Scandinavia’s Christmas City & Rudolph for Lunch.
We decided a few months ago that we would try and take a weekend trip once a month while we are here in London, to take advantage of the proximity of so many amazing countries. However, this thoroughly unaffordable goal could only be accomplished if we had very few other requirements for the trips. So, it was decided that we would keep an eye on Eurostar and flight sales, and book the best deals that came across our inboxes. Wherever they were to.
When we were booking our Christmas trip I added one other requirement. It had to be Christmas-y. So when £19 fares to Gothenburg, Sweden came up for a weekend mid-December, we booked straight away to visit what many call Scandinavia’s Christmas City. And boy, was it Christmas-y. Everywhere we turned… Christmas. We stayed with a lovely couple in the Masthugget district, in their gorgeous flat.
We walked through Slottsskogen, a huge park in the city, and made friends with a particularly goofy goat and some elk.
We spent the weekend wandering the cobbled district of Haga and downtown Gothenburg, stuffing ourselves with Kardamumma Bullar (cardamom buns), Kanelbullar (cinnamon buns), and Blåbär (blueberry) versions of the same. Fika, a Swedish verb and noun for drinking coffee accompanied with something sweet was completed many times a day – however we soon swapped out coffee for varm choklad (hot chocolate) which was SO GOOD. EVERYWHERE. No matter how much it cost, how touristy or tacky the cafe, they were all made from chocolate buttons melted slowly into milk and topped with sweetened whipped cream. Our most decadent version of hot chocolate is the norm in Sweden. Why are we still doing hot chocolate any other way?? Da Matteo was our favourite stop – you can grab any of their baked goods and a bowl of hot chocolate and sit in their coffee roaster room, surrounded by sacks of coffee and the smell of baked goods.
There are two guilty sins I enjoy when heading into any new country. One, as a food writer, is not so bad – I like to wander the aisles of the local grocery stores and look at all the interesting, different foods. The second, I’m just going to admit to straight up.
McDonald’s. There is nothing that sums up a local cuisine better than by looking at the local options at McDonald’s. In Gothenburg, it told me two things: one, that the town is obsessed with Christmas – there is an entire christmas menu. Our first night in we enjoyed the aptly named ‘Christmas Cheese’. What was different about the burger? Well, it was cheesy. Did it taste Christmas-y? If you associate cheese with Christmas, perhaps. But it did taste distinctly… Swedish. I don’t know how to explain that.
Two, Sweden is full of vegetarians. This vegetarianism spawned perhaps one of the greatest McDonald’s menu items in history – the chilli cheese tops. For 150 kroner (roughty £1.30) you get four triangular shaped nuggets. The batter is closer to the one that covers the filet-o-fish than the one on chicken nuggets, and the filling is like someone took a machete to some jalapeno poppers. Green chillies. Mixed in melted cheese. Covered with a crispy batter. Fried. WHY ARE THESE THINGS NOT A GLOBAL SENSATION?
We had landed in Sweden on St Lucia’s Day, a day when the Swedes celebrate a murdered Italian saint. We caught glimpses of private parties where adults were dancing wearing crowns of candles, and we stumbled across St Lucia singers in the streets.
We stopped into Cafe Husaren in the Haga district to try one of their world famous kanelbullar, a giant, head sized cinnamon bun.
The Haga street market was full of stalls filled with pastries and buns and meats and fish. Salmon sellers and waffle makers were surrounded by Christmas trees and a buzzing, excited crowd.
We head up to the Feskekörka, literally, ‘fish church’. It is an indoor fish market designed to resemble a Gothic church. The market is home to one of the cities favourite seafood restaurants – but I grabbed some smoked prawns and hot smoked salmon to take home for my breakfast. We had plans – plans for reindeer.
We jumped on the tram down to Liseberg, the theme park that turns into a muli-borough Christmas town during december. Trees and lights and rides and markets and my favourite… Lapland.
Lapland was the home to a small island on which sat some quite bored looking reindeer. My first ever encounter with the mythical deer. It was like all of my childhood wishes come true. So what did I do? I walked around the corner and ordered Suovas. What is that you ask? Well… it’s smoked reindeer.
Suovas is a very interesting dish. Safeguarded as a dish by the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, Reindeer suovas is a dish traditionally prepared by the indigenous Sami people. Reindeer herding is a professions limited to the ethnic Sami people by law, and the dish is prepared using traditional methods of dry-salting the meat and then smoking for 8 hours over an open fire. Originally a nomadic people, the Sami used to prepare reindeer this way to sustain them on the move. Served in unleavened flatbreads with lingonberries, ours was served with white cabbage and a cucumber sauce. Quite gamey and imbued with just enough of a smokey taste to balance the crispness of the tart lingonberries, it was a perfect meal, eaten in front of an open fire.
We wandered the markets, went on rides, and soaked up the christmas spirit. Sweden, it’s been grand – but I will see you again at Midsummer.