This food may not be local, but it sure is good

Looking to break out of the meat+potato+brown sauce rut of typical Swedish cuisine? Contributor Gwen Ramsey offers some tips on where to authentic ethnic cuisine in the Swedish capital.

This food may not be local, but it sure is good
andersc77/Flickr; dizznbonn/Wikipedia (File)

For many people, one of the highlights of traveling is trying the local cuisine.

Local ingredients, secret recipes passed down from generation to generation as well as the sounds, sights and smells of your destination make native dishes tough to replicate.

Many of us don’t even try.

Even if you could get your hands on real kaffir lime leaves, your Beef Panang will not evoke the same euphoria that it did in Phuket if you are enjoying it while watching the snow fall in Stockholm.

That being said, there is another group of us who aren’t from here, and in order to survive homesickness and the overload of meat+potato+brown sauce combinations we are committed to the never ending search for dishes that taste like home.

For some of us searching for a taste of home is a fun challenge and for others it is a must to survive.

Fortunately, Swedes have traditionally been very open to foreign influences and there is most likely a restaurant, or two, that represents your homeland.

Keep in mind that not all local cuisine is created equally.

Access to certain ethnic foodstuffs which are deemed critical to home cooking can be a challenge not only for our individual needs, but also for restauranteurs.

To make things a little more complicated, before being introduced in Sweden many of the foodstuffs have been altered to be more appealing to the Swedish palate and our “home cooked meal away from home” naturally suffers because of it.

Below are just a few restaurants that have exceptional authentic cuisine.

There are certainly many more out there and if you have a few favorites let me know. I would love to try them.

Tex-Mex: La Neta

This place isn’t fancy, but authentic taco joints don’t need to be. La Neta concentrates on three to four different types of tacos/quesadillas (25kr-45kr/piece) and does them well, very well. They make no compromises and, true to form, serve only mexican beer.

I proudly give them my seal of approval and would even dare to bring my dad here. The real nostalgia hit me when I noticed their salsa bar – mild, medium and hot at no extra charge – just like home.

Ethiopian: Ethiostar

I admit this restaurant looks suspect from the outside, (OK it looks suspect from the inside as well) but rest assured, great food awaits! Our first time here we were more than slightly intimidated.

Our waiter was used to a table full of newcomers and he quickly navigated us around the menu. My favorite item is the mixed plate which includes small portions of their most famous lamb, chicken, beef and vegetable stews. All main dishes are served with obligatory Ingera which helps in the absence of silverware.

Yes, Ethiopian food is eaten with your hands.

Don’t even try to ask for silverware, they don’t have it. These dishes are geared to Ethiopian tastes and are quite spicy but that only means you have to try one of the numerous African beers on their menu to cool off. The entire experience is much more fun with a group of friends and the large restaurant can easily accommodate groups. If you are feeling really adventurous stay for the disco on Fri/Sat night.

Japanese/Sushi: Sushi Zen

Many people who have traveled outside of Sweden often reflect on the fact that Swedish sushi is boring. I totally agree. The only thing worse than ordering 10-bitar lax is replacing half of them with 5-bitar avocado.

If you are going to eat sushi, then eat sushi and stop contributing to the lack of creativity. I do agree that good, fresh fish should speak for itself. I am not asking for a smorgasbord wrapped in seaweed (Try Sushi Samba’s Yamato: tuna, foie gras, oestra caviar and gold leaf) but I do think that there is a middle-ground and that Sushi Zen is just the place.

Sushi Zen may be tough to find, but once you follow the steps down to the underground restaurant chef Fujio and his family will make you feel like home. Their sushi isn’t complicated but they have a wide selection of fish and it is always fresh. The sashimi special for lunch can’t be beat.

Pizza: Pizzeria Hatt

This restaurant is not on my list because it serves the most authentic Italian pizza. (I still haven’t found that yet.) It is on my list because it serves really good pizza, with quality, fresh ingredients and you will never find a kebab pizza on their menu.

This bare bones restaurant, located at Upplandsgatan 9 in central Stockholm, has only 3 tables inside but the pick-up line consistantly streches to the sidewalk outside. The first time I tried to eat here it was unexpectedly closed with a sign on the door that read, “Closed – we ran out of cheese.”

