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FOOD & DRINK

A beginner’s guide to the Swedish food scene

Just about the only foods you can preface with the word "Swedish" are "meatballs" and "fish". But meatballs are mundane and Swedish Fish are made in Canada. So what foods truly set Sweden apart? The Local's Solveig Rundquist heads on a food tour to find out.

A beginner's guide to the Swedish food scene
French macaroons with "Swedish" parfums such as saffron. Photo: Solveig Rundquist

“New Nordic” cuisine has become a culinary keyword since Copenhagen restaurant “noma” popped up in 2004 and became a top-notch Michelin restaurant. It has been voted best in the world for several years in a row. But that's Copenhagen, this is Stockholm.

IN PICTURES: On the road with Stockholm Food Tours

I set off on a Stockholm Food Tour to find out if the Swedes are as impressive as the Danes. Guide Francisco assures me, as we hobble across cobblestones, that the foods featured on the Stockholm tour are uniquely Swedish, painting a much different culinary picture to the sister tours in either Copenhagen or Oslo. All three have been successful, and within six months of its birth last year the Stockholm tour climbed into the top ten activities for the city on Trip Advisor.

The food tour begins at Hötorget, which has been the scene of one of Stockholm's biggest marketplaces for centuries. The square got its name in 1644 and has remarkably kept its identity and significance since then. An actual food hall on the square was finished in 1884, and the current Hötorget Food Hall (Hötorgshallen) has stood since 1958.

Although Hötorgshallen is massive, the tour only makes one stop –  P&B Delicatessen (P&B Delikatesser). And no, P&B has nothing to do with peanuts or butter – though it was a lot to do with jelly. The initials stand for Pelle and Björn, two devoted jam-makers with a taste for the finer things in life.

In Sweden that means heavenly hjortronsylt, or cloudberry jam, made from a remarkably expensive berry that is native to the Arctic tundra (think fat golden raspberries growing on the ground).

Tour participants also get a taste of beloved Swedish liquorice – and more eye candy than you can bear. Displays of dainty pastel-coloured macaroons are made with “Swedish” flavours such as saffron, apple-cinnamon, and pepparkaka (gingerbread).

From there it’s on to more conventional flavours, at the Chocolate Factory (Chokladfabriken). Or so we thought. The first sample: a tiny but intense cardamom truffle. Swedes are practically cardamom connoisseurs, with the oriental spice playing an essential role in traditional confections despite its far-flung origins.

“Cardamom is the third most-expensive spice in the world, right after saffron and pure vanilla,” Francisco grins as one tour member gingerly spits out the confection and wraps it in a napkin. Her wrinkled nose hints that such Swedish goodies may be an acquired taste – and delicacies don’t have to be delicious.

Chokladfabriken is somewhat of a foodie newbie, established in 1999, but has already carved out its niche at three locales in Stockholm. While all of the chocolates are made on location, the ingredients come from around the world, including Belgium and France.

The group wanders on to another food hall – older and grander than Hötorgshallen, the renowned Östermalms Saluhall. In 2007, it was ranked the seventh best indoor food market in the world, and Jamie Oliver himself has adopted the market as a personal favourite.

Here we acquaint ourselves with Swedish cold cuts – reindeer salami, anyone? – and a cheeky lesson in Swedish cheese.

“They even put cardamom in their cheese!” Francisco announces cheerfully, to the mixed delight and despair of his followers, passing around a tray of spicey Boxholm cheese cubes.

“And this,” he adds, moving on to a tray of Västerbotten, the king of Swedish cheeses, “is a very special cheese. Legend has it that the milk maid was stirring the cheese curd and was distracted by her lover, giving it its strong flavour and bitter notes.”

Unfortunately the cheese didn't find too many lovers among this particular audience, and the tour moves on.

Next is Pocket, the budget bistro little brother of French-Swedish favourite restaurant Pontus!, where traditional Swedish appetizer Toast Skagen is on the menu.

The tour tops off with a visit to a candy shop and then a rustic café in Old Town, where guests indulge in peppermint, fudge, coffee, and sweet cardamom buns. (Is there a trend here?)

After four hours the group has covered quite a bit of space, both geographically and on the food map. Contented moans confirm the satisfaction of many a full belly – although at 700 kronor ($108), the tour carries a hefty price tag considering the closest thing you get to a meal is an appetizer. The tour could use some fleshing out – in fact, an addition of meatballs wouldn’t be half bad.

Perhaps that would be too obvious. Scandinavia has a penchant – perhaps an obsession – for the new and unique, and the food tour’s concept in and of itself sheds light on a superfluous feud between the old and new. The focus is on New Nordic Cuisine, and the foods on the tour are decidedly traditional.

There is a paradox in the fact that the manifesto of “New” Nordic Cuisine highlights traditional ingredients, methods, and dishes. It also focuses on (and even requires) local ingredients, whereas many of the ingredients we spotted on the tour came from around the world – Belgium, France, Italy, Estonia, etc.  

