English weather. A national stereotype. A common trope. Unpredictable, changeable – always make-conversation-able.
It’s not been doing too badly of late, but our summer temperatures are never worth shouting about. Let’s be honest – they’re really not much different from Scadinavian summers.
So when there’s such a thing as amazing Swedish cider, why not pretend we’re in Sweden? Yes, that’s a jolly good idea.
In fact… *drum roll*… Kopparberg have got us covered! They are running a pop-up Urban Forest at the Bootstrap Company’s space in Ashwin Street, Dalston. This is East London and so, of course, this event is too cool for school, with live music and street art, as well as food from Fika, the Swedish restaurant on Brick Lane (who, incidentally, do the best semlor in London). It’s open until August 3rd so hurry to check it out!
A semla is not the South of England Men’s Lacrosse Association, as a cursory Google search might suggest. It is a cardamom-spiced bun with the top sliced off, filled with almond paste (similar to marzipan) and whipped cream, with the top of the bun placed back on top. They’re traditionally eaten on Shrove Tuesday, or Fat Tuesday in Swedish. They’re found across Scandinavia, but as I first sampled them in Sweden, I always think of Sweden. I think they might be most popular in Sweden too (any Scandinavians want to offer your opinions on this?).
Given that I wasn’t going to be in Sweden this Fat Tuesday, I decided to seek out what was on offer in London. This quest wasn’t without some hiccups. I tried the Nordic Bakery, which I found to be gloomy and depressing, perhaps in a bid to reflect Scandinavian winters. I was greeted by an equally gloomy lady, who said that there were no semlor in the Nordic Bakery this year. So much for Nordic. I also took a trip to a pop-up bakery in Fortnum and Mason but missed the semlor by a day (look out for a fab feature tomorrow though).
Several trips and much essay-procrastination later, I had three candidates and three semlor. The competition was on.
This is a fun, cosy place café with plenty of Scandinavian supplies lurking in the back. I was extremely happy to find a Moomin guiding customers to Odin’s Throne (AKA the toilet).
The café serves lots of open sandwiches on crispbreads, which look a little fiddly and small, but their cakes are eye-grabbing – apple and cinnamon cake, chocolate brownie cake… mmm….
I forced myself not to get distracted and to stick to the task in hand. My friend and I ordered a semla each (£2.95).
Sadly, we were distinctly underwhelmed. The semla tasted of nothing. We could not detect any almond flavour at all. The dough was chewy and stodgy, and the cardamom did nothing to enhance it. I tried my hardest not to think about the other cakes. I began humming the Abba tunes that were playing in the background.
Very disappointing, but the café has a chilled atmosphere and the other cakes definitely look like they’re worth trying, so I may return.
Next candidate was Daniel Karlsson of Bageriet (‘The Bakery’ in Swedish). He came to London 6 years ago and has been baking tasty things for a lot longer than that. For Fat Tuesday, he had baked loads of buns and was stacking them high in Totally Swedish, a store that, unsurprisingly, sells lots of Swedish produce.
I got a box of two for £7 and hastily carried them to a friend’s in order to share them.
Mine got a little squashed in the voyage but it still tasted great. The almond paste had a much stronger flavour than Scandinavian Kitchen’s, and it complimented the dough, which had a firmer texture. Very pleasing. I almost regretted sharing.
Bageriet will be opening a shop in Covent Garden next month so look out for it. I will definitely make a visit.
Situated on Brick Lane, Fika is trendy by virtue of its location. Inside it is dimly lit and contains a few fake grass-covered seats. We visited at 1.30pm on a Friday and found no-one at the counter or serving. Eventually, a guy emerged and told us to wait because there were lots of customers and there was only him in the kitchen. We were distinctly unimpressed at the set-up, but took a seat. At £3.50 for a hot chocolate, we weren’t going to be ordering drinks whilst we were waiting.
Eventually, my semla arrived. It was neat and beautiful. But it was TINY. And it had just cost me £3.50. I approached it with scepticism.
The bun had the most bread-like texture of the three, which I really liked. The cardamom was present but not overpowering. The almond paste had a full, rich flavour, although there needed to be more of it as it was slightly smothered by the cream. However, overall, Fika’s tiny semla snuck into first place in terms of flavour. If they weren’t an outrageous £3.50 each, I’d be stocking my room with them.
