Thursday, March 6, 2008

A brief commentary on Swedish food and culture

What did I know about Sweden two months ago? In Scandinavia. Cold. IKEA. Design. Environmental. Fish. Swedish fish. Let's check my scorecard so far: Yes. No. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Not quite.
Arriving in Sweden, I was quick to assess its culinary realm. However, as an eager exchange student, I had plenty of people, booklets, and roughly translated websites dishing me the stereotypical plate of Sweden.
Potatoes. Pickled herring. Caviar (tubed and jarred). Crisp bread. Sausage. Cheese. Coffee. Licorice.
This is true. All of it. Over the last two months all these items have become more prevalent in my diet. We're they new? Well, except for the tubed caviar and salt covered licorice, no. I have fond memories of sitting in my Ann Arbor kitchen, eating large quantities of crisp bread, jarred and canned fish (I think I described this to a roommate as part of my transitory phase between Ovaltine and adulthood), sausage, potatoes, cheese, and coffee. Lots of cheese. Even more coffee. Regardless, this has been an effortless transition. But the question remains: What is the Swedish culinary reality?
It's hard to tell. You cannot simply walk into a Swedish style restaurant. You cannot, I am sure, because I am certain they do not exist. Some things are certain. Swedes love buffet style service, coffee breaks, sweets, and fish. There abundance is abundant. Everywhere.
I frequent a few different book stores around town. They are quite large, like small Borders. It's hard for me to understand many of the books. They are in Swedish after all, which is a Nordic language, though sometimes if I am not paying attention I swear it sounds like English. But it's not. It's just a language. Anyways, one afternoon I found a particularly inviting fish cookbook. I read the glossy photos and deciphered what I could of the strange arrangement of consonants and vowels. Within minutes this book shared the true story of Swedish food. Delicious.

A quick list: sushi, soups, stews, sesame-saffron, encrusted, pesto, cilantro-lime, tomato-basil, wok-style, gazpacho, kebab.
That is modern day Swedish culinary culture. It is familiar. It is vibrant. It has all the culinary bells and whistles that consumers expect from global culture. At the same time, it has the peasant dishes, the pies, soups, and earthy, root stews that secure its heritage.

And because this post is lacking color:

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