Thursday, January 31, 2013

Foodie Explorations in Stockholm

I'm not really a foodie, but when I travel, I like to build my days around meals (actually, I do that all the time...), and I do my best to eat what and when the locals eat.  Granted, I've never really tested myself by going to a part of the world worthy of garnering Andrew Zimmern's attention, but you will NOT find me in a McDonald's or a Starbucks at any cost!

My recollection is fuzzy due to extreme jetlag and attentiveness to the work mission, but I believe I ate fish with every meal in Sweden, mostly because it was unabashedly fantastic.  My other overriding memory from Sweden's food is that it's also unabashedly expensive.  I recall an excellent coffee room called Vete-Katten, where two coffees and four pastries come to something approaching 40USD.

The hotels we get are clean, fairly spartan, and pretty expensive (at least by my standards), but the inclusion of breakfast in the rate makes things remarkably more reasonable, as there are a couple days where I easily plow through fifty bucks worth of food before 8am.  There are certainly less expensive ways to get food there; an outdoor market near our hotel is totally unconcerned with adverse weather.

Come rain or snow...

With breakfast carrying us well into the day, all we really need to be concerned with is snacking and dinner.  A loose search for akvavit and pickled herring lands us at Den Gyldene Freden (OK, we were looking for beer, and got lucky to find the other things).  This place was built as a restaurant and has been operating as such since 1722.  The akvavit reminds me of Génépi in France, and the pickled herring is apparently an excellent preparation, as it can be done poorly, and this stuff is good.  Also, it's not to be confused with sour herring, which must be opened under running water or else you have to burn your house down to get the smell out.

Den Gyldene Freden

Another meal takes us here (not on the company dime, as it's exorbitantly expensive):

A flickering welcome

This gem is located in a building dating to 1651.  The food and service?  Stunning.  Vendace roe, reindeer fillet, and cheesecake with cloudberries, oh my.  Our table is about 30' below street level, and getting down there feels like a trip to the catacombs.

Inside the vaulted caverns of Fem Små Hus

The extraordinarily short days wreak havoc with our appetites, however.  We'd find ourselves walking around after dark, discussing what type of food we'd like, if we could find something good within walking distance, plans for the rest of the night, etc., and then realize that it was 3:45...

Other meals feature numerous varieties of fish, including excellent arctic char, unfamiliar preparations of halibut, and a sushi course comprised entirely of fish from Scandinavian waters, including the best raw scallops I've ever had.  A work dinner introduces me to raw reindeer (the dish includes bits of dried reindeer heart, too), and I must say that I'm a fan.

Cafe along Österlånggatan

In case you've noticed a trend, all of this food is happening in increasingly old establishments.  The cafe pictured above takes the cake, though.  Built as a stable in the 1400s, it's not a roped-off national historic monument; it's simply open for business.  Mind.  Blown.  Excellent cappuccino, too.

In general, the age at which we consider something "old" in the US doesn't even move the needle in other parts of the world.  It almost makes me feel like a post-modernist pig to be living in a house built in 1954.

Rory looks pensive

And one last photo from a trip to the tourist-trap Ice Bar, where they tell you that your knowledge of how to stay warm is of no consequence and give you a glorified poncho to keep you alive.  The place was kind of rubbish, but it did make for a fun photo or two!

All in all, loved the food there and found the search for it to be an excellent avenue to explore the city.  Executive summary: go there and eat fish :)


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