When I was in primary school, I had a friend named Charlotte, she was tall and blonde with sun-kissed skin, a sprinkling of caramel freckles on her cheeks and wide, navy blue ribbons in her hair. Charlotte was a very pretty girl and she was Swedish. As a young girl I really knew nothing of Sweden, except that it was a little country, a very long way away from Australia, still I imagined that the people there would all be beautiful and blonde like Charlotte.
Although an adventure to Europe, in particular Sweden was not on my calendar for my fiftieth year, the breaking news that Mr G was to conduct some business in Gothenburg, Sweden in May, changed that! Suddenly, we were going to Sweden and I was spending hours glued to the world wide web, researching potential Swedish adventures, particularly of the culinary kind. Sweden is an incredible place. A country quite often missed out on, by those who favour visiting more well-known parts of Europe over a visit to Scandinavia. Regardless of this ignorance, Sweden with its spectacular landscapes, gorgeous cities, design-oriented lifestyle and an educated population (most of whom speak English), refuses to be overlooked. Instead, this one country has left its mark on the rest of the world, by giving us Vikings, the Nobel Peace Prize, ABBA, Volvo, IKEA, Kosta Boda Glassware, Absolut Vodka and of course little Swedish meatballs!
May arrived and we traveled a very long way away, to see for ourselves this little country with some big exports. It was such a treat to discover Sweden in the springtime! What follows, is my taste of Sweden: a smorgasbord - smorgas meaning ‘open sandwich’ and ‘bord’ meaning table of what we ate and drank for the handful of days we enjoyed together in Gothenburg, Sweden. Gothenburg is the capital of West Sweden, home to expansive canals, quaint cobblestone streets, particularly in historical Haga, lovely open green spaces including Sweden’s largest botanical garden, a multitude of enticing restaurants, many with Michelin stars and the Gothenburg archipelago: an expanse of water with many scattered islands, right on the city’s doorstep.
Our first outing was to the archipelago, just a short tram ride on No 11 from Central Station to Saltholmen, and then a scenic half hour ferry ride to Styros Bratten on Styros Island. Café Obergska, located just fifty metres from the quayside, was a delightful little place to visit and where we had our first taste of Swedish fare. Mr G had a traditional Swedish appetiser known as SOS, which stands for “smor (butter) ost (cheese) & sill (herring)”. SOS Nubbe is another variation, which includes a shot of snaps (a strong alcoholic beverage) to warm you on the inside as you eat. I had the “Donsolax” with potatoes, consisting of local salmon fillet smoked, served with horseradish cream, potatoes and salad – it was wonderfully light, full of flavour and best described as "my most memorable, melt in your mouth salmon experience" ever. The café has a cosy, indoor dining space featuring old timber tables and stools with little vases of simply arranged Spring flowers freshly picked from the garden. A fireplace keeps things toasty on the cooler days, or there is a large outdoor eating area located in the front garden where you can sit amongst the flowering daffodils and blossom trees and enjoy the sunshine in the warmer months of the year.
Olstugan Tullen is one of seven pubs scattered around the city of Gothenburg, all serving exclusively Swedish craft beers and traditional Swedish meals for reasonable prices. The place was packed the night we arrived and we ended up perched at one end of a shared table, joining another couple, who were already a few beers in making for some very entertaining conversation. A blackboard menu written completely in Swedish was kindly translated by the endearing barman (who was nowhere near as rough and tough as he looked at first sight) and was only too happy to help us enjoy a real taste of Swedish beer and traditional fare. Mr G chose the long baked pork belly, potatoes and cabbage slaw with smoky tomato sauce, and without hesitation, I ordered the Swedish meatballs with creamy sauce, mashed potatoes, lingonberries and pickled cucumber, accompanied by a couple of fragrant Swedish ales. Lingonberries are tart red berries, similar to cranberries found in shrubs in Scandinavian forests. The berries are most famously served as a jam-like condiment with meatballs, but are also a traditional accompaniment to raggmunk - fried potato pancakes.
A short stroll from Jarntorget Station is the historic village of Haga, with it’s long and wide cobblestone streets and many outdoor cafes serving Fika (coffee and a sweet bun) to those passing by. Most famous is Café Husaren – home of the Hagabullen; the world’s largest cinnamon bun. It’s a drool-worthy sight to see piles of cinnamon buns stacked high on shelves and arranged in baskets inside the shop window, sugar glazed and glistening in the morning light, waiting to be devoured. Yes we did!
