky man that Guiness is served in just about every pub on Earth. Bugger the pouring method, the beer I'm hankering for is not even on Systembolagets imports list...
10:39 January 19, 2010 by cogito
Why do the Local editors designate the author "petulent." in the intro? Get yourselves a sense of humor.

Paddy rocks.
21:34 January 19, 2010 by uunbeliever
AAAAAhhh, poutine, real doughnuts, chocolate chips, Halloween treats, cadbury's Easter cream eggs, twizzlers and all candy that doesn't taste like jam!
10:09 January 20, 2010 by Åskar
What places do you frequent, Paddy? Not once since Falcon started importing draught Guinness have I seen it pulled in any other way than as a two stage operation anywhere in Sweden.
10:46 January 20, 2010 by spongepaddy
Askar: Just pick a few (non-Irish) bars in Stockholm and probably a third of them will pull it in one shot. Even on quiet weekdays. It's very odd. I could try pointing it out to them but they rarely take that kind of advice very well.
11:19 January 20, 2010 by Åskar
I might have a bias towards Irish/British influenced bars but still, if it's so frequent as you claim it is I should have come across it from time to time, but, honestly, I haven't and it's not for lack of beer drinking experience.
13:47 January 20, 2010 by spongepaddy
Åskar: Well as one example, I think the last place it happenned was Tiffanys on Götgatan.
23:24 January 22, 2010 by Joannes den Hollander
Those "simple" potato waffles look delicious to me. I never have seen them in Holland. Is it comparable with the German "Reibekuchen?"

I would be very happy if someone from the Swedish people will give me the recept. I already have a waffle toaster.


Joannes den Hollander

The Netherlands
20:10 January 25, 2010 by mibrooks27
The real problem is that Sweden doesn't recognize it's own "authentic" foods. Here, in the Northwest U.S., we have Scandinavian Festivals and Swedish Celebrations all year long. A mainstay food at these is Swedish Fried Bread or Elephant Ears. This, essentially, is a small ball of homemade bread dough, pounded and rolled paper thin until it is approximately 18" in diameter. We eat it with cinnamon and sugar or strawberry jam. Wonderful! The problem is, I lived in Sweden and have visited several additional times and no one there has ever heard of this. Oh, and if you want those potato waffles, you can buy them in Junction City, Oregon at any downtown restaurant. They're served with pour locally produced Lingenberry jam.
09:35 January 26, 2010 by spongepaddy
mibrooks27: You say: "The real problem is that Sweden doesn't recognize it's own "authentic" foods"

Umm...don't you have this backwards? Isn't it that the US has "Swedish" foods that aren't really Swedish? That seems vastly more likely to me.
Today's headlines
This is the new top boss of Swedish Ericsson
Börje Ekholm. Photo: Magnus Hjalmarson Neideman/SvD/TT

Telecoms giant Ericsson has appointed a new CEO after a turbulent year for the company.

These are Sweden's best universities: ranking
A new university ranking has been released. Photo: Cecilia Larsson Lantz/Imagebank.sweden.se

At least according to this global ranking, which picks 12 Swedish universities among the top-1000.

Swedish pharmacies restrict paracetamol sales for teens
The move is intended to cut paracetamol overdoses. Photo: Nora Lorek/TT

Sweden's pharmacies are banning teens under 18 from buying more than one pack of pills at a time.

The Local List
12 Swedish words with just awesome literal translations
A filthy-minded lobster, i.e. a snuskhummer. Photo: Gorm Kallestad/NTB scanpix/TT

One of our favourite things about the Swedish language is its wonderful compound words, which range from being utterly bizarre to making perfect sense.

Rwandan genocide suspect held in Sweden
A memorial centre in Kigali, Rwanda. Photo: Ben Curtis/AP

A man has been arrested in Sweden suspected of involvement in the 1994 Rwandan genocide which claimed 800,000 lives.

Sweden can extend border controls, EU says
A police officer carrying out a check at Sweden's border with Denmark. Photo: Emil Langvad/TT

EU countries including Sweden should be granted permission to extend temporary border controls by a period of a further three months, the European Commission has decided.

Nobel Prizes
'I'd say he's arrogant but I'd be lying': Swedes on Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan performing in France. Photo: David Vincent/AP

Almost two weeks have passed since Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature and he has yet to acknowledge the win. The Local asked Swedes what they think of the singer's silence.

Sweden cuts 2016 refugee forecast by thousands
A Swedish migration authority office in Stockholm. Photo: Maja Suslin/TT

The country has also slashed its prediction for 2017.

Swedish researchers plan new trucks for women drivers
File photo of trucks in Sweden. Photo: Thomas Johansson/TT

Could vehicles adapted for women attract more female truckers to the profession?

These stats show Swedish driving isn't so gender equal
File photo of a Swedish woman driving a car. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

A new survey shows that few Swedish women get behind the wheel when driving with their male partner.

Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Property of the week: Kungsholmen, Stockholm
Sponsored Article
This is Malmö: Football capital of Sweden
The Local Voices
'I simply don’t believe in nationality'
Why we're convinced Game of Thrones is based on Sweden
Blog updates

6 October

10 useful hjälpverb (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hej! I think the so-called “hjalpverb” (auxiliary verbs in English) are a good way to get…" READ »


8 July

Editor’s blog, July 8th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hej readers, It has, as always, been a bizarre, serious and hilarious week in Sweden. You…" READ »

Sponsored Article
Where is the Swedish music industry heading?
People-watching: October 21st-23rd
Sponsored Article
Why you should 'grab a chair' on Stockholm's tech scene
Fury at plans that 'threaten the IB's survival' in Sweden
Analysis & Opinion
Are we just going to let half the country die?
Angry elk chases Swede up a lamp post
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
The Local Voices
'Alienation in Sweden feels better: I find myself a stranger among scores of aliens'
Sponsored Article
Swedish for programmers: 'It changed my life'
People-watching: October 20th
The Local Voices
A layover at Qatar airport brought this Swedish-Kenyan couple together - now they're heading for marriage
Sponsored Article
Top 7 tips to help you learn Swedish
Swede punches clown that scared his grandmother
Sponsored Article
‘Extremism can't be defeated on the battlefield alone’
Fans throw flares and enter pitch in Swedish football riot
Could Swedish blood test solve 'Making a Murderer'?
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
Property of the week: Linnéstaden, Gothenburg
Sponsored Article
Why you should 'grab a chair' on Stockholm's tech scene
Swedish school to build gender neutral changing room
Sponsored Article
Where is the Swedish music industry heading?
People-watching: October 14th-16th
Sponsored Article
One expat's strategy for making friends in Stockholm
Man in Sweden assaulted by clowns with broken bottle
Sponsored Article
Nordic fashion in focus at Stockholm University
Nobel Prize 2016: Literature
Watch the man who discovered Bob Dylan react to his Nobel Prize win
Record numbers emigrating from Sweden
People-watching: October 12th
The Local Voices
'Swedish startups should embrace newcomers' talents - there's nothing to fear'
How far right are the Sweden Democrats?
Property of the week: Triangeln, Malmö
Sweden unveils Europe's first elk hut
People-watching: October 7th-9th
The Local Voices
Syria's White Helmets: The Nobel Peace Prize would have meant a lot, but pulling a child from rubble is the greatest reward
jobs available