Finding replacement cheese to keep your pizzeria running is not difficult. However, a restaurant that chooses to close rather than compromise quality has my heart…and my stomach.

Korean: Arirang

I haven’t been to Arirang yet but I plan to try it very soon. Enough people have recommended it to me so that I felt obligated to add it to my list. They have traditional Korean BBQ as well as Bibimbap.


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The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager’s dream

Although parts of Sweden are still under snow at this time of year, spring is in full swing here in Skåne in the south of Sweden. Here are The Local's top tips for what you can forage in the great outdoors this season.

The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager's dream

You might already have your go-to svampställe where you forage mushrooms in autumn, but mushrooms aren’t the only thing you can forage in Sweden. The season for fruits and berries hasn’t quite started yet, but there is a wide range of produce on offer if you know where to look.

Obviously, all of these plants grow in the wild, meaning it’s a good idea to wash them thoroughly before you use them. You should also be respectful of nature and of other would-be foragers when you’re out foraging, and make sure not to take more than your fair share to ensure there’s enough for everyone.

As with all foraged foods, only pick and eat what you know. The plants in this guide do not look similar to any poisonous plants, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry – or ask someone who knows for help.

Additionally, avoid foraging plants close to the roadside or in other areas which could be more polluted. If you haven’t tried any of these plants before, start in small doses to make sure you don’t react negatively to them.

Wild garlic plants in a park in Alnarpsparken, Skåne. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Wild garlic

These pungent green leaves are just starting to pop up in shady wooded areas, and may even hang around as late as June in some areas. Wild garlic or ramsons, known as ramslök in Swedish, smell strongly of garlic and have wide, flat, pointed leaves which grow low to the ground.

The whole plant is edible: leaves, flowers and the bulbs underground – although try not to harvest too many bulbs or the plants won’t grow back next year.

The leaves have a very strong garlic taste which gets weaker once cooked. Common recipes for wild garlic include pesto and herb butter or herbed oil, but it can generally be used instead of traditional garlic in most recipes. If you’re cooking wild garlic, add it to the dish at the last possible moment so it still retains some flavour.

You can also preserve the flower buds and seed capsules as wild garlic capers, known as ramslökskapris in Swedish, which will then keep for up to a year.

Stinging nettles. Wear gloves when harvesting these to protect yourself from their needles. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Stinging nettles

Brännässlor or stinging nettles need to be cooked before eating to remove their sting, although blanching them for a couple of seconds in boiling water should do the trick. For the same reason, make sure you wear good gardening gloves when you pick them so you don’t get stung.

Nettles often grow in the same conditions as wild garlic – shady woodlands, and are often regarded as weeds.

The younger leaves are best – they can get stringy and tough as they get older.

A very traditional use for brännässlor in Sweden is nässelsoppa, a bright green soup made from blanched nettles, often topped with a boiled or poached egg.

Some Swedes may also remember eating stuvade nässlor with salmon around Easter, where the nettles are cooked with cream, butter and milk. If you can’t get hold of nettles, they can be replaced with spinach for a similar result.

You can also dry nettles and use them to make tea, or use blanched nettles to make nettle pesto.

Kirskål or ground elder, another popular foraged green for this time of year.
Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Ground elder

Ground elder is known as kirskål in Swedish, and can be used much in the same way as spinach. It also grows in shady areas, and is an invasive species, meaning that you shouldn’t be too worried about foraging too much of it (you might even find some in your garden!).

It is quite common in parks and old gardens, but can also be found in wooded areas. The stems and older leaves can be bitter, so try to focus on foraging the tender, younger leaves.

Ground elder has been cultivated in Sweden since at least 500BC, and has been historically used as a medicinal herb and as a vegetable. This is one of the reasons it can be found in old gardens near Swedish castles or country homes, as it was grown for use in cooking.

Kirskål is available from March to September, although it is best eaten earlier in the season.

As mentioned, ground elder can replace spinach in many recipes – you could also use it for pesto, in a quiche or salad, or to make ground elder soup.