Sunday, May 23, 2010
Vronsky and I ventured to Stockholm this weekend to see one of my author's for Pegasus, Camilla Läckberg, who is the best-selling author in Swedish history. She's sold 3 million copies of her book, in a country of only 9 million people, and that includes babies and children and people who can't read. She was the sixth-bestselling writer in all of Europe this past year, and besides being super talented, she's a lot of fun and quite a foodie herself. She's written one cookbook and has another in the works that covers Swedish "coastal" cuisine.
I don't think Nordic cuisine as a rule gets too much love outside of Scandinavia, and at first glance, it is easy to see why, as much of the traditional Nordic diet is not in sync with the American palate, which borrows more from France, Italian, and in general, the more lighter "Mediterranean style" of cuisine, combined with the gamut of Asian and Hispanic flavors and style of cooking that now is part of many people's everyday culinary lexicon. Like Russian food, cold-water fish is a large part of the diet...think herring and cold-water shrimp, which are teeny-tiny, and smoked salmon, along with beets, kale, cabbage, lingon berries, cloudberries, carrots, potatoes, lots of pickled goodies, and of course lamb and steak with a wide range of diary products. Swedish meatballs, are of course, the trademark "Swedish" cuisine, and they are far from kosher. What makes them so delicious and different from say, Italian meatballs, is that the meat (usually a blend of game and steak) is mixed with cream before people made into meatballs. These meatballs are traditionally served with potatoes and lingon berries on the side.
But what really stood out to me during my short stay there was coffee and sweets. A huge basket of every type of toffee, chocolate, and sweet goodie was passed around during our flight over, and Camilla herself has told me that no one drinks more coffee than Swedes. It is a standard sign of hospitality to offer someone a cup of coffee as soon as they come into your home, whether it is in the heart of Stockholm or out in the countryside. And what gets served with said coffee? Something sweet. It can be chocolate or cake or some sort of biscuit or cookie, or, as prominently featured in The Ice Princess, some sort of pastry or cinnamon bun. The coffee I had in Sweden was thick and stronger than the usual garden variety here in the States (except what I brew from my french press each morning, which is up there with sludge, mmm), but compared to what I drank in France, Swedish coffee had a slight sweetness to it that came without even adding sugar. Perhaps it was just that the taste was already in my mouth from a zillion little toffees, but it was quite lovely and I can see how it perfectly matches icy winters and midnight summer "sun."
For a taste of Scandinavia here in NYC, Smogas Chef is a go-to favorite, or check out Camilla's book, out in June, with a cup of coffee and a cinnamon cake to much on while you become absorbed in the tiny coastal town of Fjällbacka and its secrets.