But that’s what Swedes are best at, borrowing ideas and ingredients and improving them, incorporating them into a uniquely Swedish identity. And while the foods on Stockholm Food Tour are not particularly new, nor so exclusively Swedish, the tour is four hours of Stockholm at its finest.

Solveig Rundquist
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FOOD & DRINK

Five sweet treats you should be able to identify if you live in Sweden

Do you know your biskvi from your bakelse? Your chokladboll from your kanelbulle? Here's a guide guaranteed to get your mouth watering.

Five sweet treats you should be able to identify if you live in Sweden

Kanelbulle

The most famous of all Swedish cakes outside Sweden, the classic kanelbulle (cinnamon bun) is the symbol of Sweden abroad, no doubt helped by the fact that Swedish furniture giants IKEA stock frozen buns in their food stores for customers to bake off at home.

Forget American tear-apart cinnamon rolls baked in a pan and slathered with cream cheese frosting: a classic Swedish cinnamon bun is baked individually using a yeasted dough spread with cinnamon sugar and butter. The dough is then rolled up, sliced into strips which are then stretched out and knotted into buns, baked, glazed with sugar syrup and sprinkled with pearl sugar.

Home-made varieties skip the stretching and knotting step, rolling the cinnamon-sprinkled dough into a spiral instead which, although less traditional, tastes just as good.

Kanelbullar in Sweden often include a small amount of Sweden’s favourite spice: cardamom. If you’re a fan of cardamom, try ordering the kanelbulle‘s even more Swedish cousin, the kardemummabulle or cardamom bun, which skips the cinnamon entirely and goes all-out on cardamom instead.

Sweden celebrates cinnamon bun day (kanelbullens dag) on October 4th.

Photo: Lieselotte van der Meijs/imagebank.sweden.se

Chokladboll

A great option if you want a smaller cake for your fika, the chokladboll or ‘chocolate ball’ is a perfect accompaniment to coffee – some recipes even call for mixing cold coffee into the batter.

They aren’t baked and are relatively easy to make, meaning they are a popular choice for parents (or grandparents) wanting to involve children in the cake-making process.

Chokladbollar are a simple mix of sugar, oats, melted butter and cocoa powder, with the optional addition of vanilla or coffee, or occasionally rum extract. They are rolled into balls which are then rolled in desiccated coconut (or occasionally pearl sugar), and placed in the fridge to become more solid.

Some bakeries or cafés also offer dadelbollar or rawbollar/råbollar (date or raw balls), a vegan alternative made from dried dates and nuts blended together with cocoa powder.

Chocolate ball day (chokladbollens dag) falls on May 11th.

Photo: Magnus Carlsson/imagebank.sweden.se

Prinsesstårta

The lime-green prinsesstårta or ‘princess cake’ may look like a modern invention with it’s brightly-coloured marzipan covering, but it has been around since the beginning of the 1900s, and is named after three Swedish princesses, Margareta, Märta and Astrid, who were supposedly especially fond of the cake.

The cake consists of a sponge bottom spread with jam, crème pâtissière and a dome of whipped cream, covered in green marzipan and some sort of decoration, often a marzipan rose.

Prinsesstårtor can also be served in individual portions, small slices of a log which are then referred to as a prinsessbakelse.

Although the cakes are popular all year round, in the Swedish region of Småland, prinsesstårta is eaten on the first Thursday in March, due to this being the unofficial national day of the Småland region (as the phrase första torsdagen i mars is pronounced fössta tossdan i mass in the Småland dialect).

Since 2004, the Association of Swedish Bakers and Confectioners has designated the last week of September as prinsesstårtans vecka (Princess cake day).

Photo: Sinikka Halme, Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0.

Budapestbakelse

Belonging to the more traditional cakes, a Budapestbakelse or “Budapest slice” is a type of rulltårta or “roll cake” similar to a Swiss roll, consisting of a light and crispy cake made from whipped egg whites, sugar and hazelnut, filled with whipped cream and fruit, often chopped conserved peaches, nectarines or mandarines, and rolled into a log.

The log is then sliced into individual portions and drizzled with chocolate, then often topped with whipped cream and a slice of fruit. 

Despite its name, the Budapest slice has nothing to do with the city of Budapest – it was supposedly invented by baker Ingvar Strid in 1926 and received the name due to Strid’s love for the Hungarian capital.

Of course, the Budapestbakelse also has its own day – May 1st.

Kanelbullar (left), chokladbollar (centre) and biskvier (right). Photo: Tuukka Ervasti/imagebank.sweden.se

Biskvi

Another smaller cake, a biskvi (pronounced like the French biscuit), consists of an almond biscuit base, covered in buttercream (usually chocolate flavoured), and dark chocolate.

Different variants of biskvier exist, such as a Sarah Bernhardt, named after the French actress of the same name, which has chocolate truffle instead of buttercream.

You might also spot biskvier with white chocolate, often with a hallon (raspberry) or citron (lemon) filling, or even saffransbiskvier around Christmastime.

Chokladbiskviens dag is celebrated on November 11th.

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