The Stockholm restaurant scene is changing. Well of course it is, every restaurant scene is in somewhat of a consistent state of transition, but the last few years in Stockholm have seen an avalanche of new establishments, a large portion of them with great ambition, well thought-out ideas and creative kitchens. It’s abundantly clear, the restaurant scene is booming. This state is also mirrored in the inhabitants and their behaviour. Stockholm has become a more accessible, and fun, city where the restaurants have become a greater, and very natural, part of people’s everyday live. But when people eat out more, they will demand more as well, so it obviously calls for invention and continued development by restaurateurs. Stockholmers are also very savvy, early adopters, and well-travelled. If you launch a Vietnamese street kitchen you’ll be sure it’ll be compared to people’s latest experiences from the streets of Hanoi.
Apart from having become more democratised, if you will, eating out is also more varied than it used to be only five or ten years ago. The array of restaurants is quite diverse with influences from various cuisines around the world, while whatever gastronomic heritage we actually do have in Sweden is not only respected but refined and cultivated. Most often, what’s unique about Stockholm’s restaurant scene from an international perspective is just that meeting between foreign food cultures and Swedish ingredients.
To help chart this development, and to make sure you have checked off all the important places you need to visit, there are guide books from people in the know. Prolific book publishers Natur & Kultur have already taken us through some thriving restaurant scenes around the world in the book series For Foodies, which they launched upon the world some years ago. And of course, it was only a matter of time before the series came home to Stockholm, to showcase our own vibrant gastro scene.
Food writer Jonas Cramby is the chosen gastronaut to steer our ship of curious foodies through the city’s establishments. He describes his relationship with Stockholm as that of an old married couple. ”Since I’m a fairly typical Stockholmer, and as such you always think it’s cooler elsewhere, Stockholm is actually more a city I long to get away from than anything else,” before adding that the book is a somewhat shy and tentative love letter to the only city he truly loves.
His book is an attempt to describe the places, the people, the dishes and the phenomena that currently make this city such a thrilling place to dine out in. Small, expressive, and very apt descriptions spearhead each chapter and in one Cramby points out the lack of a deeply-rooted restaurant culture that dictates how things are supposed to be as the source of the blank canvas on which our new generation of chefs and restaurant creatives are currently drawing our path forward – live in front of our eyes, to the benefit of our tastebuds.
Jonas, could you tell me a bit about your personal relationship to, perhaps food in general, but especially eating out?
I’m from the Swedish countryside, so growing up we only had a pizzeria and a hot dog stand but at the same time I was always very interested in trying new stuff and I always watched all of the cooking shows. Especially those that involved travelling in some way, like Keith Floyd and later Anthony Bourdain. I remember that when all of my friends fantasised about having super strength, or the ability to fly, I always said that I wanted to have absolut världsvana, absolute worldliness, and be able to go anywhere in the world, chat with the locals and find a great little spot for dinner. I’m still working on that one I guess.
How do you view Stockholm’s restaurant scene in general? Both in comparison with other cities and perhaps even more in comparison with what it used to look like, say five or ten years ago?
Yeah, as I write in the book, Stockholm is changing. We have been changing a lot for the last 10-15 years, but now I think it’s changing even faster. We don’t have a deep-rooted restaurant culture that dictates how to do stuff or even a dominating figure like Copenhagen’s Rene Redzepi or New York’s David Chang. So it’s anybody’s guess what’s going to happen next. Stockholm is free-jazzing it right now so it’s a really exciting time to live here.
I certainly agree, so much has happened on Stockholm’s gastro scene of late. And there are obviously trends in what’s popular, and in what chefs want to work with. Are there any specific areas where Stockholm is particularly strong currently do you think? And are there any global food trends that you feel haven’t really landed here at the desirable level?
Stockholm is a great city if you want to have really nice contemporary food and drinks. When you travel the world you realise how high our standards really are. Everything tastes clean, good and wholesome and Swedish chefs are very dedicated and aware of political issues, like how food is related to climate change and animal welfare and stuff like that. They are, in short, very Swedish. We do, however, suck at cheap eats and we are not a great melting pot of different immigrant food cultures, unfortunately.
A guide like this, no matter how intriguing and inspiring it might be, it really becomes a document of the here and now, due to the furious tempo with which Stockholm’s restaurant map is rewritten. How do feel about the rapidly changing scene, in relation to the guide you have spent so much time on? It could feel very out-dated within six months.
I really like reading old reviews about restaurants that I used to visit, but are now forgotten, so when I started writing the book that was one of the things I wanted to do. Not to be afraid of the book growing old, but rather write a book for people to keep and re-read and reminisce. I wanted it to be a time capsule in a way. At the same time we print the book in really low numbers, so it can be updated regularly. The second printing was made just two weeks after the first and there were already some updates.
What would be your personal favourite chapter in the book? What section do you feel you know the best?
I probably know most about the contemporary Swedish stuff but I really enjoyed writing the classics sections. That, I think, is the funniest chapter. Working with the book I also found out how I need to learn more about the food in the suburbs of Stockholm, especially along the red line subway, there are a lot of great shish kebab places and the people who don’t live there only know about a few of them. So that’s probably going to be a bigger chapter in the next edition.
I totally understand your, and perhaps the publisher’s, reasoning when it comes to leaving out fine dining. But I mean, today the book feels like a pretty thorough and, bar some personal favourites, fairly close to complete guide over Stockholm’s gastronomic scene. Only there is that one glaring omission, that one chapter remaining. Is there no remorse from you for not finishing the job by including Stockholm’s very top restaurants?
I was actually the one who didn’t want to include the higher end places. Not because they don’t play a big part in what’s happening right now. But because I wanted the book to be more of an everyday guide to Stockholm just to reflect the perhaps biggest change of all: That people in Stockholm are starting to live their lives more and more in restaurants. That’s a big thing in a basically very harsh moralistic country where the authorities have always treated eating out as a problem rather than a living expression of a culture. When I was a kid my grandmother always told me that the only people that are running around outside after seven o’clock are the homeless. And in many ways that attitude still prevails, even if it’s changing.
Ok, fair enough. And finally, could you give me your three very personal favourite places to dine in Stockholm?
I could eat at Sushi Sho once a week if I had the money and I think that Babette has been really important for the changes that are happening in Stockholm. When they opened a lot of people were almost offended by their simple, everyday cooking. Food in restaurants should be more complicated, people thought. I also love Petrus bakery because I live nearby and even just passing the shop puts a smile on my face.
Stockholm för foodisar is out now through Natur & Kultur. An English version, Stockholm For Foodies, will be out some time in the new year.
Top Photo: Fredrik Skogkvist, from Stockholm för foodisar