Navigating Gothenburg’s culinary scene
The kitchen at Michelin-starred Thörnströms Kök always uses local seasonal ingredients. (Lola Akinmade Åkerström)
When it comes to food, there are two things that Sweden does exceptionally well – wild game and seafood. In the Culinary Olympics, in which more than 50 nations send their finest chefs to compete in a hotly contested cook-off every four years, Sweden took gold in October 2012 with its dish of spice-crusted red deer saddle.
But for seafood, locals head straight to Gothenburg, Sweden’s second-largest city, whose proximity to the cold clean waters of the North Atlantic Ocean blesses it with the freshest fish and shellfish in the country. In fact, Gothenburg was named the 2012 Culinary Capital of Sweden, solidifying its gastronomic reputation.
Both of these illustrious wins have once again cast the spotlight on Scandinavia’s New Nordic cuisine movement, which focuses on locally sourced, seasonal and organic ingredients like reindeer, moose, forest berries, chanterelle mushrooms, truffles -- and of course, seafood.
Just as Barcelona has La Boqueria and London has Borough Market, Gothenburg has an iconic food market -- dedicated to all things fish. A scenic walk along Rosenlund’s Canal, which surrounds the city’s core like a moat, takes you to the instantly recognisable Feskekörka (“fish church”), which has been a landmark market since 1874. In the historic church building you will 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.
This reverence for fish and shellfish continues within the cathedral-style building of the iconic Sjömagasinet, a renowned seafood restaurant with airy decor and spectacular views of the Göta estuary. Under the mastery of Sweden’s 2010 Årets Kock (Chef of the Year) Gustav Trägårdh, Sjömagasinet serves delicate, soft and flavourful dishes like sashimi salmon marinated in homemade soya mustard sauce, lobster claw with bacon bits, pine nuts and raisins, and pan-seared cod topped with fried anchovy fillets. The building, constructed in 1775, harkens back to Gothenburg’s deeply-entrenched nautical culture as it was used as warehouse for the Swedish East India Company, a shipping company which operated out of Gothenburg in the 18th Century.
As you move through the city’s gastronomic powerhouses, you will notice a trend of holding onto tradition. While Sweden is known for cutting-edge design and innovation, Gothenburg and its seafood culture remains surprisingly traditional when it comes to its cooking; opting for local flavours and seasonal ingredients over the latest cooking fads.
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 named one of its iconic blue street trams after him. Mannerström ran Sjömagasinet for 16 years before taking over the equally famous Kometen (The Comet) in 2009, a popular eatery with both locals and celebrities. More than 75 years old with original chandeliers, cherry wood furniture and paintings from decades past, Kometen feels like going over to grandma’s on a lazy Sunday afternoon for roast dinner. Only instead of roast beef, you are served pickled herring, cod, anchovies and all manner of seafood along with locally-sourced meat.
Even among the city’s four one Michelin-starred institutions – an impressive feat in itself considering that Rome has only one Michelin-starred restaurant – tradition still lurks behind the innovative menus. At Thörnströms Kök, you will find eight to 10 different types of sourdough bread alongside your meal, featuring flavours of fennel and sea salt, lemon and dill, walnut, onion, rosemary and cumin among others, which chef Håkan Thörnström has baked every day for the last 15 years. And the kitchen always uses local seasonal ingredients – the common thread in New Nordic cuisine – in such dishes as butter-fried halibut in a langoustine reduction with pumpkin puree and a pumpkin seed, watercress and tomato salad.