“This is real traditional Swedish food,” my friend tells me, laughing as she ladles food onto my plate. “So traditional even I haven’t tried it before! Normally we just eat international food, but today we’ll try the real Swedish stuff for you!”
I smile appreciatively, looking down at my plate full of food, happy that my friend has made a special effort in my honor. In front of me is a dish piled high with “palt“ - potato dumplings, glistening underneath a layer of butter and still a little wet from being boiled. Next to the palt is a pile of wonderful-smelling streaky bacon, and a scoop of ruby-red lingonberry sauce.
“Everyone in Sweden loves lingonberry sauce. This is a very common thing to eat in Sweden. And the dumplings, they’ll fill you up really well. People say it is like a stone in your stomach after you eat them. The bacon goes really well with both. Try it!”
I take a bite: my first taste of traditional Swedish food! The dumpling melts on my tongue with a creamy bread-like texture. The bacon adds a rich smoky flavor, and the lingonberry sauce sweetens the whole thing. It tastes amazing, and I love it straight away. This is home cooking at its best – eating out never tastes this good.
But this is just the first course. Next up are Sewdish meatballs, Swedish gravy, mashed potato and more lingonberry sauce. I’m addicted at the first taste. And the same could be said of Sweden itself.
I’m in Karlstad, a little city West of Stockholm, where a friend I met in Sri Lanka currently lives with her boyfriend. Two years ago I made a promise to her that I would visit her in Sweden if I ever returned to Europe, and now I’m making good on my deal.
I was only able to take 3 days off work to visit Sweden, and as soon as I arrived, I realized that this was far too little. But my meals – along with my visit – are giving me a tiny little taste of Swedish culture, and it is love at first bite!
Sweden isn’t a place I would have chosen for a holiday, but then I wasn’t expecting it to be so beautiful. A blanket of unexpected snow – iridescent underneath a bright blue sky – greeted me when I arrived: a thick heavy crust of white spread across a backdrop of evergreen forests.
Exploring Karlstad during the day with snow and gravel crunching satisfactorily underfoot, I was amazed at the raw frozen beauty of the countryside and the quaint architecture of the little colorful houses that sat cheerfully atop of their icy environment. My friend took me to a park where skaters wove circles around each other on a frozen lake, and locals cooked food on barbeques at picnic tables; the thick scent of smoke and meat adding warmth to the icy air. With the sun beaming down on me, I didn’t feel the cold, and I stared up through fir trees at the sky, thinking that I haven’t seen a sky so blue since I left Asia almost three months ago.
“When you come again, we can go further North and maybe see elks and reindeer. If you are lucky we can even see the Northen Lights from there,” my friend says as she takes me back to the train station on Sunday. I’m gutted to be leaving so soon and feel as though I have so much more I want to see in Sweden. And at that moment I knew that I would have to go back.
Have you ever fallen love with a country on first sight? What do you think it is about a place that has us so immediately hooked?