Sweden’s photogenic capital Stockholm is currently experiencing a sweet resurgence in its gastronomy. Three words seem to define this dynamic culinary shift: sustainability, tradition and fusion.
Many chefs and restaurants are returning to simple traditional Nordic cooking that focuses on simplicity while using regional ingredients. They are deconstructing classic Swedish soul food called husmanskost – dishes made from reindeer, moose and wild boar, as well as seafood classics such as pickled herring and cured salmon – to preserve the country’s rich culinary heritage.
At the other end of the spectrum, fusion restaurants are not only using local ingredients, but also seizing on the Swedish love of Asia by serving high-quality dishes inspired by cuisine from Thailand, Vietnam, Japan and India.
The sustainability movement currently flowing through Stockholm’s food scene improves accessibility to usually high-end organic produce from fishermen and farmers, supports sustainable practices by suppliers, curbs food wastage and reduces environmental impact.
Returning to culinary roots
On Stockholm’s greenest island Djurgarden, framed by lush parks and harbour waters, is where you’ll find Oaxen Krog (below), a restaurant run by chef Magnus Ek, the winner of the 2017 White Guide Merroir Award. The word “merroir” denotes the complete conditions in which seafood thrives in its optimal state to retain the best flavour.
“I hope winning this award brings more awareness to how we treat the fish in our waters and take better care of them,” says Ek. This includes not just using fish and molluscs, but also exploring plants from the sea like various types of seaweed.
When it comes to creating food, Ek’s philosophy is simple, with a focus on local and regional ingredients. “We like to explore the wild herbs on Djurgarden, the island where we are located, and choose unique ingredients from the Nordic region,” he shares. “Quality, taste, sustainable agriculture and humane animal husbandry are what I look for. We cook our food (above) in a modern way, but use traditional techniques.”
On Oaxen’s six- and 10-course menus, you’ll find a delectable mix of ingredients such as fermented mushrooms, pickled vegetables, wild rosemary, smoked ox marrow, seaweed, fish roe from Kalix, wild berries and juniper, to name a few. These tastes hark back to what the Nordics are known for – simple rustic flavours.
Fusing international influences
Named Sweden’s best restaurant by the White Guide, Japanese-inspired Esperanto is located in the old Jarla Theater in the heart of Stockholm. Under the direction of well-known restaurateur Sayan Isaksson, the venue blends Scandinavian terroir and Japanese technique to create aesthetically impressive dishes that border on art.
Hand-dived scallops served with turnip and shiitake mushrooms; langoustines with millet and buckwheat; and pork served with sugar kelp are only a few fusion selections at Esperanto.
For rising stars Adam Dahlberg and Albin Wessman behind fusion restaurant Adam/Albin (above), their gastronomic profile is based on produce they personally love, which they prepare with simplicity to spotlight their flavours – from miso ramen to chilli pork noodles.
“We are inspired by all the great cooking you can find around the world,” share Dahlberg and Wessman. “But the base of our cooking is founded on our Swedish gastronomic heritage.”
Having recently picked up the White Guide Star of the Year Award, the duo welcome the recognition with aplomb. “It means our guests understand what kind of restaurant we are trying to accomplish and, more importantly, that they like this new style of casual fine dining,” they add.
SEE ALSO: What to eat in Stockholm, Sweden
Eco-friendly practices thread a lot of Stockholm’s restaurants, with many of them getting organically certified and working on zero-waste philosophies in line with the United Nations’ 2030 sustainability goals.
The 2017 White Guide award for sustainable gastronomy went to Restaurant Volt, whose philosophy is to work as locally as possible with only organic products. “At the moment, we use 90 per cent organic ingredients. This also includes using sustainable energy and organic cleaning equipment,” says co-owner Johan Bengtsson (above). “We work with the seasons and preserve a lot, so we can use the ingredients during dark harsh winters when almost nothing grows.”
In a section of its website called Our Friends, Volt lists local producers – farmers, butchers, fishmongers and cideries – it collaborates with, practising what it preaches. Its four- and six-course menus include tastes such as shallots and goat’s cheese, deer meat with capers, cod with fermented garlic and cabbage, as well as beef with leek and preserved currants.
The White Guide Terroir Award winner Fotografiska is one of the best museum restaurants in the world. According to its chef and food creator Paul Svensson (above), its green food philosophy is about “sustainable pleasure”. The restaurant creates dishes around a plant in season and serves meat or fish as a side. “It is neither vegetarian nor vegan cuisine but, rather, plant-based. We are in search of the perfect proportions for pleasure, health and environment,” shares Svensson. “Our main goal is to provide food and drink experiences that describe a place, time of year, specific flavour and quality of products from our region and climate zone.”
Fusion beyond the plate
Fusion is no longer found on plates alone and extends to the overall interior decor and dining experience. Furniture designer Wood Stockholm (below) opened a bistro in 2015 next to its showroom in Mosebacke Torg.
Conceptualised by Lars and Martin Stenso, who are known for their innovative designs and craftsmanship, with natural wood as their medium of choice, the bistro or matbar (food bar) was opened with the “aim of creating a functional restaurant, where everyone should feel welcome and be able to enjoy a warm and beautiful environment”. Its equally rustic menu serves root vegetables, herbs and natural produce that are pickled, fermented or smoked.
Stockholm’s culinary future
With a culture running on fairness and equality, the city’s food future looks very bright, catering to every taste. “We are cooking more vegetarian food, or at least many more vegetarian-friendly options,” shares Ek.
Both Dahlberg and Wessman agree. “There are a lot of vegetarian alternatives at many restaurants now. For us, it’s obvious to have green dishes on the menu since we love vegetables,” they add.
“Last year has mainly been the year for plant-based food, sustainable restaurants as well as small pizza places, which battle around the question of whether the Roman or Neapolitan pizza style is the best,” notes Svensson.
A rising number of bistro-style bakficka (back-pocket) restaurants, run by prestigious chefs, provide value for money and make high-quality food accessible to everyone without special reservations. This accessibility, which prioritises locally sourced, organic produce with sustainable practices while catering to as many tastes as possible, is what is making Stockholm’s culinary scene a force to be reckoned with.
– TEXT BY LOLA AKINMADE AKERSTROM
PHOTOS: CREATIVE COMMONS ERKANNANDE (OAXEN KROG), MAGNUS SKOGLIF (ADAM/ALBIN), LOLA AKINMADE AKERSTROM (VOLT), HAKAN GUSTAFSSON (CHEF PAUL SVENSSON), ERIK VALLSTEN (WOOD STOCKHOLM)
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.