Quick – name a Swedish dish besides meatball. I bet you can’t. See, while a so-called Nordic revolution is taking place in Copenhagen, our collective knowledge of Swedish cuisine still only goes as far as what’s on the menu at your neighborhood IKEA.
A few meals don’t account to much. With this caveat, Swedish food, at least the contemporary interpretation, reminds me of Pacific Northwest cuisine – simply prepared seafood (salmon!) that emphasizes on the freshness of the ingredients. The Baltic Sea’s icy water might not be a hotbed of marine biodiversity, but local seafood like salmon, herring, Arctic char, Atlantic cod, shrimp and crayfish are extremely fresh. I tried four restaurants over five meals – two seafood places inside food markets, a contemporary Swedish, and a traditional Swedish – and I recommend all of them except for one.
The high quality does come at a high cost, just like everything else in Stockholm. Food at supermarket is more reasonable – a large wrap can be had for 45 SEK.
Kajsas Fisk, Hötorgshallen
Lunch, February 25
After having nothing more than a tiny wrap over the past 24 hours, I arrived Stockholm in an absolute state of starvation. What I needed was something boiling hot and hearty, which perfectly describes Kajsas Fisk’s fish soup.
Conveniently located at the basement of Hötorgshallen, one of Stockholm’s oldest food halls, this small eatery proudly proclaims it serves the “world-famous fish soup”. You can try it for only 95 SEK, an absolute bargain in this town.
Everything is self-served. You pay at the counter where you also get your soup. Utensils, bread and a plain cabbage salad are all available at another counter. Non-soup dishes will be delivered to you after you have found a seat.
The tobasco-color soup is served in a large bowl topped with a slab of garlic mayonnaise. Ingredients include seasonal white fish, shrimp, mussel, onion, tomato, garlic and various herbs. The fish and shellfish are obviously the foundation of the soup, yet equally important is the kick provided by the garlic and the herbs. Halfway done with the soup you will find the surprisingly tender seafood.
I really like fish soup, especially Cantonese style. Kajsas Fisk’s was really good, probably the best Western style fish soup I have ever had. Hopefully I don’t come across as sounding too pretentious, but I find it impossible to compare Oriental cuisines and Western ones.
Next up was the seafood risotto (90 SEK). The rice was too soft and moist and the saffron too dominating. The only redeemable thing about this dish was the roe-filled prawns.
One thing I found out in this first meal was the admittedly idiotic but understandable practice of photographing your own food has yet to take root in Sweden. People looked at me funny whenever I pointed my camera at my food. One guy even asked me if I had never had what I ordered before – he figured it must be an Asian cultural practice.
Lunch, February 27
Two days later I was back for the fish soup – the surefire antidote for Stockholm’s cold and misty weather. I also ordered three pieces of Normandy oysters (50 SEK) and a smoked salmon toast (95 SEK). Both tasted more or less like what I could get in Hong Kong, which is more of a compliment to modern supply chain than a complaint.
Recommendation: 9/10 (Just order the soup)
Address: Hötorgshallen 3, 111 57 Stockholm
Dinner, February 25
I came across Rolf Kök on Yelp when trying to find a place to eat near my hotel. A cross-reference on Google revealed this place also has a Bib Gourmand recommendation from Michelin, so I decided to give it a go. This place is not cheap though, with entrée costing around 200 SEK. Arriving at 21:15, I was seated at the bar with good view of the open kitchen.
The high alcohol tax in Sweden had kept me sober thus far on the trip, but I decided to bite the bullet this night and ordered a glass of Chardonnay from Sonoma (120 SEK).
Along with my glass of wine came a skewer of bread, a very unique way of presentation of an all-too-familiar item. Three of them vanished into my stomach in a matter of minutes before I put a brake on my appetite in anticipation of the entrée.
I ordered the loin of cod with green beans, hazelnuts and goat cheese (295 SEK) because of the influence of the nearby tables. The cod was very tender and matched well with the oil-based sauce.
Address: Tegnérgatan 41, 111 61 Stockholm
Lunch, February 26
Most popular among the many stalls in Östermalms Saluhall, Lisa Elmqvist is a fourth-generation seafood stall and restaurant operated for over 80 years. This was also where I had by far my worst meal in Stockholm.
Customer service is a big part of the dining experience. Often take for granted, it is an aspect which you don’t appreciate until you have terrible experiences to compare. I had to dig deep into my memory to remember the last time I was treated as poorly.
When I asked for a table for one, the waitress at the reception frowned and pointed to a seat on a shared table without as much as greeting me. A menu was thrown in front of me and not a single word was uttered when taking my order. When my backpack was accidentally knocked to the floor by another waitress, the response was not an apology or the expected act of recovering my gear from the floor. She instead gave me an annoyed stare and dragged my backpack next to my chair by her left foot. There were also no acknowledgement when my dish arrived or when I paid the bill.
I was treated like an ignorant tourist who has miraculously found out about the great insititution that is Lisa Elmqvist and should simply quickly finish his food and be immediately out of sight.
All this might be tolerable if the food was any good. Too bad my grilled Arctic char (255 SEK) was overcooked and the honey mustard sauce much too salty.
Address: Östermalms Saluhall S – 114 39 Stockholm
Dinner, February 28
It did feel strange, after so many days in the country, to still not have tried the most representative of all traditional Swedish food – the meatballs. So for my last dinner on this trip I went to Bakfickan, the cheaper and more casual diner operated by the Michelin one-star Operakällaren. Arriving at seven on a Friday night, I got a counter seat next to the entrance after a 20-minute wait.
Again starving, I ordered a large serving of the crayfish toast (160 SEK) and the Swedish meatballs with potato purée served with lingonberry preserve and pickled gherkin (170 SEK)
The crayfish toast was large. I like the chopped crayfish with mayonnaise but it brought out a slight hint of bitterness from the toast when eaten together.
Compared to the fast food version I am used to, these meatballs were much more tender, but even more to my taste were the sides. The mashed potato went well with the gravy and the sourness of the lingonberry preserve provided a welcome relief to an otherwise very heavy dish.
Address: Karl XII:S torg, 111 86 Stockholm