Summer in Sweden is giddy, joyful, and golden. A striking contrast to the dark and inescapable five-month winter. In the warmer months, local fisherman cast arched poles off the harbor bridges, as groups of cyclists peddle home from work in packs so thick it would be impossible to weave through them. The entire city is flourishing.
The culinary scene is also at its height. Neo-Viking chefs utilize all that nature can provide while crops are in bloom. Organic farming and sustainable agriculture are practically the law here. After all in 2004 the New Nordic Food Manifesto was signed by 12 Scandanavian top chefs and promised a focus on locally produced and harvested food.
STOCKHOLM IS EUROPE’S RISING CULINARY STAR
Since then, local chefs are turning Stockholm into Europe's rising culinary star. The next food trend is considered what is in season. Thanks to the New Nordic Food Manifesto, Scandinavia is rediscovering itself. Since 2004, locals have found fifty new species of wild berries, and tons of Scandinavian root vegetables to inspire kitchens with. Creative chefs are even experimenting with moss, forest, lichens, wild herbs, and woods. On the daily, they inspire taste buds with reindeer and elk meat, the crayfish from the lakes, the apples from Skåne instead of imported fruit from Southern European countries.
This new found passion has resulted in a network of artisanal specialty suppliers— bespoke farmers, line fishermen, breeders, dairy producers—and a mission to discover every possible flavor from a challenging ecosystem. To learn a bit more about Nordic cuisine first hand, I met with my friend Gunilla from Food Tours Stockholm.
SWEDEN’S ARTISANAL SPECIALTY STORES ARE TAKING OVER
Our union began in Urban Deli, one of the artisanal specialty grocery stores that popped up since the New Nordic Food Manifesto. This market is a foodies dream. The shelves are stacked to the ceiling with unique edible products. The chocolate and tea section alone was enough to make me want to empty by checking account and leave the store with bundles of colorful packages filled with tasty treats.
Gunilla introduced me to the butcher who presented a juicy, colorful steak tartar in a mason jar. I was told to mix the beautiful concoction until it was unrecognizable, then dive into my first bite. “The uglier it looks the better” the butcher said. Boy, was she right. It was a dream.
We continued our tour by walking along the crisp summer streets to Hötorgshallen, an artisanal food court, to taste an array of Nordic cuisine. At Hellbergs, a shop that sells organic meats from around the world, we were presented with a dish of reindeer pâté and bear meat. The pâté was creamy, and I imagine it would be a fantastic spread on bread. The bear meat had a slight gamey taste; quite delicious.
The Swedes love their cheese, so it was necessary to stop at Fromageriet, a store selling Nordic and International cheeses. A platter was passed to me with three cheeses; a blue, a sharp white, and a soft brown cheese on a wooden stick. Gunilla told me that this brown cheese is called brunost and is important to the Norwegian gastronomical identity and heritage. The cheese was invented by a milkmaid named Anne Hov. The flavor became quite popular and she was eventually awarded the King's Medal of Merit for her contributions to Norwegian cuisine.
We continued through Hötorgshallen and tasted a decadent Finnish pastry topped with egg and butter at Finska Butiken, a store specializing in Finnish delicacies and quality products. If you haven’t mixed butter and eggs yet, DO IT. The Portuguese wooed me with their pastel de nata, almost purely eggs and butter, and this Finnish pastry was the icing on the cake. Bottom line; mix eggs with butter. It’s life changing.
HERRING IS A DELICACY IN NORDIC COUNTRIES
We walked over to Hav, a seafood shop, to sample salmon and two different herrings. Pickled herring is a delicacy in Nordic countries and was originally created as a way to store and transport fish during the annual big chill. Turning pickled herring into something downright seductive is no easy task. Yet, Hav has mastered it. However, this could be due to tasting it between singing a Swedish drinking song and throwing back a cup full of Linie, a Norwegian liquor that is matured at sea in sherry oak casks. Regardless, I liked it enough to have it again.
Kajsas Fisk, a fish bistro, was our final stop in Hötorgshallen market. Here we had a bowl of their famous fish soup. The soup was tomato based and served with a side of herring (of course). It was fantastic, which is not surprising, given the fact that they serve 66 gallons of it a day!
With our stomachs starting to feel happy, we took a stroll to the historic Tennstopet, a classic Swedish restaurant operating since 1867. Today it is known for both its traditional Swedish fare, as well as adventurous seasonal delicacies like fermented herring and spring crow. We passed on the fermented herring - I hear the smell is gag-able - and instead chose the cute Swedish meatball with a side of mashed potatoes. It was lovely.
CROSSING INTO SCANDINAVIAN CULINARY HEAVEN
At a certain point, I felt I had floated into culinary heaven. In the next hour we stopped at Sweden’s oldest delicatessen, an organic bakery, and a shop selling handmade chocolate. Each stop was filled with stories of their history, Sweden's past, and tasty treats. To close out our meeting, we met for fika (what Swedes call “coffee over conversation”) in Rörstrands Castle & Cafe in what used to be the old dungeon. It was such a unique experience enjoying coffee in its arched stone walls illuminated with golden lighting.
At this point, evening had begun, yet the golden rays from the sun still shone brightly in the sky. This is the beauty of Sweden during summer. The sun stays high among the clouds until late in the night, make it seem as if time has frozen. I headed home with my belly full, and with a deeper understanding of the neo-Viking chefs that are revolutionizing Europe’s culinary scene.
I was a guest on this tour, however, the opinions are my own. To book an experience with Food Tours Stockholm visit www.foodtoursstockholm.se. The tour I went on was the Nordic Experience, it is 4 hours, has 10 stops, and costs $98.