For many people, one of the highlights of traveling is trying the local cuisine.
Local ingredients, secret recipes passed down from generation to generation as well as the sounds, sights and smells of your destination make native dishes tough to replicate.
Many of us don’t even try.
Even if you could get your hands on real kaffir lime leaves, your Beef Panang will not evoke the same euphoria that it did in Phuket if you are enjoying it while watching the snow fall in Stockholm.
That being said, there is another group of us who aren’t from here, and in order to survive homesickness and the overload of meat+potato+brown sauce combinations we are committed to the never ending search for dishes that taste like home.
For some of us searching for a taste of home is a fun challenge and for others it is a must to survive.
Fortunately, Swedes have traditionally been very open to foreign influences and there is most likely a restaurant, or two, that represents your homeland.
Keep in mind that not all local cuisine is created equally.
Access to certain ethnic foodstuffs which are deemed critical to home cooking can be a challenge not only for our individual needs, but also for restauranteurs.
To make things a little more complicated, before being introduced in Sweden many of the foodstuffs have been altered to be more appealing to the Swedish palate and our “home cooked meal away from home” naturally suffers because of it.
Below are just a few restaurants that have exceptional authentic cuisine.
There are certainly many more out there and if you have a few favorites let me know. I would love to try them.
Tex-Mex: La Neta
This place isn’t fancy, but authentic taco joints don’t need to be. La Neta concentrates on three to four different types of tacos/quesadillas (25kr-45kr/piece) and does them well, very well. They make no compromises and, true to form, serve only mexican beer.
I proudly give them my seal of approval and would even dare to bring my dad here. The real nostalgia hit me when I noticed their salsa bar – mild, medium and hot at no extra charge – just like home.
I admit this restaurant looks suspect from the outside, (OK it looks suspect from the inside as well) but rest assured, great food awaits! Our first time here we were more than slightly intimidated.
Our waiter was used to a table full of newcomers and he quickly navigated us around the menu. My favorite item is the mixed plate which includes small portions of their most famous lamb, chicken, beef and vegetable stews. All main dishes are served with obligatory Ingera which helps in the absence of silverware.
Yes, Ethiopian food is eaten with your hands.
Don’t even try to ask for silverware, they don’t have it. These dishes are geared to Ethiopian tastes and are quite spicy but that only means you have to try one of the numerous African beers on their menu to cool off. The entire experience is much more fun with a group of friends and the large restaurant can easily accommodate groups. If you are feeling really adventurous stay for the disco on Fri/Sat night.
Japanese/Sushi: Sushi Zen
Many people who have traveled outside of Sweden often reflect on the fact that Swedish sushi is boring. I totally agree. The only thing worse than ordering 10-bitar lax is replacing half of them with 5-bitar avocado.
If you are going to eat sushi, then eat sushi and stop contributing to the lack of creativity. I do agree that good, fresh fish should speak for itself. I am not asking for a smorgasbord wrapped in seaweed (Try Sushi Samba’s Yamato: tuna, foie gras, oestra caviar and gold leaf) but I do think that there is a middle-ground and that Sushi Zen is just the place.
Sushi Zen may be tough to find, but once you follow the steps down to the underground restaurant chef Fujio and his family will make you feel like home. Their sushi isn’t complicated but they have a wide selection of fish and it is always fresh. The sashimi special for lunch can’t be beat.
Pizza: Pizzeria Hatt
This restaurant is not on my list because it serves the most authentic Italian pizza. (I still haven’t found that yet.) It is on my list because it serves really good pizza, with quality, fresh ingredients and you will never find a kebab pizza on their menu.
This bare bones restaurant, located at Upplandsgatan 9 in central Stockholm, has only 3 tables inside but the pick-up line consistantly streches to the sidewalk outside. The first time I tried to eat here it was unexpectedly closed with a sign on the door that read, “Closed – we ran out of cheese.”
Finding replacement cheese to keep your pizzeria running is not difficult. However, a restaurant that chooses to close rather than compromise quality has my heart…and my stomach.
I haven’t been to Arirang yet but I plan to try it very soon. Enough people have recommended it to me so that I felt obligated to add it to my list. They have traditional Korean BBQ as well as Bibimbap.