Food markets are an essential part of the Gothenburg culinary landscape, the Feskekorka, known as the fish church, Gothenburg’s leading fish and seafood market has four fishmongers and two restaurants. Stora Saluhallen - the market hall - is the biggest indoor market in town, where you'll find a mix of butchers, bakers and cheese makers , spices, coffee, fruit and other delicacies from all over the world. The Market Hall (Saluhallen) is home to around forty shops and places to eat and it was such a real pleasure to explore it. I returned more than once before we left the city, to grab wonderful cheeses, meats, bread and plump strawberries to enjoy in roadside picnics at our next destination.
Raksmorgas is an open sandwich, predominantly of peeled shrimp, served on rye bread with boiled egg, mayonnaise, salad leaves, fish roe and pickled onions. There are various examples of this Gothenburg staple, served all over the city, day and night. The most popular place to sample this "super shrimp sandwich" is Heaven 23. Located on the twenty third floor of Gothia Towers, and offering sweeping views of the city. Their version, known as the King Deluxe features a generous portion of both shrimp and bleak roe. On arrival, there is the option of dining in the restaurant or at the bar, with the shrimp sandwich available on both menus. Spectacular in both size and taste, is it any wonder that it has developed somewhat of a cult following, with over 150,000 plated and served here annually.
This “second city of Sweden” that often sits in the shadow of Stockholm, certainly holds its own when it comes to Michelin Star dining and boasts a restaurant scene, which exceeds its small size and fame. Bhoga, Koka, Restaurant 28, Sk Mat Och Manniskor, Thornstroms Kok and Upper House (also in Gothia Towers) are indeed leading the way. For our final night in this charming city we chose to dine at Norda, in the Clarion Post Hotel. Norda is one of the many restaurants in the portfolio of Marcus Samuelsson, an Ethopian-born, Swedish-raised, chef and restaurateur. Marcus trained at the Gothenburg Culinary School, and so justifiably they claim him as a Gothenburg boy, although he has moved on to become the celebrity chef superstar of Harlem NYC.
Norda offers nourishing organic food from a kitchen that takes its inspiration from the Swedish west coast, as well as Manhattan and its vibrant melting pot of flavours and origins. The dining room was recently transformed into a green oasis with gorgeous Art Deco touches, by design and concept agency Spik Studio.
Everything about our evening at Norda was just delightful and happily without pretence. The open and welcoming interior, with potted olive trees as a feature and warm natural light flooding through the large arched windows was almost other worldly. The friendly and attentive service, the clever food and extensive wine list, (featuring the largest collection of Oregon wines, outside of Oregon) was all well received – especially since I do love me a good Pinot Noir!
We began our meal with a complimentary basket of breads with creamy hand-churned butter and then shared a plate of Charcuteries; Prosciutto, chorizo, ham and pickles. For main course, Mr G had the Cod & Scallops; Cod (MSC ecolabeled), crushed green peas, scallops, mussel veloute & crispy cod skin. He hailed it the most magnificent "restaurant cooked" fish he’d ever eaten. I chose the Swedish Pork Belly; apple, potato puree, miso broth which was sweet and salty and quite delectable. We then shared the most fascinating of desserts; Rhubarb Wrap: corn & wheete wrap, rhubarb sorbet, sour crème mousse, vanilla & lemon curd, golden meringue & salt roasted pistachios. It was quite a symphony of flavours for the taste buds to embrace.
Our five days in Gothenborg passed by too quickly, and we left the city with still many more places we wished we could have fitted into our culinary and cultural schedule. Sweden's second city had certainly seduced us with her laid back charm, neoclassical architecture, meandering canals and delicate flowering blossom trees. The many alluring shop fronts with their enthusiastic proprietors greeting you "hej hej" as you stepped inside, and the beauty of seeing both functional and aesthetic design work together so effortlessly were highlights. Most of all, the pride shown in supporting their own locally made product, as well as preserving their traditional cuisine, couldn't help but leave you feeling like the Swedish are happy with who they are, whether the world notices or not.