Finally. I’m back in Sweden, this time on the western shores of Göteborg. We’re here to ring in Keith’s next decade, since he turns 30 while we are here. Göteborg is Sweden’s Chicago, its second city. It’s definitely smaller than Stockholm, both in size and feel, but it has a wonderful charm to it. Especially since it is October and the weather makes us feel cosy. Luckily Göteborg—and Sverige in general—accommodates the need to bunker down with lots of cafés and pubs and other establishments in which to fika. But more on fika in a bit, because first we need to talk meatballs.
Yes, meatballs. Köttbullar are just as widely eaten in Sweden as you’d expect. Though so many versions of meatballs exist around the world, Swedish meatballs are especially well known… And the best. Even during our quick two-day visit here in Göteborg, I had köttbullar twice!
Köttbullar regional varieties are seen throughout Sweden. Some have a heavy thick sauce while others rest in a thin juice. Some come with onions both grated in the meatball and as sautéed rings on top, while some just have the onions on the inside. And some are massive in size, compared to the tiny “traditional” köttbullar. But all köttbullar are made with bread crumbs—which give them their soft, pillowy texture—and are served with a hearty pile of potatismos (mashed potatoes), pressgurka (pickled cucumbers), och lingon in jam or stewed form. The lingonberries (think smaller cranberries) are my favorite part, since their tartness offsets the heaviness of the meat and gräddsås (cream sauce) so well, and complements the allspice and nutmeg seasonings in the meat.
Other than köttbullar, fish is the other ubiquitous main dish here throughout Sweden. Especially in Göteborg. The cold waters of the North Sea are wonderful for shellfish, crustaceans (lobster season just opened a few weeks ago!), and fish like cod. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any lobster or crab, but I did order some wonderful stekt strömming, or fried herring. While strömming mostly comes from the east coast of Sweden, where Stockholm is located, this was just too good to pass up. And again, it came with lingonberries. Berries in general are virtually a whole food group in Sweden; they constitute a large part of Nordic cuisine along with fish, root vegetables, cultured dairy and crisp rye breads.
Swedish food can be very heathy. But Swedes also love hot dogs. I got mine from 7-Eleven, which I justified as “cultural” since Lisbeth from Stieg Larsson’s Millennium books ate from there. Okay, that’s a stretch … But it was late and I was hungry and it wasn’t half bad? 7-Elevens are pretty prevalent here, and my other choice for a hot dog was the tunnbrödsrulle, which is a hot dog coated in mashed potatoes and rolled up in a flat bread. It seemed like a bit more than I could handle, so the standard korv won out. I also had to get a lovely chokladboll
One of my favorite aspects of life in Sweden is fika. Fika is both a noun and verb, and is essentially the coffee break you take everyday with friends or coworkers. The daily fika in part helps to explain how Sweden has one of the highest rates of coffee consumption per capita in the world. I love to fika, in or out of Sweden, especially since it’s a time to indulge in a sweet. And in Sweden that usually for me means kanelbullar. Unlike American cinnamon rolls, kanelbullar are not drowned in sticky frosting. Instead, they are sprinkled with pearl sugar. And generally, kanelbullar are smaller; however, our first fika in Göteborg was at Café Husaren, home of the Hagabullen… A massive kanelbulle the size of a dinner plate. Keith and I split one, but couldn’t finish it between the two of us. We somewhat exercised restraint, party living the lagom, or the Swedish belief in moderation. That is, if you can only be partly moderate.
Our second fika was a special fika as it was Keith’s birthday! After a morning spent hiking around an island in the archipelago an hour outside of Göteborg, we sourced some prinsesstårta from a konditeri in Göteborg, and celebrated in the best way. Prinsesstårta is a fairly popular celebration cake in Sweden. It’s delicious too, full of layers of sponge cake, a layer of jam, and plenty of custard and whipped cream. The best part though is the marzipan lid, which helps the shape the cake into a high done, and is for some reason green on most occasions. Why not?! Happy birthday, Keith! Grattis på födelsedagen!
Keith and I also split another chokladboll during the birthday fika, which a ball of cocoa and oats, rolled in coconut. I’ve made them back in Chicago, since they’re particularly easy to throw together (no baking required!). And they’re deceptively rich and chocolate-y, especially when you look at a recipe, but because of the addition of espresso, the chocolate taste is heightened. You can find chokladbollar all over Sweden in places high and low, since they’re such a wonderful little treat.
I would be remiss to not mention godis, or candy. Swedes love godis, gummy ones in particular. I don’t blame them, so do I. There are, yes, Swedish fish (called pastelfiskar here), but also fruit gummies of all sorts, sour gummies, licorice, hard candies, nougat, wrapped candy and several types of chocolates. And here, bulk bins of godis—all kinds imaginable—are sold per kilo everywhere. Godis stores, convenience stores like 7-Eleven, grocery stores… train stations… So, of course we grabbed a bag, a scoop and got to it. It’s fun to mix a bunch of types, especially since by the time you’ve eaten your way down to the bottom of the bag, all the flavors and sugars have merged and have created a new flavor of candy… Just like an experiment. It’s common to come to the godis store on Saturday—there is even a word, Lördagsgodis, that means Saturday’s candies—but that also means the stores are crowded and loud. You probably don’t want to visit a godis store late on Saturday after the bins have been descended upon by scores of children, both young and old !
I’ll miss Sverige so much, since who knows when we’ll be back. We had such a great time here in Göteborg celebrating Keith’s 30th and getting to know another city here. We do have a half day in Malmö tomorrow before heading on to our final stop: Copenhagen. I’ll be counting the days until I’m back here… Perhaps permanently!