But did you know that last year the New York Times highlighted the city of its outstanding culinary prowess, and this year a whole host of restaurants received one - or even two - Michelin stars?
"Some of the Nordic region’s most interesting food is being cooked not in Copenhagen but across the Oresund Bridge, in the Swedish region of Skåne,” the article stated, referring to the southernmost province of Sweden where Malmö is located.
So what exactly is going down, down in the south of Sweden? Why are foodies going mad for a mouthful of Malmö?
The Local headed south and to visit some of the city’s top chefs to learn more about Malmö’s secret formula for world-class food.
It’s a sunny day in Malmö, 26C degrees in May, and everyone is talking about… asparagus.
“We have all this great asparagus from Lund! We have to work with it.”
“I read that the asparagus is early this year. Time to experiment!”
“The asparagus is in season right now, but it will only stay for about a month. That makes it harder to master.”
It’s not an Asparagus-Addicts Anonymous meeting. It’s just Malmö master chefs doing what they do best – following the seasons.
“We always try to capture the seasons. I like to call it instinct cooking,” says Jörgen Loyd, owner of restaurant Lyran. “That means each day I’m inspired by the weather and everything that is in season right now.”
And it’s not just the four seasons you may be familiar with. In Malmö, “seasonal” cooking goes much further.
“Within every season there are micro seasons - three parts of spring; three parts of summer; three or four parts of autumn,” Loyd adds. “It’s all a dynamic dance.”
That very dance – or lack thereof – is what made Robert Jacobsson pack his bags more than a decade ago and leave Stockholm.
“In the Stockholm food scene, there was nothing that was seasonal. It’s part of what made me leave,” Jacobsson tells The Local, sipping strong black coffee at his newest endeavour in central Malmö, Bord13 which he says is “all about seasons”.
“You’re not a real chef if you don’t follow seasons – then you’re not creating anything.”
Robert Jacobsson at Bord13. Photo: Gustav Arnetz
That means being creative with whatever you can get your hands on in a given season – which can be rather limited in the winter.
“We’ve become experts at root vegetables,” Jacobsson grins.
But it’s not just about creativity – it’s also sustainability.
“Following the seasons and using what’s available creates the least impact on the environment,” Jacobsson says. “And we want to be as environmentally friendly as possible while serving really good food.”
Skåne: Sweden’s pantry
But luckily in Malmö, using what you can get doesn’t limit you much.
“When I grew up we learned in school that Skåne is the pantry of Sweden,” chef Jennie Walldén says with a laugh. “And it’s true. Everything grows here, so we can take advantage of that.”
Photo: Namu. See more delicious food from Namu here.
Walldén was the winner of Sweden’s MasterChef (Mästerkock) 2013, and opened her first restaurant, Korean-inspired Namu, last year.
“We use local produce and my food is always based on local ingredients, and then adding Korean flavours to that,” she explains.
Some dishes are Korean with a Swedish twist and some are Swedish with a Korean twist – but either way, she relies on local farmers as much as possible.
“It connects us to the community, but it also means the food is much fresher since it hasn’t travelled so far,” she adds.
“At Lyran we have created a fantastic network of producers,” he says. “We have developed a sort of friendship and understanding for each other’s craft, and it brings a lot of quality to the produce.”
But Skåne’s reputation as Sweden’s pantry isn’t just thanks to its warmer climate and excellent earth. The region has had plenty of migration – which restaurant owners agree has been hugely beneficial for the food scene.
“There are great spices at Möllevångstorget, the central market, in Möllan that I didn’t even know existed a month ago,” he remarks.
“And my neighbour from Palestine has these great olives his family sends, and the same passion for food that I do. It’s wonderful to borrow from each other.”
Connecting with people
And then there’s that other thing that affects food experiences: service.
In bigger cities like Stockholm and Copenhagen, Jacobsson explains, many restaurants are fully booked seven days a week, and in that sense can “relax” when it comes to putting service first.
The kitchen at Bord13 is intimate - guests can see exactly what's happening. Photo: Gustav Arnetz
But when you walk into a restaurant in Malmö, you’re sure to get a warm welcome – whether it’s a steakhouse or a café.
“For us it’s a big deal,” he says. “We’re better at service, how we approach and connect with people on a personal level, in Malmö.”
And the connection goes beyond first impressions. Lloyd says he and his family actively engage with guests throughout their dining experience at Lyran to learn and figure out what to do next.
“We change the menu every day, and if we’re not happy with it, we’ll change it again,” he says.
Jörgen Lloyd greeting guests at his restaurant Lyran in Malmö. Photo: Lyran“
We are critical of ourselves and we want customers to be critical of us, too, in a good way. It’s research and it’s very nerdy. That’s how we move forward.”
Freedom and “fun-dining”
That’s part of Lyran’s concept that Lloyd loves the most: not being restricted by a set menu.
“Each morning we get the produce delivery, and then instinct kicks in. We ask ourselves, what do we want to eat today? What is the feeling and impression of the food? One day it might be Asian, then Nordic the next day, and then Mediterranean.”
Lloyd, who has worked as a chef for some 20 years, says he was tired of following “trends” in cooking and doing what everyone else was doing.
“I wanted this kind of freedom,” he explains. “I don’t want to call my food unique in any way – that’s up to the customers to decide. But I have created a platform where I can be creative and really am happy to work each day.”
That kind of fun attitude isn’t a side effect of the food scene’s development in Malmö – it’s a key ingredient.
“I think what we are seeing in Malmö right now is fantastic,” Lloyd remarks.
“Great chefs are starting their own small restaurants, with their own money – not influenced by financiers with millions. They’re working for themselves, and that brings quality.”
Malmö has fewer fancy fine-dining restaurants than bigger cities like Stockholm and Copenhagen, he says – but it’s still great quality food.
“It’s this middle section that has really developed in Malmö,” Namu’s Walldén says. “Good food for good value. You pay way more for food and drink in other cities. You’ll get much more for your money in Malmö.”
Jennie Walldén at her restaurant Namu in Malmö. Photo: The Local
And as Lloyd sees it, value and quality have sort of become the hallmark of Malmö’s food scene.
“Malmö is absolutely one of the top places in the world right now for this middle-class restaurant scene. It’s between fine-dining and bistro – it’s like fun dining,” Lloyd grins. “It’s very personal. The chefs have this freedom to do what they want without the filter from some big owner.”
That’s exactly what Jacobsson did, leaving Copenhagen’s famous Noma to open his own restaurant in Malmö.
“I still have to do the job and go to work every day – but starting your own place, you have a greater feeling because you’re doing it for yourself,” he says. “You can do things that are important to you and there’s a much better energy.”
Or, as Walldén so succinctly summarizes it:
“If you like to eat, come to Malmö!”
This article was produced by The Local and sponsored by Malmö Tourism.