Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Stockholm is where the heart is

There are no ugly people in Sweden. Nobody is overweight and no-one is badly dressed. Swedes seem to exude an understated grace and style with an effortless and genteel humility not present in cities that are equally modish. Rome immediately springs to mind, which somehow manages to offset its intrinsic panache with a self-congratulatory air. In the formal side of the city, the men all look as if they have been dressed by Ralph Lauren with narrow cut suits and perfectly folded pocket squares. Clean cuts and jutting jaw lines make way for quirky plastic sunglasses and leggings in Södermalm, the beating Boho heart of the city just south of the old town. I imagine it is what the inside of Agyness Deyn’s head looks like, it really is that cool. In between, there is a beautiful clean city with an abnormally low crime rate, few homeless (official figures estimate that there are about two but I managed to count at least six) and a bracing freshness from the clean sea on which the Stockholm archipelago sits. To give you an idea of just how clean this water is, anyone can pitch up with their fishing rod – no licence required – and catch salmon and sea trout which they are free to take home and eat. There are areas of peaceful greenery (over 2/3 of the city is greenbelt and there are a massive 38 parks) where Stockholmites take a lunchtime respite from the buzz of the workplace, there are over 100 museums and art galleries and countless bars. Restaurants serve food from all the far flung corners of the world, hardly surprising considering that the Swedish culinary heritage is somewhat limited, delicious but limited, thanks to the harsh long winters and the inability of the frozen land to yield substantial crops for a vast proportion of the year. It is a liberal, easy-going city where recent immigrants seem to exist happily alongside the Nordic residents.

Can any city be so absolutely utopian? Of course not. All this glorious perfection comes at a price. A painfully, almost prohibitively expensive price. Everything is about 25 per cent more expensive than we would perhaps be used to. It’s like the entire country is a branch of Waitrose. Every time you are presented with a bill there is a frisson of surprise, a thought they may have got it wrong then a realisation of where you actually are resulting in a shrugging of the shoulders and peeling off another wodge of bank notes from a rapidly decreasing stack. But with such effortlessly beautiful people around you begin not to care and almost feel obliged to pay over the odds to compensate for your own inadequacy: ‘sorry for sullying your country, have some more krona.’ Don’t get me wrong, the Swedes are friendly and welcoming but being surrounded by so much blonde hair and well-fitting clothes is certain to bring on a slight self-consciousness in anyone. And I’m even half Swedish so I dread to think how the average Iowan or Japanese tourist must feel.

There will be more of the food later, I just think it is important to contextualise and create a sense of mise en place before launching headfirst into herring and knäckerbröd so this is little more than a gentle introduction and brief summary of our first meal in this Hythlodayian paradise. We had hot dogs. In fact we had four hot dogs. The first was good (a kokt korv – boiled sausage) but lasted approximately four seconds so we had another of those before moving on and venturing towards the old town where we passed another street vendor selling similar wares. For reasons of comparison we chose the grilled variety this time which proved to be far superior. Just to make sure, we had another to galvanize our opinion. I should also add that we had not eaten a thing since 6am that morning and as it was fast approaching 6pm we felt justified in indulging in some vaguely gluttonous behaviour. Somehow, I think the Swedes may not have approved.


dp said...

That picture is hillarious! I showed hubby and he chuckled and had a look like "typical swede". He's Danish.

I've always been puzzled by the Scandinavian love affair with the hotdog. In Denmark, they were the #1 take out food. How an entire country can collectively consume so much emulsified pork and fat and manage to stay "thin" is a mystery. Probably all that damned bike riding.

Alicia Foodycat said...

So what do Swedes put on their hot dog? My preference (as an Australian of eclectic tastes) is sauerkraut, fried onions, melted cheese and German mustard on grilled Kransky.

Cheeky Spouse said...

I really enjoyed reading your post. I like to get some background about a country as well as read about it's food.
I haven't been to Stockholm but I've stayed in Göteborg, in Sweden and had a lovely time.

The hotdog thing is a big phenomenon in Scandinavia isn't it?
I often stay in Reykjavík and the Icelandic people are very fond of them too - all dripping with a mass of different toppings!

Just Cook It said...

Hey DP. Glad the picture raised a smile! It was only partly posed but I thought it illustrated the post quite well. I reckon there were at least 50 hot dog sellers in Stockholm, they have a real love for it. And whenever we play the 'last supper' game, hot dogs are always my number one choice. Maybe it is genetic! They have free bikes in Stockholm as well that you can pick up and drop off at designated drop off points. Amazing. If they tried that here they would last 24 hours before they all disappeared into the river.

Just Cook It said...

Foodycat - The Swedes tend to go for one of a number of toppings, some more unsual than others. The most common is the unbeatable 'ketchup-senap' combo: good old fashioned tomato ketchup and a sweet-ish mustard. However for the more adventurous you can chose from fried onions, gherkins, chorizo and even mashed potato (more on that later!)

Just Cook It said...

Hi Cheeky Spouse thanks for the comment. Really pleased you liked it. My mum is from a little village close to Gothenburg so I know that part of Sweden quite well, it is next on the list! The hot dog really does seem to be massive throughout the whole of northern Europe, even into Germany, of course, where they have a whole bunch of different sausages including the rather tasty curry-wurst. Strange for such an otherwise health conscious part of the world, as DP said.

Thistlemoon said...

Norwegians like their hot dogs too! What can I say, I think they are great and I am not ashamed to say so!