Wild food, I think I love you
If, like most of people on the planet, you live in a city, you probably have never had to hunt and gather your own food. It feels like the pastime of ancient peoples. Or at least of country folk. But in Sweden it is not uncommon to take a bus out to a forest and come back with a basket of golden chanterelles.
There’s also a new generation of foraging chefs who scour the countryside for boar and bear, trout and Arctic char, and overlooked gems like angelica and aronia berries – in order to bring them to your plate. Here’s our guide to where to eat wild food at Swedish restaurants – and how to get out there and find it yourself.
Fun with fungi
Ethno-botanist Ingvar Svanberg has been quoted as saying that the general access to both public and private land in Sweden has made is more common to gather wild plants here. At least when it comes to mushrooms, Swedes have been picking them since the mid-1800s, when the porcini was renamed Karl-Johan (after King Charles XIV John). Many Swedes even own a special brush/knife that can be used to both pluck and clean their found treasure.
Other popular mushrooms in Sweden include the trumpet chanterelle, black chanterelles and hedgehog mushrooms. By far the most famous fungi is the golden chanterelle, with its woodsy and peppery flavor, which can be picked throughout the summer and into early fall. The most traditional way to prepare wild mushrooms is to sauté them with butter and pile them on a piece of toast, but chefs are constantly finding new ways to prepare them, like at Lilla Ego in Stockholm, where chanterelles figure into the starter of gruyere semla with smoked venison, or at Frank in Västerås, in the form of delicate potato and porcini croquettes.
While many Swedes will keep their mushroom-hunting spots a secret, visitors can join in free excursions hosted by places like the nature center at Tyresta National Park. Here, guided tours with hosts like the celebrated writer and biologist Pelle Holmberg from the National Association of Mushroom Consultants (Svampkonsulenternas Riksförbund) are scheduled in the fall. The outdoor organization, Friluftsfrämjandet, and the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation also post events, albeit in Swedish. But the best bet for travelers is to check travel websites like Wild Sweden, which offers a number of opportunities to hunt mushrooms – and spot or hunt other flora and fauna.
You can also get your hands on a delectable like a Bay Bolete or a Boletinus cavipes, from purveyor Roland Rittman in Skåne. This company, which supplied the chefs who competed in the Bocuse d’Or and other competitions, can also provide you with a range of Swedish herbs and berries.
A little birch in your bubbly?
Last year the Swedish daily newspaper, Svenska Dagbladet, reported that while the use of birch to flavor bubbly and wine has been en vogue for a few years, people are now starting to eat birch leaves for breakfast. That’s right, the article says the first, tender spring leaf buds are showing up in everything from “pesto to salads, pancakes and smoothies.”
In the spring, nettles and the ramson (wild garlic), wild onions and sorrel are some of the first plants to appear and are frequently used to make soups and “weed pie.” While elderflower has long been a favorite floral ingredient in Swedish drinks, and cordials, it’s quite trendy now to pickle the slightly unripe berries and call them “capers.”
Juniper and spruce needles are also showing up on plates at places like Swedish Taste in Gothenburg where Chef Magnus Lindström uses juniper to smoke arctic char, which he serves with sour cream, cucumber and crispy rye bread crumbs. Ever heard of a juniper-flavoured meringue? They’ve popped up on the menu at Bhoga, another Gothenburg establishment. Or why not put a whole forest in your mouth at one time? At Fotografiska’s restaurant in Stockholm, one of Paul Svensson’s desserts just might consist of bark bread served with forest berries, spruce shoot ice cream and a sorrel granité.
Perhaps no one in Sweden knows wild food better than the nomadic Sami people, whose livelihood is dependent on what food they can find. If you’re looking for products made with wild edibles, Greta Huuva at Viddernas Hus spends the mild seasons seeking out these treasures, which she then sells in the form of bread and crisps made of bark flour, teas, honeys, salts and more.
Because of long summers under the midnight sun, berries in Sweden are said to be sweeter the further north you go. Traditional crowd-pleasers include wild strawberries (smultron), wild raspberries, blueberries, lingonberries (an essential accompaniment to Swedish meatballs) and blackberries. But the Swedish pantry also bears lesser-known fruit like rowanberries, sea buckthorn and the beloved pale arctic cloudberry. The Swedish company, Hafi, has been making jams, cordials and other products since 1936. Their assortment contains an aronia berry marmalade with cardamom, and jams made from sea bucktorn, wild raspberries and wild cloudberries. If you’ve never tried warm wild raspberry jam over vanilla ice cream, you might have to add it to your bucket list.
Fish your heart out
While Sweden offers good fishing year-round, in winter it’s time to head out onto the frozen lakes and streams – or even the waters of the archipelagos – and participate in the age-old tradition of ice fishing, or “pimpling.” First you drill a hole into the ice to pass the line through. Then you lie on your stomach on a reindeer skin and stare through the crystal-clear frozen water and watch the fish take the bait.
Up north, where Arctic char is the prized delicacy, there are tour operators who will take you out to the island of Brändöskär in the Luleå archipelago via snowmobile. Beside an idyllic 17th century fishing village, you can fish for char on the frozen arctic waters, then eat it freshly grilled over a camp stove or open fire.
In the mountains and further south in Västerbotten, grayling and whitefish can be caught with much the same technique. And in in the brackish waters of Lake Mälaren and the Stockholm archipelago ice fishing for perch, pikeperch and pike, herring and cod, in most places does not require a permit.
Stick around Lake Vättern after dark and you can take part in a uniquely Swedish activity: ice fishing for burbot. This cod-like fish is a winter treat, and recipes for burbot stew can be found in Cajsa Warg’s famed 1755 cookbook. In winter at Swedish restaurants today, as in the old days, you can find burbot stewed with its own roe and served with blinis.
One of the most interesting new restaurant openings this year is a tribute to Nordic ingredients and Nordic meat in particular. At Omakase Köttslöjd Chef Mikael Einarsson and restaurateur Daniel Crespi have created an entirely new concept based on Japanese omakase (“the chef’s choice”). Here the chef’s choice is all about house-aged, smoked, cured, and dried meats.
This fall Einarsson’s menu includes items like beaver, deer and wild boar. His most talked-about dish looks like a tartare with a raw egg in the center, but the meat is actually cured fallow dear and the yolk is baked. Over this the chef pours a broth made from birch mushrooms (also called “chaga”) and grated 6-month-old moose heart.
Einersson didn’t grow up hunting, but he’s a hunter now. “Ten to fifteen percent of our meat is from wild sources,” he says. “Last week a friend of mine shot a bear near Jönköping and called to ask if I’d take it. I’ve never worked with bear meat before, but it’s all part of the experiment.
The world’s most sustainable hunting grounds
Chefs aren’t the only ones tracking down their meat these days. Approximately 300,000 Swedes have hunting licenses. In total they contribute 20,000 tonnes of wild game to the Swedish table every year. As only a certain number animals can be killed each year thanks to decades of thoughtful wildlife management and legislation, the forests contain healthy populations of deer, wild boar and other wild animals.
Most Swedish butchers sell wild meat, and åke P Fågel & Vilt, Sweden’s leading supplier of wild meat and fowl, has recognizable freezer banks in supermarkets across the country. If you’re traveling through the south of Sweden, be sure to stop in at the farm store, slaughterhouse and smokery at Skånska Vilt och Sjunkaröds. There are also a handful of places that deliver to your door, like Svantes Vilt & Bär, which offers smoked and dried reindeer, bear and moose. Just wait, before long you’ll be grating aged moose meat over your deer tartare with pickled spruce shoots and preserved lingonberries.