Whenever I travel to foreign destinations I try to involve myself in the specialties of the country I visit. I had the pleasure of going to Sweden and decided that Swedish meatballs would be at their best if eaten in Sweden. The question was, where would the best meatballs be?
Sweden's capital city of Stockholm is a thriving metropolis and an amazing city from a sightseeing perspective. I thought the best way to get an overview of the city would be on board a harbour cruise boat where I could see not only the shore but also some of the 30,000 islands that lie in Sweden's largest city's harbour and perhaps the home of the best meatballs in the world. I boarded the boat and began my tour. Unfortunately the rain also began and when I say rain, I mean rain. It poured solid for the complete two hour cruise. Fortunately the boat was covered so I stayed dry.
Having experienced the trek I was rather intrigued with seeing Stockholm from a 'wet' perspective and was quite taken by the splendor of the city. Nowhere, however, was there any sign of meatballs and I was disappointed, for I expected to see banners and billboards everywhere. The moment the boat docked I made a mad dash across the wet street to the nearest restaurant I could find. My mouth was watering for meatballs, which by now I was almost able to taste.
I looked around the lobby and realized I was in a hotel. I took a second look and recognized it as not just any hotel, but the Grand, a chain of fairly high end establishments throughout Europe. Surely a refined establishment such as this would have the famous Swedish dish, but again disappointment set in when I scanned the menu and saw only sandwiches. Rain pouring down hard outside and a chill running through my bones I decided to put my meatballs on the back burner (so to speak) and order the open faced sandwich and a beer. I was hungry and eager to sample local cuisine and you can imagine how unhappy I was when three tiny sarnies arrived along with a bill equivalent to just over fifty dollars.
I took my time eating the small dish and decided to continue my search for meatballs. Someone suggested the market would be a good place to savour my food of choice, but it seemed herrings were much more popular than meatballs. After asking a few locals, all who gave me puzzled stares, I began to question if Swedish meatballs were actually a Swedish dish and decided to try the herrings. Fortunately there are many differ ways to prepare these little gems from the sea, but of course, being Dutch, pickled is still my favourite (who could not love the tangy taste of 'roll mops'?).
I continued on, exploring this wonderful Scandinavian city. If you have never been it is well worth the visit. Along with spectacular palaces and old world architecture I discovered an interesting suburb, for lack of a better word. It consists of dozens of summer homes, tiny cottages with small parcels of land attached. Each property has beautiful flower gardens and most have a wide variety of vegetable patches. The area is intended for city apartment dwellers who wish to have a little garden or an expanse where they can go to and sit outside, travelling only a short distance. Although people own the properties the government has placed restrictions on them. First, they cost around $10,000 each and cannot be sold for more other than any improvements that have been made. Second they are not intended for overnight stay and electricity, although it seems to exist within the complex, is not allowed. The properties can be willed from parents to children, but if sold the government has to intervene. The concept is interesting and seems to work for everyone I spoke with someone who owns one of these oases and is quite happy with it. I was hoping to be invited to dinner and experience Swedish meatballs, but that did not happen.
Like most European cities I made my way to the old quarter, which is definitely the place to hang out. Narrow, cobble-stoned streets, old churches and buildings and of course, the main square, make these parts of cities amazing places to visit. I walked along picturesque streets and suddenly, my heart skipped a beat, as I came across a restaurant with a sign which indicated they specialized in Swedish meatballs. I found an empty table on the small patio and immediately placed my order. I was nervous that perhaps they had run out, or they were not serving them today, but fortunately I would finally be rewarded.
I ate every one of the savoury balls of local beef and thoroughly enjoyed the taste. Served with potatoes and some form of vegetables it was indeed one of my better culinary experiences, and somehow made the rainy boat trip and expensive lunch at the Grand, become a distant memory.
When visiting the Baltic area, be it by land or cruise, make certain that Stockholm is on your list, and if possible spend two or three days there to fully enjoy the charm this old world city has to offer.