Takeaway

Stockholm Syndrome

Zac O' Yeah | Updated on November 30, 2018 Published on November 30, 2018

Meaty role: Lilla Parkkaféet, is a restaurant where you can sample raggmunk — potato pancake topped by pork slices and cowberry jam   -  IMAGES: ZAC O’YEAH

Looking for the city’s best local bites — from the Nobel tavern to the bohemian south side

With the Swedish Academy busy sorting out its own #MeToo scandals, there was no Nobel Prize in Literature this year and thus no new Laureate’s work to read. So, I decide to sample traditional Swedish food in the academy’s historical taverns. A few steps downhill from its offices in Stockholm’s old town is the academy-owned Den Gyldene Freden (‘The Golden Peace’ on Österlånggatan 51). Dating back to 1722, it is older than the academy, which was founded in 1786. This is where the Nobel committee goes into a huddle after the formal meetings are over.

This venerable institution is known for its classical Swedish husmanskost or a fine-dining variety of the simple regional food that the working classes traditionally ate.

First, I ask for a beer from the waitress who confesses that she doesn’t like beer and can’t really recommend any. So instead I take the day’s lunch offer — poached cod with eggy sauce and baby potatoes. Unfortunately, the fish feels rubbery, like fish tends to when it’s been cooked a long time ago, in historical times perhaps, and reheated. The insipid meal has a synthetic tinge — or maybe it’s just that I’m visiting from the land of masala-everything and am not used to Swedish tastelessness. Anyway, no Nobel for this grub that has nurtured generations of Swedish writers and artists.

To offset my hurt foodie sentiments, I use my detecting skills to trace the best husmanskost in town. As a curious counterbalance to how ultra-modern Sweden is (even the beggars I bump into prefer electronic transfers to their smartphones), foodies are going back to the time-honoured ways of home cooking. So, in recent years, husmanskost has become rather trendy and new Swedish restaurateurs have got innovative with their cuisine, shedding its stodginess in the process.

Furthermore, a great thing about lunching in Sweden is that even the fanciest bistros offer dagens rätt —dish of the day — for about SEK110 (₹800) while in comparison a single à la carte dish might cost as much as ₹3,000. These weekday specials of limited menu options are served between noon and 3pm and typically include, along with the main course, salads, bread, juice and coffee or tea.

In the city’s high street, I’m drawn to Drottninghof (‘Queen’s Court’ on Drottninggatan 67) where I enjoy a value lunch of elk burger — älgwallenbergare — with cheesy potato mash, juniper berry sauce and cowberries. It is an interesting melange of flavours ranging from creamy to tart and sweet. Cowberry, or lingon as the berry is called there, is to Swedish food what mixed pickle is to Indian, a key accompaniment which comes in dollops with everything from desserts to meatballs.

Next day, on the Djurgården island, which is connected to the city by a bridge, I go gallery hopping only to immediately stop for lunch a block away from the ABBA museum. Lilla Parkkaféet (‘Little Park Café’ on Djurgårdsslätten 76) is a quaint cottage with all-wood interiors and a mid-1900s vibe, and it beckons me with the word raggmunk on the board outside. This archetypal potato pancake is topped by heavenly-smelling pork slices and cowberry jam — and I’m struck by how the cowberry, slightly sour, balances out the greasiness of the pork.

But the best experiences are to be had on the bohemian south side, Södermalm, which is crammed with assorted body-modification shops, alcoholics and pubs. At the cultish Bröderna Olsson’s (‘The Olsson Brothers’ on Folkungagatan 84) which is essentially a garlic-fetishist shots-and-burger saloon, I am happy to find, alongside booze concoctions with names such as Bombay Cooler Shooter and Crazy Swede, isterband on the menu. These grainy sausages are made of coarsely ground smoked meat and are plated alongside traditional accompaniments such as pickled mustard, raw egg yolk, capers, beetroot and red onions. It’s divine but so rich that I find it hard to lick my plate clean.

Raggmunk   -  ZAC O’YEAH

 

Next I think of going to Kvarnen (‘The mill’ on Tjärhovsgatan 4), but a local writer friend, Stefan Foconi, cautions me about the 110-year-old heritage beer hall: “It is no longer seedy and they may even turn you away if you don’t wear a tie.”

Instead he suggests that we go to the recently opened Tabberaset (which means something like ‘clear the table’ at Folkungagatan 126). The friendly little place does husmanskost like tapas, the co-owner/waitress explains, as she details their investigation into turning old Swedish cooking new. The restaurant is their laboratory. Guests are offered small servings of a variety of items including sweetish pickled herring with baked egg, stuffed savoy cabbage rolls with mushroom mush, and wild boar meatballs — all meticulously prepared to give a visual impact as well as maximum flavours without the greasy heaviness associated with husmanskost. Some of their experiments, in which they reconfigure customary ingredients and modify household recipes, are challenging to the taste buds, like one that I’m still raving about: The impossibly toothsome combo of savoury blood pancake topped with crispy bacon and cowberry ice-cream.

Our suppertime repast comes to SEK824 (₹6,300) and would deserve a Nobel Prize, if not in poetry, then perhaps chemistry. And even here a lunch can be had for SEK110, which is an absolute steal deal in comparison.

 

Zac O’Yeah is a part-time travel writer and part-time detective novelist;

Email: zacnet@email.com

Published on November 30, 2018
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