On my quest for cinnamon buns in Sweden, I came across a lot of wienerbröd (literally “Viennese bread” or otherwise known as a plain old Danish pastry). The popular variety in Sweden have a custard-like filling, with icing on top.
I was about to tuck into one of these, when I was informed of the name of the custard-like filling.
“We call it momors hosta – “Granny’s cough”.”
Not easily put off, I tucked in. I felt cold, wet, phlegmatic custard slide down my throat. “Granny’s cough” – what an appropriate name. Needless to say, I couldn’t eat any more.
However, this experience got me thinking – what other words or descriptions are there in Swedish that we simply don’t have in English? I don’t speak Swedish but through spending some time in Sweden, I’ve made a short list:
Knullruffs – After-Sex Hair
Well, the Swedes do have a bit of a reputation for whiling away the long, dark winter hours between the sheets (don’t blame me – I’m just reporting the stereotype!). They even have their own special strain of chlamydia. Knullruffs is undoubtedly a very useful word.
Kåseri – Storytelling
This refers to a practice of telling stories on a topic, often anecdotal, often entertaining, but with a serious undertone. This is common on the radio and it sounds like a lot of fun. I want to institutionalise this in the UK!
Langett städa – Cleaning round the edges
My absolute favourite phrase. You know when you have guests coming over but you’re in a hurry? You might look at the state of your house with a sense of despair, then grab the hoover and vacuum only the visible dirt. This is langett städa – only cleaning the surface and visible stuff. It definitely does not involve cleaning under the rug 🙂
On New Year’s Day, I experienced a happy wake-up at 7.30am to get on a bus from Dalarna to Stockholm…to arrive to a dead city. “There’ll be plenty of places open”, my boyfriend said confidently. “The restaurants will definitely be open.”
“Are you sure?” I said doubtfully.
“Yes, us Swedes are not like you Brits.”
I rolled my eyes , got off the bus and found myself in a dead city. A few coffee chains were open and the usual fast food suspects. Nothing serving a hearty lunch could be found.
The trouble with Stockholm is that, even when the restaurants are open, the prices are going to damage your wallet almost beyond repair. The cheapest main courses start from around £15, and that will be for a pasta or risotto. You want meat, my friend? Well, be prepared to pay £25 upwards for a main.
You can try and see the positive side of eating out in Stockholm by visiting Norway, a land where no-one can afford take-out food (4 small portions of fish and chips at a street café = roughly £72).
Sweden isn’t nearly so bad, but for students and travellers on a budget, eating out in Stockholm is a challenge.
So how can you eat cheaply in Stockholm?
The short answer is: you can’t. Not really. You aren’t going to find much Swedish food at a reasonable price, and you are not going to find the same value that you can find in the UK. But here are some tips for those that find themselves in Stockholm without access to a kitchen.
Eat your main meal at lunch
Many restaurants and cafés offer a “dagens” or daily lunch, which is a deal that ranges from 75 – 15kr (roughly £7.50 to £15). This is the best way to get a good meal at a reasonable price.
Food quality can be hit and miss. Take for example the above picture of a “Mango chicken balti” at an Indian restaurant (Indisk Mukat Restaurang) that my boyfriend insisted was “all right for lunch”. No. No, it wasn’t. The chicken was the awful processed stuff that is like eating a very soft sponge, the sauce was so sweet that I felt sick pretty quickly, and that thin, orangey sliver is really all the mango I got. All for a reasonable 10,5kr (£10.50!). ARGH.
Get fast food or take-out
As a self-confessed food snob, this really goes against all my principles. But needs must. And weirdly, Swedish fast food isn’t quite as dire as some of the stuff served up in Britain. Pizzerias are commonplace, and are almost cosy. Take Pizza Hörnet by George, for example. The inside was clean, and the service friendly and efficient. As for the pizza, it was unfortunately the most salty thing I had ever eaten which, after one slice, left my mouth burning like I’d been ingesting seawater. I complained to my boyfriend and he shrugged. “Swedes like their salt. This pizza is normal.”
Also common are kebab houses. If you don’t trust the meat, go for the apparently ubiquitous falafel.
