Sunday, February 08, 2009

January 26 - February 6, 2009: Stockholm

The second half of my Stockholm trip found me finally figuring out a reasonable sleeping pattern and spending a lot more time on work stuff, but there was still a bit of time for eating and exploring.

Days 9 and 10
The week started with me chock-full of work-related enthusiasm, leaving little time for excitement. The one highlight was a post-work wander to Kokyo, a veg-friendly Japanese restaurant that Cindy and I enjoyed on our first trip to Sweden. The vegetarian section of the menu is massive, with all kinds of stir-frys, curries and other Japanese delicacies. I started out with some of the best gyoza I've ever eaten - crispy on the outside and filled with lucsious mushrooms, vegies and some sort of soy protein.

The follow-up: a Kokyo special vegie stew, with three kinds of tofu (fried, steamed and weird tofu-based meatballs), shiitake mushrooms and other vegies in a slightly sweet sauce.

Day 10
Having put in two good days of work and with a vaguely promising weather forecast, I decided to use the middle of Wednesday as a chance to go wandering, starting with a walk around Brunnsvikken to the Natural History Museum. Unfortunately I left the camera's memory card in the computer, so there are no beautiful lake shots from the walk. The museum has a wonderful Swedish wildlife section, with dozens and dozens of expertly taxidermied bird and animal species (which is kind of sad, but also very impressive - at least some of the specimens died natural deaths and were then restored by the museum) with loads of information in English.

After another quick spell of work, I decided to make it a museum-tastic day and headed in to Djurgarden to visit the Nordic Museum, which is focussed on the cultural history of Sweden - lots of stuff about food, design, traditions and general life from about 1600 through to the present day. It's a massive, beautiful hall, and the free audio-guide was a nice way to check out the highlights. By the time I'd had my fill, it was getting towards 6 and I was ready to chase down some dinner. Lao Wei was on the route home, so I swung by to try to nab an early table - I ended up sharing with some other non-bookers (and kind of spoiling their romantic birthday dinner I'm guessing) and dived into a Qing Hui Bai Yie. This is "a delicate dish prepared with bai yie (a tender beancurd product), fresh shiitake, golden needle mushrooms, gingko nuts, pak soi, and wolfberries)" - it was glorious. Lao Wei was easily the best vegetarian place I found in Stockholm - if it wasn't so hard to get a table I would have visited many more times.

Day 11
Another day in which all the hours of light were spent inside. For dinner I decided to make use of the kitchen facilities and have my first shot at cooking Quorn. Quorn is a fungus-based mock-meat and isn't available in Australia (and, disappointingly, is non-vegan).

It's not too dissimilar from soy-based mock-meats but has a slightly moister texture. It doesn't have a particularly strong flavour of its own, but soaked up my impromptu thai red-curry sauce pretty effectively.

Day 12
Another regular working day, followed by a big party for one of the PhD students in the office who successfully defended her thesis in the morning. The vego food was quite good without being particularly exciting, and I was too shy to take food photos.

Day 13
Saturday saw the visit of my old friend Melissa, whose been living in Switzerland for a few years now. We started a long-weekend of sightseeing with a quick wander through Gamla Stan and a visit to the Nobel Museum.

The evening started at the KGB Bar, a friendly pub-like venue, with a range of interesting beers. It's probably best not to think about money when you go out in Stockholm - we had three beers each and spent somewhere in the vicinity of $75. By the time we decided to eat, it was getting late, so we had to aim for somewhere nearby, meaning it was time for a return trip to Kokyo. This time I decided to go for the tempura, which was crispy and delicious.

Day 14
The main plan for Sunday was a boat cruise through the inner-archipelago. Once we'd sorted out tickets we had a quick wander around Östermalm.

It's one of the ritzier suburbs in the city, but felt strangely desserted on a Sunday morning. Still, we found Baresso, which churns out high-quality coffee.

