Seafood in Stockholm
Lola A. Åkerström explains seafood in Stockholm, its culture, and spotlights some of the best seafood restaurants in the city.
There’s one cuisine Stockholm does quite well alongside traditional Swedish dishes and that is seafood (skaldjur). The city’s proximity to the Baltic Sea and centuries of fishing out their daily sustenance from the Atlantic Ocean, North Sea, and Baltic Sea means Swedes have mastered the art of cooking seafood, but more importantly, have uncovered the true versatility of fish.
Things to know
There are a couple things to consider when consuming seafood in Sweden in general. Think more actual ”fish” as opposed to jumbo prawns and squid which are the seafood options associated with the Mediterranean and Southern Europe. Lest you find yourself disappointed if tiger prawns aren’t readily available once you arrive.
Speaking of tiger prawns, according to the Swedish site Scampi.nu, “the production of this shrimp destroys millions of poor peoples’ lives and devastates one of the world’s most productive ecosystems – the Mangrove forest.” The farming of tiger prawns has grave environmental impacts and this has caused many restaurants in Stockholm to stop serving them and many grocery stores have pulled them off their seafood shelves.
In the Nordics, it’s mostly all types of fresh fish and baby prawns, crawfish and fish roe, and all manner of smoked fish. Yes, you’ll still find larger shellfish and mollusks in a few restaurants but they’re far and few in-between.
Fish from the Baltic Sea has gotten a lot of bad press in recent years. Because the Baltic Sea is the world’s most polluted sea, large amounts of bad chemicals were found in the Baltic herring in the 90s. Since then, the European Union (EU) has cracked down on the amounts of organic contaminants that can be legally present in fish when sold for consumption.
Before you worry about possible future mutation or cancer from eating Baltic Sea-sourced fish, eating fish is good for you and it supplies protein, vitamins, and fatty acids needed to keep your healthy glow. The EU recognizes their health benefits which far outweigh their speculative cancer-causing threats and recommends you vary the fish you eat and reduce the amount of large Baltic fish in your diet. As long as consumers are regularly kept informed of any harmful effects, the EU still allows Sweden to sell Baltic fish that exceed the maximum dioxins allowed.
Seafood options to look out for
When scanning menus for seafood, here are a few options you probably can’t go wrong with when deciding what to tuck into.
Sill (Pickled Herring) – Herring is an integral part of Nordic culture. Known as Sill in Swedish (which, if pronounced incorrectly may imply shooting drugs), there are 15 species of this silver colored fish worldwide. Chances are you’ll be eating either Atlantic or Baltic herring in Sweden.
Atlantic herring usually referred to as North Sea herring are mostly found in the northern part of the Atlantic Ocean. Baltic herring, ailing from the brackish waters of the Baltic Sea, are the smaller, leaner cousins of North Sea herrings with a lot less salt and fat- about 16% fat.
Pickled, smoked, salted, fried, broiled, marinated, sautéed, and baked are just a few forms in which you will find this delectable fish eaten all over Stockholm. Herrings are suited for just about any cooking technique you can think of. Mustard herring, onion herring, dill herring, and blackcurrant herring are just a few you may find in your smörgåsbord. In casseroles, herrings are rolled up and topped with everything for pure artery-clogging butter, dill, a myriad of light spices, to onions and tomatoes.
Salmon (Lax) – When in doubt, it never hurts to fall back on this popular fish with its pink flaky flesh. Even better if you try traditional cured salmon (gravad lax or gravlax) which is usually served cold. Not to be confused with its smoked cousin (röktlax, also known as ‘lox in the US), cured salmon is thin slices of raw salmon cured for 2-4 days in a sugar-salt brine solution with dill added. So you get a sweeter, juicer flavor. In restaurants, it’s often served with dill potatoes or yellow boiled potatoes called almond potatoes alongside a sweet mustard sauce called gravadlaxsås.
Räksmörgås (Shrimp sandwich) – So integral to Swedish society that it inspired a Swedish proverb “att glida in på en räkmacka”, the shrimp sandwich is king in Stockholm. Loosely translated as “gliding in on a shrimp sandwich”, this popular phrase means getting something so effortlessly easily. Never having to struggle or just having something drop in your lap easily. Loads of baby shrimps seem to slip and slide atop dollops of mayonnaise along with lettuce, tomatoes, slices of boiled egg, dill sprigs, and some orange fish roe on this quintessentially Swedish sandwich.