When all else fails, get a take-out and find somewhere to sit where you won’t freeze. I was lucky enough to get introduced to a Szechuan dish, “twice cooked pork“. The pork is first boiled with ginger and salt, and then fried with vegetables. Whilst the execution of this was fairly poor, I bet the authentic dish is fantastic, and it’s now on my “to-eat” list.
Just eat cinnamon buns, pastries and/or sandwiches
Stockholm is packed with cafés, bakeries (bakerei) and cake shops (konditori) serving sandwiches, which always seem to include a salami and brie combo. Be warned – these sandwiches will set you back £7 – £8, and they’re often dry.
If you have a sweet tooth, there are plenty of cakes to try. Popular are Sarah Bernhardt biscuits / chocolate biskvi, which consist of an almond biscuit base, a chocolate cream middle, topped with chocolate. All in all, it’s a little too sweet for me. However, these are valued national biscuits as I saw them on the Swedish equivalent of the Great British Bake Off, Hela Sverige Bakar (“All of Sweden is baking!”)
There are also plenty of chocolate balls. These used to be called negerboll (“negro balls”). I say no more.
Avoid Gamla Stan
Gamla Stan – or Old Town – is the centre of tourism in Stockholm. Don’t even think about eating there, not even in a café. It’s very pretty and there are LOTS of things to check out, including Kungliga Slottet (the Royal Palace) and Storkyrkan (church), which has a spectacular interior with a very impressive statue of George slaying the dragon. So by all means visit Gamla Stan – just make sure you’ve eaten well in advance.
We were desperate for refreshment and visited Chokladkoppen, which is a take-away and sit-down café. I can’t remember how much it stole from my wallet – although it is definitely not the worst offender price-wise – but I had a miserably milky hot chocolate and the cinnamon bun was underwhelming too, even if it was HUGE.
Starve, and go back to your respective country
It’s a great excuse to lose some weight, right?!
Well, you’ve probably guessed by now that, for obvious reasons, I haven’t eaten out extensively in Stockholm! But there are a few places that I would recommend.
The Muffin Bakery Drottninggatan 73 or Linnégatan 42
The coffee might not be up to much, but it’s all about the Chocolate Brownie and Cheesecake muffins. I cannot visit Stockholm without devouring one of these. It’s cheesy but chocolatey and gooey in the middle. It’s 34kr but one can easily be shared between two. There are other varieties of muffins and they also do decent sandwiches at prices that are reasonable for Stockholm. There are two cafés – I go to the Drottninggatan one as it’s really central. Their website (Swedish only) can be found here.
Nagano Rådmansgatan 58, 11359 StockholmFriendly lunch place that serves up tasty and reasonably-priced Japanese set lunches. I had a surprisingly good chicken katsu (breaded cutlet) lunch here and my boyfriend appreciated the veggie gyoza (dumplings). The portions are decent too.
Really trendy, slightly kitsch café that is eternally busy. I’ve only eaten here once where I had a cake that was almost as good as Nando’s choc-a-lot cake, but not quite. There are plenty more scrummy looking cakes, and sandwiches and salad. It has free WiFi so it’s often packed with laptops/iPads and coffee cups. Their website is here.
China! Ringvägen 110 – 116 61 Stockholm
It’s always a good sign when a Chinese restaurant is packed with Chinese people! I only had two dishes here – some meatballs (pictured far top) and some amazing hoisin pork with dumplings and spring onions – but I was impressed with the quality, flavours and presentation. The food is flavoursome but light and I didn’t end up feeling sick, which often happens to me after a Chinese. China! is not cheap, but it’s not outrageous – sharing two dishes might set you back £30, but you’ll leave satisfied.
I’m by no means an expert on Stockholm, so if anyone has any recommendations, please get in touch 🙂
Update: One recommendation I’ve received is to target Stockholm University’s restaurants and cafés. Apparently, the restaurant next to Södra Huset in Stockholm University serves dagens for 60-80kr. You can choose one main (fish, meat, vegetarian), and enjoy an all- you-can-eat salad, pasta, and bread bar, and an all-you-can-drink drink bar. Thanks to Toru Anraku for the suggestion.
Move over, cinnamon buns. I was never that into you anyway. It’s all about these amazing cinnamon lattices, which are gooey and oh-so-good.