The boat cruise started out in an icy Nybrogatan - we were wondering how the boat was going to get out into open water, but the ice turned out to be only a few centimetres thick, and the hull made short work of it. The trip winds slowly out through the Stockholm harbour to some of the innermost islands of the huge archipelago, before a brief stop at Vaxholm and then a return trip. It was a pleasant jaunt, but we probably should have just taken one of the ferries so we could have got off and had an explore around Vaxholm. Still, it was easy to see why locals rave about the islands - although the ice has a certain charm, it would be even easier to appreciate them in summertime.

We had enough time after the cruise for a quick stroll through the impressive Moderna Museet, which featured some very strange video art from Tabaimo, along with the more standard Picassos, Matisses and Duchamps.

For dinner we hit the buffet at Örtagården, Sweden's oldest vegetarian restaurant. At least, it was - it's now got a couple of meaty dishes tucked away at the back of the buffet. I can't really imagine that the change will win them any new customers but I could be wrong. The vego food that was there was quite tasty - especially the little balls of beetroot-based goodness. I probably enjoyed Herman's more this trip, if only because of the nicer setting. A note about the dessert: the things right next to the tasty rhubarb crumble that look like custard and berry sauce are actually cheese mush and beetroot soup - the custard lives much further away from the dessert tray. Weird.

Day 15
I couldn't let Melissa visit Stockholm without spending some time at one of my favourite museums - the Vasamuseet. The centrepiece of the museum is the stunning 17th Century warship, the Vasa, salvaged from Stockholm harbour where it sank twenty minutes into its maiden voyage in 1628. The ship was remarkably well-preserved in the Baltic Sea and is stunningly presented - it really has to be seen to be believed.

By the time we'd exhausted the museum's offerings, we were both ready for some lunch, so we headed up to the nearby Östermalms Saluhall. It's a beautiful old market hall built in 1888, which is stuffed full of wonderfull food stalls - fresh produce abounds, along with all kinds of deli goodness and a handful of cafes.

After a quick coffee, we did a quick lap and settled on a cute little sandwich store for lunch. I went for this delight:

Blue cheese, figs, quince paste, walnuts and greens, all on a moist chunk of fruit-bread. Amazing.

Then it was time to browse the stalls - particularly the amazing range of cheeses on offer. I couldn't resist a couple of quick purchases and, after a chat to one of the market holders, went home with a chunk of the quintessential Swedish cheese, Västerbotten cheese and a small wheel of goats cheese.

Once we'd fully explored the markets we had a bit more time before Melissa had to head out to the airport, so we wandered back to Baresso to sample one of Sweden's favourite sweets, a semla. These creamy treats first appear just after Christmas each year and take over every cafe in Sweden until easter, when they disappear again. They're lightly spiced buns, scooped out and then stuffed with cream, almond paste and breadcrumbs. It was a bit too much for me in the end - maybe we should have split one between the two of us.

Days 16 to 18
Once Melissa headed back to Switzerland, the rest of the trip was pretty much work-focussed, with just leftover quorn curry for dinners. Not too exciting. The highlight was a gorgeous sunny day on Tuesday, which prompted a stroll up to the main campus across the frozen Brunnsvikken. Aside from a few disconcerting noises from the ice as four of us walked a little too close together, it was a fun stroll.

And that was that really - it all kind of petered out a bit with a work-focus for the last few days. A final highlight: the courtyard in the middle of the Wenner-Gren Centre where I was staying was populated by some very hardy and very cute little black rabbits. They were also very cautious, so it was hard to get a good picture.


  1. great pics and some lovely food - I am surprised not to have mulled wine included on your menu as my favourite mulled wine recipe is from a swedish manager of mine so I always imagine it is popular there - but I'd love to visit the asian restaurants and the markets - could do without the quorn (think I have tasted it but was not impressed)

  2. Sounds like you a having a great time. I loved wandering around the streets of Gamla Stan. Such a pretty city!

  3. I think I just fell in love. That semla looks divine! I'll have to do a recipe search and try to figure out how to make them.

  4. Hayley - back when I was an undergrad, a student on exchange from Sweden made his own semlor to share with a few of us... *swoon*

    Here's a cool blog post about them, including a recipe. I'm beginning to think that I should try making some too!

  5. The Japanese stuff looks delicious -- nice fusion with the tofu meatballs.