Gothenburg: Sweden’s Culinary Capital

Gothenburg: Sweden’s Culinary Capital

Lola A. Åkerström highlights why the city of Gothenburg is Sweden’s Culinary Capital.

Fresh fish for sale at Feskekörka fish market and hall

Fresh fish for sale at Feskekörka fish market and hall. All photos by author.

When it comes to food, there are two types Sweden does exceptionally well – wild game and seafood. Winning gold in the Culinary Olympics held this year in Erfut, Germany in which over 50 nations send their finest chefs to compete in hotly contested cook-offs every four years, Sweden took the crown with its spice-crusted red deer saddle – a game dish.

Its illustrious win once again cast the spotlight on the New Nordic cuisine movement which focuses on locally sourced, seasonal, and organic ingredients like reindeer, moose, forest berries, chanterelles, truffles, and seafood.

Hosting Sweden’s largest fish auction in its harbor since 1910 to “Shellfish Journeys” which allow travelers and locals alike to hop aboard lobster and crawfish fishing boats, farm for oysters and mussels, and follow these crustaceans all the way to their dinner plates, locals know to head down to Gothenburg where its proximity to cold clean waters of the North Atlantic Ocean blesses it with the freshest fish and shellfish in the entire country.

So much so that Gothenburg, the country’s second largest city after capital Stockholm, was awarded the 2012 Culinary Capital of Sweden distinction, thus solidifying its gastronomic prowess.

While Barcelona has La Boqueria and London has Borough Market, Gothenburg has an iconic food market dedicated to all things seafood. A scenic walk along Rosenlund’s Canal which surrounds the city’s core in a moat-like fashion takes you to instantly recognizable Feskekörka (“Fish Church”) which has been a landmark market since 1874.

Here, you’ll find fishmongers peddling whole salmon, giant chunks of tuna, cod fillets, langoustines, crawfish, fresh crabs, pickled herring, and anything else that once swam or scurried across the ocean floor in an old historic church building.

Fresh fish for sale at Feskekörka fish market and hall

Fresh fish for sale at Feskekörka fish market and hall

This reverence for fish and shellfish continues within the cathedral-style wooden roof frames and airy fisherman’s wharf décor of iconic Sjömagasinet; a renowned seafood restaurant with spectacular harbor views of the Göta estuary.

Under the mastery of Sweden’s 2010 “Årets Kock” (Chef of the Year) Gustav Trägårdh and restaurateur Ulf Wagner, Sjömagasinet whips up delicate, soft, and flavorful seafood-inspired dishes like sashimi salmon marinated in homemade soya mustard sauce, its signature lobster claw with bacon bits, pine nuts, and raisins, and pan-seared cod topped with fried anchovy fillets.

The building itself harkens back to Gothenburg’s deeply entrenched nautical culture when it served as warehouse for the Swedish East India Company in 1775 and onwards.

As you move through Gothenburg’s gastronomical powerhouses, you’ll notice an underlying trend of holding fast to tradition – both physically and on the palate. While Sweden is known for cutting edge design and innovation, it remains surprisingly traditional when it comes to its cooking; opting for local flavors and seasonal ingredients over the latest cooking fads.

Pan seared cod with fingerling potatoes, quail eggs, and baby shrimps topped with crispy fried anchoives at iconic waterfront restaurant, Sjömagasinet

Pan seared cod with fingerling potatoes, quail eggs, and baby shrimps topped with crispy fried anchoives at iconic waterfront restaurant, Sjömagasinet

A name synonymous with Swedish cuisine in Gothenburg is legendary chef Leif Mannerström. So much so that in celebration of his 70th birthday, the city of Gothenburg named one of its famous blue street trams after him.

Mannerström ran Sjömagasinet for 16 years before taking over equally iconic Kometen (“The Comet”), a popular haunt for locals and celebrities alike. Over 75 years old with original chandeliers, cherry wood furniture, and paintings from decades past, for locals who’ve dined here for years, Kometen feels like going over to grandma’s on a lazy Sunday afternoon for pot roast. Only instead of pot roast, you get pickled herring, cod, anchovies, and all manner of seafood.

Even among the city’s four Michelin-starred institutions, tradition still takes root as chefs explore, create, and present innovative menus.

At Thörnströms Kök, you’ll find alongside your meal 8-10 different types of mini sourdough bread featuring flavors of fennel and sea salt, lemon and dill, walnut, polenta, brioche, onion, rosemary, cumin, raisin, sunflower seeds amongst others which Chef Håkan Thörnström has been baking himself every day for the last 15 years.

Behind the scenes at Michelin-starred Thörnströms kök

Behind the scenes at Michelin-starred Thörnströms kök

The kitchen uses local seasonal ingredients – the common thread beneath New Nordic cuisine. Using pumpkin as one seasonal example, the unique flavor of this squash permeates dishes such as his butter fried halibut in a langoustine reduction with pumpkin puree and a pumpkin seed, watercress, and tomato salad.

If you’d rather stick to edible mammals over seafood, locals nod in consensus whenever Familjen (“The Family”) is mentioned.  Warm red and green minimalist Scandinavian-style décor welcomes diners to this fixture just off Gothenburg’s popular boulevard, Avenyn.

Under restaurateur Björn Persson’s watchful eye, Familjen stays true to tradition while adding a modern twist to Swedish soul food on its weekly rotating menu. Classic dishes are given modern facelifts such as “Pytt i panna”, a quintessentially Nordic potato and meat hash dish which is turned into its exquisite lamb and roasted root vegetables with pickled summer beets, caramelized onions, and topped with anchovy butter.

A quick scan through other items on Familjen’s menu – wild boar, homemade sausage with caramelized cabbage, beef tartar with bleak roe cream, fried bone marrow – all suggest fresh, local, and seasonal items along with traditional Swedish ingredients like almonds, chanterelles, and rosehip.

Navigating Gothenburg’s culinary scene would be incomplete without a nod to native son turned celebrity chef, Marcus Samuelsson of Harlem’s Red Rooster fame in New York.

Alongside Executive Chef Jimmy Lappalainen, both men are the creative forces behind Norda Bar & Grill housed in Gothenburg’s Old Post Office turned Clarion Post Hotel. Norda combines bold flavors of America’s East Coast cooking with local ingredients from Western Sweden across its Hav (“sea” for seafood) and Land (meat) style menu.

Mini burgers with a Swedish ingredients at Marcus Samuelsson's Norda Bar & Grill

Mini burgers with a Swedish ingredients at Marcus Samuelsson’s Norda Bar & Grill

Sure, you’ll find the likes of Mac and cheese or hamburgers on its menu, but don’t be fooled by their implied simplicity or American influence. Norda’s hand-cut fries come with truffle-flavored mayonnaise and its beef sourced from local green farms.

Shrimps used in its sandwiches are hand-peeled and topped with bleak roe, and its steak tartar comes with oysters – all local influences that define how Gothenburg’s proximity to the ocean and its surrounding forests permeates its culinary culture.

A modified version of this article was orginally written by Lola A. Åkerström for BBC Travel.

About the World Food Travel Summit

This year’s World Food Travel Summit is the fourth global conference produced by the World Food Travel Association since the Association’s inception in 2003. Previous summits have been held in Halifax, NS, Canada; San Francisco, California, USA; and Victoria, BC, Canada

It will be held September 21-24 in Gothenburg.

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Author: Lola A. Åkerström

Lola Akinmade Åkerström is an award-winning writer, photographer, and travel blogger, and is also the Founder/Editor-in-chief of Slow Travel Stockholm. Her photography is represented by National Geographic Creative. She tweets at @LolaAkinmade.

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