This cinnamon lattice had the privilege of being my fika snack of choice. Fika is a Swedish word for “coffee break” or “tea time” and it’s a great excuse to tuck into pastries and cakes. I’m hoping to feature some chocolate cream macaroons and semla, but I’m only in Stockholm for one day and there’s only so many sweet things that I can eat!
At this time of year, Sweden is freezing and so hearty stews are naturally on the menu. I got to eat kalops, which is a simple but delicious beef stew, flavoured with bay leaves and allspice. Apologies for the appalling picture, but I greedily wolfed my plate down before I photographed it so I had to make do with the pot!
The Swedes have expensive taste: they love saffron. A really interesting dessert is a saffron pancake, made with flour, rice porridge and almonds, and served with dewberry jam and whipped cream. It’s filling without being too heavy, and the jam is a wonderful accompaniment and not too sweet.
And now to another Swedish curiosity….What are these rows and rows of mysterious tubes?
The Swedes love caviar, which they put into tubes and squeeze on bread and eat with boiled eggs. But these tubes are not fish eggs. No. These are all kinds of flavoured cream cheese. I’m automatically suspicious of any cheese product that doesn’t need to be kept refrigerated. Yet these become even more alarming when you look closely at some of the flavours. Prawn cream cheese paste, anyone?
Coming soon on the blog:
Restaurants and cafés in Stockholm
Swedish fast food
A special post on language (tenuously linked to food of course!)
And even more Swedish sweet and yummy things.
In the mean time, check out fellow blogger Heather’s recipe for Swedish buns, which she made for St Lucia’s Day (a BIG thing in Sweden). These are often made with saffron, but she uses cardamom, which sounds really interesting!
Just a sneaky peak at some of the food I’ve been tucking into in Sweden this week! (And a little bit of Swedish culture too!)
First up, Julskinka – or known in English as Christmas ham. This is a cured ham, cooked in the oven, then removed and coated in a glaze of mustard, egg and breadcrumbs – and mustard seeds and cloves for the more adventurous – then returned to the oven to set the glaze.
The Christmas ham might then be eaten with a Christmas mustard. Believe it or not, this unassuming pot of Liss Ellas Christmas mustard is one of the most delicious mustards I have had the fortune to sample. It’s a honey-mustard but gets the balance between spiciness and sweetness absolutely spot on. Apparently their mustards are champions at the Worldwide Mustard Competition and I don’t doubt it. Unfortunately, I think their mustards are only available in Sweden and Norway but it’s worth checking out their website.
Christmas bread. This is a mildly sweet bread with raisins, flavoured with wort and spiced with cloves, cinnamon, and ginger. It’s light and tasty, although it disappoints in that it makes me crave a good English teacake, yet it is definitely not an English teacake.
This is just a really tasty apple juice from the Swedish version of Co-op. Very appley, full flavour and sweet. As good apple juice is hard to beat at a breakfast drink, I decided this had to feature. A little gnome is added to the picture for effect.
Kanelbulle, or cinnamon buns, are one of the classic foodstuffs of Sweden for those who have managed to get explore beyond the meatballs. These can be a little dry so prefer ones that are glazed or with icing, but this is not very Swedish. Still, who can turn down cinnamon? I think I’m obsessed with it and so are the Swedes. October 4 is “kanelbullens dag” (Cinnamon bun day). I also sampled pistachio buns, which are very popular in Sweden.
Yes, butter knives are wooden in Sweden. These are made from the wood of juniper trees due to its durability and pleasant fragrance.
The Swedes have a lot of forest – 67% of the land area is forested – so it’s understandable that lots of things are made out of wood. Like most of their houses. Also, if you ever visit the Dalarna region, you’ll notice a curious amount of wooden horses. These are known in English as Dalecarlian started as toys woodsmen crafter for their children, but later became implicated in trade, before cementing as a symbol of the region, and later for Sweden as a whole.
Dalarna is very traditional region, and even young people will put on traditional costume for special occasions, such as midsummer, weddings and baptisms. Culture is popularised through arts and crafts. Visitors might spot small models of mörksugga (which translates as “dark sow”) – a version of a Swedish folklore character.
Not so traditional but extremely bizarre, I stumbles upon a “Sex education machine” in the Dalarna museum in Falun. It’s the one in the background displaying a beautiful euphemism – a bee is pollinating the flower. I’m not sure what the one with the toilet seat and chomping teeth is about.