Skagen (Seafood mix) – Often written as “skagen”, “skagenröra”, or “toast skagen” (served on toasted bread), this seafood dish is a mixture of shrimp, mayonnaise and dill with creme fraiche, sour cream, red onions, and fish roe. It is often served on a slice of toasted white bread or as a filling with avocado in sandwiches, and is quite tasty.
Fisksoppa/Fiskgryta (Fish soup/chowder) – Large chunks of salmon and other white fish, delicate baby shrimps, sometimes crawfish, all in a thick tomato-based seafood broth, this is hearty soul food Scandinavian-style.
Rökta räkor (Smoked shrimps) – Often served in little buckets and bowls, this is a “peel and eat” type delicacy of lightly smoked shrimps served with bread, butter, and a dipping sauce like aioli. These go down very easily and before you know it, you’re ordering up another bucket.
Strömming (Fried Baltic Herring) – If you’re out with a Swede and they order strömming off the menu, follow suit immediately. This traditional Swedish dish is fried Baltic herring served on a bed of fluffy buttery mashed potatoes and topped with so much liquid butter that your heart palpitates a little extra upon sight.
Röding (Arctic Char) – You really can’t go wrong with any fish you order off a menu but if you happen to see Arctic Char listed, forget the other options and order this one. Similar to salmon in terms of being from the same family and having the same consistency, Arctic char is a cold-water fish which has lighter colored flesh and is usually served pan-seared. A favorite among locals and you’ll understand why once you try it.
Seafood restaurants to try
Once you’re ready to dig into some of the freshest seafood the city has to offer, here are some restaurants worth checking out.
Blaiseholmens Akvarium och Restaurang (B.A.R)
Short of catching your own fish, you can pick out still-swimming lobsters and raw fish for cooking at Blaiseholmens Akvarium och Restaurang; thankfully shortened to B.A.R. Run by award-winning chefs Henrik Norström and Peter Johansson, the restaurant has a fish market feel to it and you can also pick up sea bass, Arctic char, halibut, salmon, shrimps, crab, roe, and a wide variety of raw seafood by the kilo to take home after dinner.
A hip seafood joint with some of the freshest platters in town, Stockholm Fisk serves oysters and smoked shrimp in little tin buckets with fresh bread and aioli, and pan-seared fillets with roasted potatoes. If you love seafood, you’ll find affordable yet high quality selections at Stockholm Fisk.
You can dig into the freshest seafood in town at Lisa Elmqvist in Östermalms Saluhall, a popular food market open since 1888. It serves Swedish classics like fried salted herring with onions and cream, salt-cured salmon with dill-creamed potatoes, and marinated Arctic char with sweet mustard sauce and grilled asparagus. You can also buy caviar, salmon roe, smoked salmon, and other seafood garnishes and condiments from its store as souvenirs.
Ostra Matsal och bar
Located close to Stockholm’s trendy Stureplan district, you’ll find high quality seafood at this restaurant and expect to dole out money for it. Sample dishes include dill-infused cod with cauliflower puree and asparagus served in a red wine reduction as well as fried lobster served with seaweed.
Melanders Fisk & Restaurang in Söderhallarna
For a quick yet filling and worthy lunch option, check out Melanders Fish in Söderhallarna – a food hall on Södermalm where you can grab lunch as well as shop for fresh ingredients. Melanders Fisk serves wonderful fish dishes like mussels and French fries (moules frites), sole, baked monkfish with prawns, and seafood soup. Melanders also has several locations across Stockholm so be sure to check out their website for a location closer to where you’ll be staying.
If you’re looking for shellfish platters, look no further than Oyster Bar where you’ll find generous-sized platters of shellfish like oysters, mussels, shrimps, crab, scallops, fish roe, and more served with its special house seafood sauce, lemon wedges for squeezing, and fresh bread. You can also dig into seafood or lobster soup, shrimp salad, and toast skagen.
Wedholms Fisk is definitely on the high end pricewise and it’s a classic Stockholm harbor fixture. Traditional in both décor and its straightforward menu, you’ll find simply garnished yet high quality seafood dishes and platters with lunch options also available at more affordable prices.