This is Sweden’s Culinary Capital

Because it has KFC.

Well, no…but it does have KFC and it was almost 8 months that I last had fried chicken, because it ain’t a thing in Stockholm :/

On that point though, KFC drew huge crowds when it first opened. Although when I popped by to check it out, there weren’t that many people there I guess most people would rather spend their calories on Fried Chicken from a proper Swedish chef like Marcus Samuelsson (who grew up in Gothenburg too, by the way).

If its not the chicken, then what makes Gothenburg, Sweden’s culinary capital? Because the Gothenburgers won it.

Then again, that’s a rather underwhelming answer still. Let’s get a bit more in depth.

A region’s cuisine is defined by what is available to the people who live there. That’s why curries and spiced foods developed in the Indian subcontinent, spicy-soury based food characterises Indochinese cuisines, root and plant based dishes dominate Korean cuisine, oily and spicy food in the cold Central Chinese region and light, sweet cuisine emerged in the Southern Chinese corridor (with its access to fresh seafood). And in Sweden, the naturally available food would be its game (reindeer, moose, elk etc), wild chanterelles, berries and seafood from the Atlantic. And the freshest seafood in Sweden comes from Gothenburg – the largest Swedish city on the Atlantic coast.

Gothenburgers pride themselves on being the cathedral of food in this country. Their claim to fame, seafood, is caught that day and brought to the market 24 hours before Stockholm even gets the catch, which basically means that Gothenburg seafood is much fresher than Stockholm’s. And the best seafood in Gothenburg is collected in the Feskekôrka, or Fish Church.

The building looks like a traditional Scandanavian church structure on the outside, but it was never built as a church. The ecclesial was on purpose, since seafood is considered a religion in these parts. Right from the first day it opened in 1874, the Feskekôrka was going to be more than a church, it was clearly a cathedral. Besides being a fish market, that also houses some top seafood restaurants. I’d seen enough pictures on the way to Gothenburg to look forward to seeing this place. The signboard of the sweet Atlantic shrimp hanging off the ceiling beams with the diners sitting at the raised platform above reminded me of a church with a cross at the centre and an altar for the service. This was the religion – fresh seafood, the diners were the most involved worshipers.

The fish market was smaller than I had expected but it did not smell of fish – which is always a good sign because fishiness comes from fish that is already beginning its slow decaying process (i.e. not too fresh).

You can also tell how fresh fish is by looking at the eyes, fish eyes that are cloudy have been dead for a while and are not fresh, whereas clear eyes are those of freshly caught fish.

Unable to resist, I ordered a small sampling of shellfish to eat facing the canal. The cheapest and most common item was the sweet shrimp. Fresh shrimp has a very intact body that is able to be easily detached from the shell and has a light chewiness to it. Meat that turns mushy to biting is not fresh. Each morsel of shrimp burst with a natural sweetness that peeked through the saltiness of the sea-water (I guess). My scoop had more male shrimp than female shrimp which was a little shame because the shrimp roe is a gorgeous with a gentle smoky flavour.

Then there was the Swedish Brown Crab claw. Swedish Brown crab has a very thick and hard shell but like all crabs a fresh one holds its shape when the shell is removed. Crab claw meat also has a certain flakiness (not sure if its the right term. Also, note that unfresh crab would have a powdery texture to its meat) to it and this one both held its shape, had a flakiness when bitten into and burst out with a sort of natural sugary sweetness.

Sweden is known for its crayfish festival, so it made sense for me to get a crayfish to try. Got too excited to break into it, so all that was left of a photo was this claw. Crayfish also has a slightly different flavour to crab and shrimp. The meat is less flaky and more compact than crab and it was less sweet than shrimp. It was almost like eating a salted dish with a light hint of sweetness.

All these set me back quite a bit (the crayfish, taking up a whole half of the cost), but it was to be my one expensive expenditure in Gothenburg, so I couldn’t complain.

Locals obviously eat meat too, but it says alot that the food market (the local Saluhall) doesn’t have many stores selling seafood (I only saw one) No one wants to step on the business of the fish market.

Fresh seafood is only part of what makes Gothenburg, the nation’s culinary capital. Another reason for Gothenburg’s reputation is that it is the home of Sweden’s New Nordic Cuisine movement. What’s this movement about? For a long time, the proper way to cook in Europe was to follow the ways of the French and Italians. Northern countries such as German, United Kingdom and the collection of Nordic countries were considered culinary deserts. New Nordic Cuisine focuses on cooking food with fresh local produce with “purity, simplicity and freshness”. This Nordic way first began to rise to fashion in 2004. And many restaurants in Gothenburg prepare food the New Nordic way. In fact for a small city its rare to even have one Michelin Starred Restaurant, Gothenburg has 7 and about 6 of them straight-up serve Nordic/Scandanvian/Swedish food. (This is an older video when Gothenburg only had 5 Michelin-starred restaurants).

What makes these restaurants more impressive, is that they aren’t pretentious and overly booked. You don’t have 6 month waiting lists to get a place at this restaurant.

However dinning out in Sweden is not cheap, and even though the restaurants are not pretentious the cost can rack up quite easily at expensive restaurants. A culinary destination will have its share of high quality street food, and Gothenburg has a growing food truck culture with a balance of good traditional affordable fare and wacky creations.

As the name suggests most food trucks located all over the city and not always in permanent locations, however a good number of trucks place themselves permanently at the Magasinsgatan hipster street.

I didn’t manage to get any food from the food trucks (I was stuffed after my seafood and the next day all the food trucks were closed) which makes it a perfect reason to go back to try them, especially this one the Jinx Food Truck.

Good street food and top notch elite restaurants however leave a space open in the middle, good fairly-priced simple restaurant fare. That scene is also well served in Gothenburg it seems. The one I checked out was Ölstugan Tullen, a local chain serving Swedish style food in a pub/bar setting. Some of the chains are more winebars than pubs and it was what the locals recommended. If it’s good enough for the locals, it’s good enough for me.

I chose the one in a slightly more residential district, directly adjacent to the central business area to get a more authentic feel of the restaurant. Stepping in, I knew I had made the right choice. The pub was staffed by locals, the restaurant did not have an English menu, everything was in Swedish (and it made sense since their clients were mostly local).

I ordered the most  popular dish here, fried cheddar served with a side of greens, sauteed potatoes and raddish. The dishes here, as you can see from the board are all 100 SEK or under, which is fantastically affordable by Swedish standards.

The star of the show was the cheese. It was amazingly stringy and rich cheese that I cut into and it held a beautiful blend of textures. Crispy on the outside, smooth and runny on the inside. I has never thought of cheese as a main in a dish, to my Asian palate cheese was also an accompaniment or a side.

I didn’t eat a lot, there was way too much to see and too little time and storage space. There is good food at all price points, its produce is fresh and local – Gothenburg deserves its Culinary Capital title.

…still, that Fried Chicken though…

ON THE MAP (Feskekôrka)

ON THE MAP (Magasinsgatan Food Trucks)

ON THE MAP (Ölstugan Tullen)

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