The Definitive Guide to Eating Shellfish in Sweden
While Stockholm wears its capital city title with pride, even its residents agree—Gothenburg remains the country's shellfish capital. Here's how to get your fill on your next trip.
When it comes to seafood—especially beyond the typical pickled herring and cured salmon—Sweden does shellfish exceptionally well. Locals know to head over to the west coast, particularly Gothenburg (named the Culinary Capital of Sweden in 2012), and coastal fishing communities such as Lysekil, Ljungskile, Fjällbacka, Smögen, Marstrand, and Grebbestad along the Bohuslän Coast for the freshest catches.
Proximity to cold, clean, mineral-rich waters of the North Atlantic Ocean means the region has the freshest fish and shellfish in the entire country. And frigid Arctic waters help the shellfish grow slower and fleshier—giving them flavors.
Anchored by a traditional fish auction at Fiskhamnen that's been running since 1910 and the historic fish market Feskekörka ("Fish Church") since 1874, Gothenburg has the largest fish auction and market in the country where you'll find fishmongers bidding on seafood. Between spring and autumn, you can travel along the Bohuslän coast on various seasonal seafood safaris in search of Sweden's own Big Five: lobsters, oysters, mussels, shrimp, and langoustines or crayfish.
And you can hop aboard fishing boats for a Shellfish Journeys, to haul lobsters and langoustines from the depths with fishermen, farm for oysters and mussels in sea beds, and follow these crustaceans all the way to your plate. Here, a guide to the best seafood in the region and where to eat it.
The shrimp sandwich is integral to Sweden's food culture. It even has its very own Swedish proverb, "att glida in på en räkmacka," which translates to "gliding in on a shrimp sandwich" and means effortless ease. This harkens to the fact that loads of shrimp slip and slide on top of mayonnaise along with lettuce, boiled eggs, dill, and fish roe that make up the sandwich.
Prawns are a component in two classic Swedish dishes—räksmörgås (shrimp sandwich), known in slang as räkmacka, and skagenröra, a creamy seafood mixture of shrimp, mayonnaise, and dill with red onions and roe. While many restaurants serve their own version of the shrimp sandwich, Heaven 23, located on the 23rd floor of Gothenburg's Gothia Towers, serves a colossal king-sized shrimp sandwich stacked with 200 grams of hand-peeled shrimps. The restaurant uses 35 tons of shrimp every year on its popular sandwiches.
You can sample skagenröra alongside Gothenburg's hipsters at chic Kafé Magasinet, in the trendy neighborhood of Långgatorna.
Season: All year round
Oysters in Sweden are synonymous with the coastal town of Grebbestad in West Sweden. Beside being home to the annual Nordic Oyster Opening Championships held every May, 90 percent of oysters in Sweden are harvested in waters surrounding Grebbestad, which house the largest number of oyster beds in all of Scandinavia.
You can shuck your own oysters raked from the dock of 19th-century boathouse Everts Sjöbod or dig in at Restaurang Gabriel inside Feskekörka, where head chef Johan Malm remains the reigning Nordic oyster shucking champion. The best way to enjoy Grebbestad's oysters is without any toppings or hot sauce.
Season: Spring, autumn
For the best blue mussels in the region, head to the seaside towns of Lysekil and Ljungskile, where organic mussels are either scraped from the seabed or sustainably grown on ropes. Klocktornets Musselbaren ("The Mussel Bar") in Ljungskile runs safaris to owner Janne Bark's mussel farms between April and October.
You can then bring over your freshly caught mussels to be cooked with wine, garlic, onions, chopped parsley, and chilli over open flames. The "Moules Frites" mussel pot with French fries is the signature dish to order. And the shellfish here is good enough for royalty: Musselbaren delivers mussels to the Swedish royal family whenever they are visiting in the region.
Season: Spring, autumn
Crayfish and Langoustines
Crayfish are available all year round, but they're celebrated on balconies and in garden parties all over Sweden during the month of August. Known as a crayfish party (kräftskiva), crayfish and langoustines—once only eaten by upper class citizens and aristocrats—are now enjoyed by everyone, especially in West Sweden.
Swedish chef Marcus Samuelsson spent his childhood summers in postcard-perfect fishing village Smögen, with its fish auction and myriad of waterfront seafood restaurants. Its waters are known for large langoustines and you can hop aboard crayfish safaris with local fishermen from Smögens Fiske & skärgårdsturer.
Freshly caught langoustines pulled from fish traps are steamed onboard as you sail through the Bohuslän archipelago past jarring rocky scenery. Back on land, Smögen Hafvsbad Restaurang and Bar serves shellfish platters of locally caught crustaceans.
For freshwater crayfish, head east towards the 120-mile-long Göta Canal, which connects Gothenburg and Stockholm. Also along the canal is Norrqvarn, a mill from the 1900s that's now a hotel and restaurant. The hotel organizes crayfish pot hunts along the canal as well as traditional crayfish parties.
Season: Spring, summer
The most seasonal of Sweden's shellfish family, lobsters are protected from being over-harvested between May and mid-September to ensure they have enough time to reproduce. Known as black gold, the coastal waters around the villages of Fjällbacka, Strömstad, and Smögen are rife with organic lobsters and the first Monday after September 20 is the official lobster premiere, when fishermen head out to sea in droves. Stora Hotellet Bryggan on Fjällbacka's pier runs a popular lobster safari that ends with a five-course lobster dinner.
Season: Autumn, early winter
Shellfish in town
While the fishing communities above get you to the freshest shellfish, various high-quality seafood restaurants in Gothenburg are worth checking out. Six Michelin-starred restaurants serve up the region's best picks, from renowned seafood restaurant Sjömagasinet with its harbor views of the Göta estuary to newly starred KOKA with an exquisite seven-course menu.
For lobster served different ways, Södra Vägen's dedicated menu includes both grilled and cooked lobster as well as brioche rfolls, bisques, and salads all with lobster.
Raw sushi restaurant vRÅ makes sashimi food art using local seafood and Japanese cooking techniques, champion chef Johan Malm shucks the juiciest oysters at Restaurang Gabriel, and Norda Bar & Grill offers up a shellfish platter with oysters, lobsters, shrimps, and crayfish.
For more seafood restaurants in West Sweden, and why the scene may surpass Maine's, check out this article.