The tenth time; it is the tenth time that I am spending my holidays in Sweden. Apart from one time in spring and one time in winter, which is one of my most memorable experiences where I would gather around the fire at night with the people I love after either a snowmobile or dog sledging tour, a hike across the lake with snow-shoes, cross-country skiing or ice-fishing to finish the day rolling in the snow after a hot sauna, the other times I have been were in summer. The Swedes themselves are off, enjoying the sun, bars and restaurants put their terraces out, nightlife is vibrant and even in the smallest towns you would find a cute garden for coffee or in any harbour a place to buy some fresh fish. The beaches along the West Coast come alive and there are plenty of festivals to enjoy. Visiting Sweden in summer or spring makes a huge difference. And that difference can be felt dramatically when looking for local food, off-season.
Our food experience starts in Stockholm, where we tour the underground food market place Hötorgshallen. Some fish stalls offer a few chairs and tables to allow visitors to sit and enjoy their products. Hav looks quite good, and we are lucky as two people leave as we are passing by. The place is packed: we make our way to the high chairs and wait for the table to be cleared while reading the varied fish menu in Swedish. Everything sounds really tempting! Following the market-seller’s advice, we end up tasting inlaged sil (herring in different sauces), followed by a delicious and delicate stew of varied seafood in pepper, vanilla and saffron soup along with some akvavit (the Swedish schnapps). The presentation of the dishes is beautiful, the cooking perfect, the atmosphere very enjoyable.
After a fika (the Swedish tea or coffee break with cakes or sandwiches) with a homemade carrot cake in Uppsala, we believe that our experiences in the provinces will be even better than in the capital. In Gävle, following the pertinent advice of our helpful waiter at the restaurant Södra, we go for a local and seasonal fish, coming with fresh vegetable, and cooked to perfection.
Making a sharp right onto a dirt road from Hölick to follow an inviting hand-written cardboard “öppet” (open), we find ourselves at a self-service shack by a fisherman’s house: Sjögodis. An excited voice on an old radio reports the progress of an ice-hockey game, the filtered coffee is warm with a sign to grab a cup and enjoy it by the sea, and the welcoming cooler displays all sorts of preparations of salmon and herring. We opt for the smoked peppered salmon for dinner and the rollmops for now. Using the scale, the calculator and the notepad, we write down our purchases and drop the bank notes in a box, making the change from another. The experience is surreal. Following the instructions of our invisible host to the letter, we get out with our coffee cups to seat by the shore at a pick-nick table in the sun, next to the racks to smoke fish, overlooking the fishing boat and nets. We open the herring box that we enjoy with some polar bread. This will become one of our most delicious Swedish lunch, preceding one of our best dinners that same night in a fantastic stuga! This sounds so promising for the weeks to come!
But the Höga Kusten (High Coast) seems to be just a bridge too far… We are not set to hike the High Coast trail in one shot (that would take about two weeks), but to skipping some parts driving to focus on hiking the most beautiful sections of the trail. We look for typical Swedish places on the way… As we hike lost in nature, we feed ourselves mainly on pasta, chocolate, knäckebröd, nuts and dry fruits: traditional Swedish food is longed for! This is why we pick our places carefully: McDonald’s, Kramfors’ pizza & kebab, just kebabs, or the bowling alley selling chocolate bars and ice creams!… Finding restaurants open along the road is a real challenge! Bakeries are non-existent or they open late… very late: mid-June! To grab a coffee, the best bet is to stop at gas stations where good and foamy cappuccinos are served by automatic machines. To buy some bread or supplies, the only solution is to go to ICA, the supermarket chain. Being on the coasts of the Baltic Sea with fish farms scattered along the way, this is frustrating. We are hoping that the high plateau in Central Sweden with reindeers and moose will let us experience another side of the Swedish culinary specialties…
Setting off early from the Höga Kusten on a Sunday morning, and heading west, we think that finding the gas station closed is actually a blessing: we keep our eyes open for a brunch or even better, the famous smörgåsbord (a high-end buffet of Swedish specialties). After about one hour driving on dirt roads, we arrive in the quite depressing Sollefteå where we find nothing, absolutely nothing open, but a Statoil gas station. We fuel up our car and resigned, go for the now typical breakfast and reward our empty stomachs with a foamy cappuccino and a kanelbullar (a cinnamon based pastry). It is cold and rainy, we are going higher up knowing that tonight we will be lost on the high plateau, and all we desire after days of hiking is some good food. Studying the map, we decide to drive to Östersund, the capital of the region. 159 kilometres further, we reach the city. It is 11:50 AM. Streets are empty. We park and after a quick walk through the rain, heavy heads, high shoulders, we find the pedestrian area. A few people are waiting in front of the malls and stores that open at noon. There are several restaurants and pubs, all closed at best until 4PM. Our options are limited: a bakery, an Indian restaurant, a café in the shopping mall or McDonald’s. The bakery is rather empty when we order our salmon and spinach pie, but gets busier at two-ish when people show up for the fika.
We hit the road to the high plateau of Jämtland. There is nothing around but trees, lakes and patches of snow. Even gas stations are rare. After thoughtfully booking a stuga for the night in Messlingen, we arrive in front of the closed reception and find the key to our attention in a box, being the only guests of that 70-stuga holiday complex. Once we are unpacked with the heating on and warmed up from our walk in the snow in the sauna, we go back to hiking food with the thankfully left over pastas, as the first restaurant is 30 kilometres away, and… closed.
Heading south, it is the same story: empty villages with occasionally a “pizza & kebab” sign that we ignore. We feel lucky in Särna as we stop at a local workers’ restaurant with the popular pytt i panna (a mix of diced potatoes, onions and meat often with a fried egg) coming along with a salad bar, a homemade cake and filtered coffee. Having the same reflex, we pack on food to hopefully not be hungry at night and avoid another unfruitful search for a place to eat, leading to yet another pasta dinner!
Claire & Marcella
- Check out this interactive map (short tutorial) for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area, as well as our specific map of Stockholm!