Friday, October 03, 2008

Let's just talk about the food issue here in Sweden.

OK, folks. Do you see that thing there? In the picture? That is a tunnbrödsrulle. It's basically a wrap, with tunnbröd, a flatbread made from wheat and rye, on the outside; inside, yes, that is a hot dog. If you want to class it up, you can get yourself a "chorizo," which as opposed to the standard definition of "a paprika-flavored sausage from Spain" apparently means "slightly larger hot dog" in Sweden. The next main ingredient is always instant mashed potatoes, which have a jaundiced, yellowish cast to them. Also present, usually, is some attempt at salad, usually limp iceberg lettuce; crispy toasted onions, apparently a Danish specialty, ketchup & mustard, possibly mayo with pickles...but the crowning glory of this thing has got to be the räksallad.

Yes, that's right, shrimp salad. Pieces of alleged shrimp smothered in mayonnaise.

I'm not going to lie to you: there is something awe-inspiring about these things. They are large, they put together ingredients with the undisciplined joy of a nine-year-old left alone in the kitchen; they are kind of delicious, in that "I know I'm going to regret this later" kinda way. Actually, it's more like "am I enjoying this right now or am I actually disgusted by this thing" kinda way.

To top it off, these things are like 50-60 SEK, or, with current exchange rates, $8-9. They are, by far, the cheapest option for eating. The other low-end meal option is the kebab, which will run you probably 60-75 SEK. The kebabs are actually respectable, and I have no issue with them at all.

Let's compare this to the bay area for a minute though: taqueria fare is widely available, at prices far less. Often taquerias use fresh ingredients, sometimes make their own salsas, and are generally quite tasty. Some are downright sublime. Also, there is a great deal of individual variation; the grill stands where you get these tunnbrödsrullar seem to be supplied by about two vendors, and basically have a standard, unchanging menu.

Of course in the Bay area, you have other low-end, delicious options: Asian places, like E-noodle...also I have no idea wtf the people who gave that place poor reviews are talking about. The place stays open until 3 am which is a rarity for the peninsula. There are kebabs. There is Indian food. There are delis that serve delicious sandwiches. There is the peerless In-n-out.

I don't know if I have really conveyed just how limited the food options are here. Sure, the rullar are OK once or twice, but they are not really that good; the limited options are what really hurt though. Sitting down at a full-service restaurant will usually cost upwards of 120 SEK per dish, or nearly 20 bucks.

To be fair, the grocery options are not bad. The selection of yogurt, muesli, cheese and sausages is excellent; meat is not too bad. Vegetables, however, are not up to my standards. (Although to be fair, when I left Palo Alto, I'd been turning my nose up at Whole Foods veggies and shopping for fresh stuff almost exclusively at the farmer's markets.) There is one exception to this rule as well: chantarelle mushrooms are very plentiful and often very fresh. They apparently grow wild here during the summer.

So I guess the real take-home message of this is that I am a whiny nit-picker when it comes to food. But I'm not wrong. Somebody needs to shake up the low-end food market here in Stockholm. We need some intrepid taco-truck entrepreneurs here and we need them now.
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