1. Inlagt sill (pickled herring)
Herring was staple fare for the fishing communities in the islands, inlets and archipelagos off the West Coast of Sweden. A watch would be kept for the plentiful shoals off the coast and the boats sent out to bring in the herring, which would be smoked, pickled or salted to sustain families through the long, hard winters. Many of the coastal towns also had factories and canneries that packed and preserved the herring and provided much of the local employment. In Gothenburg, especially in the winter you’ll find herring served in endless varieties with spices and sauces – everyone’s granny has their own family recipe that’s been handed down from their mother to daughter. At hotel breakfasts and buffets you may notice large bowls with different styles of herring and you can look out them at the counters in the Feskekörka fish market in Gothenburg. We enjoyed this fish and herring platter with four different types of herring at Restaurant Gabriel in the Feskekörka.
On high days and holiday, at Easter, Christmas and during the summer crayfish parties and practically any time there’s an excuse, the Swedes will bring out the Snaps. It’s an aquavit with attitude that can be flavoured with fruits or drunk just as it comes. O.P Anderson is a favourite brand and the snaps goes particularly well with the herring, cutting through the rich, oily flavour. You can hear a traditional Snaps drinking song on my podcast about Gothenburg. If you’re not a great drinker like me then a sip will be enough to warm you through, but a true Swede will knock back the Snaps with a hearty Viking toast, Skol!
We were in Gothenburg in December which is the perfect time to try the ultra-fresh oysters caught off the West Coast of Sweden. There are many fantastic seafood restaurants in the city but we tried our oysters at Restaurant Gabriel in the Feskekörka Fish Market (literally the Fish Church). The owner Johan Malm was the World Champion Oyster Opener in the 2010 Championships held in Galway, Ireland so I reckon that he should know a thing about oysters. Johan told us that although there are many ways to serve oysters, he always prefers them as natural as possible with just a squeeze of lemon to bring out the metallic taste of the sea. The trick is to make sure that you don’t just swallow them down but chew properly to get the full flavour. You can hear my interview with Johan Malm with all his oyster stories in my podcast about Gothenburg.
4. The Christmas Table or Julbord
In December and the run up to Christmas, many hotels and restaurants serve the Julbord or Christmas table – a buffet where you can try all the traditional foods that would be served at Christmas. There’s an emphasis on the pickled and the preserved that would keep you going through the winter, with plenty of herring, smoked salmon, cured meats and stuffed eggs. The old Swedish tradition was always to keep a pig and then kill it near Christmas. The Julbord can be eaten over an extended lunchtime or in the evening and is especially popular at weekends for families and groups of friends, to get you in the festive mood. We enjoyed the spread at our hotel, Elite Plaza served in the Swea Hof restaurant and I’ve also had a local Gothenburg recommendation for the Julbord at Sjömagasinet, situated at the mouth of Gothenburg harbour as well as Salt & Sill which is 40km north of Gothenburg, and would be one to try if you have a car or are touring West Sweden.
5. Herring from a cart
If you’re on a budget and want to try a classic Swedish fish dish then make sure that you are in Magasinsgatan around lunchtime on a weekday to find the Strömmingsluckan herring cart open (it’s in the courtyard right by Cafe Da Matteo). The owner Thomas told us that these street food carts are very common in East Sweden but there are not so many in West Sweden so they decided to open one to serve traditional fried herring with creamy mashed potato and lingonberry sauce – it was yummy – if you don’t believe me watch the video!
6. Take a Fika break – coffee and cinnamon buns
If you didn’t realise the Swedes are great drinkers of coffee, you’ll work it out as soon as you get to Gothenburg. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee wafts from coffee bars in alleyways and courtyards – in winter a cosy place to get out of the chilly winds and in summer a place to relax in a courtyard or park. Fika is what they call it in Sweden – to have a Fika is to have a coffee break, a chat with friends and pass the time of day, perhaps sustained with a cake or traditional cinnamon bun. The cinnamon buns are ENORMOUS swirls of sugary-spicy sweetness, reputedly invented at Cafe Husaren in the heart of Haga – you can’t miss them piled up the window on the main street of Haga Nyata.
In the neighbourhood of Nordstaden, not far from the port there’s Cafe Kronhuset in the courtyard next to the oldest building in Gothenburg, an old artillery store with copper shutters and some craft shops around the courtyard. Then there’s the local’s choice, Cafe Da Matteo with a small branch in the courtyard at Magasinsgatan and across the courtyard a larger branch where they make the bread and grind the coffee as well as a small branch in Viktoriapassagen. In the old working neighborhood of Haga you’ll be spoiled for Fika choice. We tried Cafe Kringlan, marked out by the golden bagel outside and the stunning selections of cakes, pastries and buns inside and then right at the far end of Haga Nyata we came across Le Petit Cafe with sea green chinoiserie wallpaper and vintage knick knacks – so very olde worlde Swedish.
7. Chocolate with sea salt
For chocolate with an unusual salty sweetness, seek out one of the Kanold chocolate shops . The one at the end of Viktoriapassagen is a cross between old fashioned candy store and boutique chocolatier with striped candy canes, marzipan pigs and melt in the mouth chocolate truffles with sophisticated and unusual taste combinations. The house speciality is the “Gothenburg Truffle’” invented by the boss of Flickorna (The Girls) Kanold, Jeanna Kanold, a charming lady who I found serving in the shop on the Sunday before Christmas that I was there. She told me how she invented the Gothenburg truffle which has a soft truffle centre topped with flakes of sea salt because she wanted a flavour that epitomised the taste of West Sweden with the ocean and the seafood.
The Cafe Kanold just around the corner is elegantly styled with sparkling chandeliers and washed out Swedish blue woodwork. I can recommend the hot chocolate with chili flakes to keep out the cold and send you out with renewed energy for exploring Gothenburg. I’ll be amazed if you leave without buying a few of those tempting chocolates and cakes at the counter.
8. Michelin Star Restaurants in Gothenburg
I can’t go without mentioning that Gothenburg has a huge reputation as a gourmet destination and was recently crowned the Culinary Capital of Sweden with no less than 5 Michelin star restaurants to enjoy. We were lucky enough to eat at Basement, where I met the Head Chef, Camilla Parkner to find out what makes the food in Gothenburg so special. You can read my account of our meal at Basement and my video interview with Camilla in my article about Gourmet Gothenburg.
Of course, eating at a Michelin star restaurant can be expensive and something that most of us would reserve for a special treat or celebration meal but if you’re looking for the gourmet experience then do make a reservation at one of the top Michelin star restaurants in Gothenburg. They often offer a more reasonably priced lunchtime menu, or a cheaper pre-theatre or bar menu so you can still try them out if you’re on a limited budget. In addition to Basement, the other Michelin star restaurants in Gothenburg are;
28+ (Just next door to Basement) which started as a cheese shop; Kock & Vin for classic dining with Swedish ingredients and in the basement is a popular bistro and wine bar Bjorns Bar; Fond in a glass building by the Gothenburg Museum of Art and Thörnströms Kök for modern Scandinavian and regional cooking