You’ve probably tried Swedish meatballs at IKEA, and you may have even heard of Swedish cinnamon buns. But asides from that, what is Swedish cuisine? Ask most locals, and they’ll respond saying that a typical dish at one of the best restaurants in the city is one that starts off simple, then gets unexpected flavors added in—think cardamom, saffron and spoonfuls of jam in unusual places. And then there’s the fast food; Swedes love it, and Stockholmers especially—as such an international city, we have some of the best take-away restaurants in the land. Stockholm is also leading the street food scene with artisan burgers and craft pizzas; even the humble hot dog has had a makeover, and you can easily grab these snacks on the go on your way to the city's top attractions or before hopping on a local tour. When eating like a local in this city, the trouble is not in deciding where to start, but where to stop!
How to eat like a local in Stockholm
At the heart of Swedish cuisine are meatballs (or köttbollar, to locals, where the ‘k’ is pronounced ‘sh’). Swedish meatballs have enjoyed international fame, thanks mostly to IKEA—but no good meatballs will come for under €3 in Stockholm. The dish has now gone high-end; and, of course, vegetarian. Supermarket freezers are packed with “green balls” off all kinds of weird and wonderful flavours (ginger and carrot balls, anyone?). Restaurants have got in on the act too, so you’ve no excuse not to sample some köttbollar whilst you’re in the Swedish capital.
Where to get it: Meatballs for the People
Maybe you’ve heard of fika, the ultimate Swedish social ritual involving a long break with friends, coffee and cakes. There are many different treats you can “fika” with, but it’s the buns, or “bulle,” that are the centrepiece. Kanelbullar, or cinnamon buns, are the most typical flavour, but there are plenty more on offer. In the lead-up to Christmas, bakeries sell Lucia bulle, saffron-flavoured versions of this traditional bun. Various cafes also experiment with more unorthodox flavours: rhubarb crumble, blueberry and even brownie buns, to name a few.
Where to get it: Il Caffè
Less than ten years ago, a group of burger enthusiasts crowd-funded a trip to the US to find out how to make the best patty and bring it to Stockholm. They opened up Flippin’ Burgers on Kungsholmen in 2012 and since then, the burger scene here has exploded. This Nordic capital is now a major burger city, with the central district of Norrmalm crammed with burger bars. With local rappers even opening up their own burger branches at gas stations, burgers are not just an indie scene here anymore, but part of everyday life in Stockholm.
Where to get it: Låden
It’s obvious why seafood is so popular here: Sweden has more lakes and coastline than it knows what to do with. Crayfish are the crowning jewel of a summer dinner party here, and a staple Swedish delicacy is pickled herring, a canned fish so pungent that it should only be opened outdoors. A summer lunchtime favourite is skagenröra: a messy mix of shrimp and mayo on rye bread with salad. It might not be to everyone’s taste, but you can’t avoid it: sitting outside a café on an August afternoon, you’ll be surrounded by Swedes tucking into this traditional fare.
Where to get it: Boulangerie Cafe, Vaxholm
Stockholm has a strong Middle-Eastern sub-culture, its influence strongly represented in the city centre by the prevalence of falafel outlets. Falafel is now more than just Stockholmers’ go-to drunk-food. The rise of veganism in the city has now made falafel a dinner of choice. Top-range, street-food style restaurants keep popping up in SoFo which take this dish quite seriously: served in wraps or pita breads with spicy sauces and different salads (and always, just to keep it Swedish, pickled red onion).
Where to get it: Falloumi
OATLY, a dairy-alternatives company from the south of Sweden, made it their mission over the past twenty years to produce great milk, yoghurt and ice cream that is also good for the planet. They debuted just as veganism exploded in Sweden, which means that nowadays, most cafes in Stockholm offer a range of alternatives to cow’s milk for your coffee. That also means that finding vegan ice cream in Stockholm is a norm; a guilt-free treat on a rare warm day.
Where to get it: StikkiNikki
When a group of 300 Italians came to work in the town of Västerås in the 1940s, they introduced Swedes to their pride and joy—pizza—and it was an instant hit. By the 1960s, takeaways had popped up all over the place serving both pizzas and another quick, cheap eat: kebabs. The Swedes loved both so much, they decided to put them together. That’s right, kebab on a pizza. The crazy toppings didn’t stop there (banana and curry pizza, anyone?). Now, a “Swedish pizza” refers to one with a thin base and exotic toppings.
Where to get it: Omnipollos Hatt
No Swedish birthday party is complete without a princess cake: a thin sponge with jam and cream covered in green marzipan, and topped with a decorative rose. The amount of cream and sugar involved is borderline offensive, but this childhood favourite is a piece of Swedish nostalgia. You’ll find princesstårta at any decent Stockholm ‘konditoriet,’ bakery-cafes that focus on the sweet stuff rather than making bread. A konditoriet normally comes with a slice of Swedish history: these establishments are much more traditional than their hipster bakery counterparts.
Where to get it: Vete-Katten
For more than one hundred years, Swedes have had yellow pea and ham soup with pancakes for their Thursday dinner. The social-democratic initiative was introduced as an affordable but healthy meal for the working class, in a bygone age when most Swedes were farmers or woodcutters. Even though your average Swede is more likely to work in IT than on the land these days, this tradition has somehow stuck and on Thursdays, pea soup and pancakes is still often a meal of choice. The trick is to have enough pancakes to cover some in jam and cream for dessert!
Where to get it: Tennstopet
Finally, to Sweden’s second-biggest American import: the humble hot dog, which is surprisingly abundant in Stockholm (you’ll find it as easily as ice cream in the summer). Having upgraded from a quick kids’ snack to an adult delicacy, it’s still behind the burger scene, but there are a growing number of street-food style outlets offering up gourmet versions of the once-simple sausage in a bread bun. Hot dogs in Stockholm now come in various vegetarian and vegan options, of course, and with a variety of toppings that make the dog now a meal in its own right.
Where to get it: BrewDog, Södermalm