Eating like a local in Stockholm means going back to Swedish culinary basics and embracing fusion flavors.

By Lola Akinmade Åkerström
May 23, 2016
Prinsen Restaurant in Stockholm
Credit: Alamy

Contrary to popular belief, Swedes rarely order meatballs at restaurants unless they're toting along young, fussy eaters while shopping at IKEA. That's because Stockholm's food scene is a rousing blend of culinary influences—from Michelin-starred fine dining restaurants preserving Nordic cuisine to Asian and Mexican fusion bistros, along with Middle Eastern kebab joints and street food trucks that crisscross town all day long.

Yes, pickled herring remains popular, but only during special occasions like Christmas, Easter, and Midsummer, and it isn't considered everyday fare.

Centuries of fishing out the North and Baltic Seas means Swedes have truly mastered the art of cooking seafood—from curing salmon (gravad lax) to pickling herring (sill)—in what feels like a million different ways. So seafood plays an essential role in the Stockholmer's diet and ordering any fish dish off the menu comes highly recommended.

The other is traditional Swedish food known as "husmanskost," considered Sweden's equivalent of American Southern-style soul food. It's a hearty blend of potatoes and root vegetables gathered from fields; organic meat from farms or wild animals like reindeer and moose; seafood from the North and Baltic Seas; and Arctic herbs, wild berries, and mushrooms. Many restaurants serve their own versions of husmanskost. Eating out in town revolves around two main activities—lunch and fika.

Lunch in Stockholm

While milling around town looking for lunch options, you'll find signs that read "Dagens rätt" (today's dish/special) or simply "Dagens". Since dining out can put a quick dent in the wallet, many locals eat the bulk of their meals during lunch time where the same dishes on regular dinner menus are available for up to 50 percent off the original cost. Plus the price often includes free salad, bread with butter, and coffee/tea.

One of the most popular husmanskost dishes is Raggmunk. These are thin pancakes made from grated or ground potato, seasoned with onions and garlic, and served with thick cuts of bacon and lingonberry preserve.

Pyttipanna is a classic pan-fried hash of diced potatoes, onions, and sausage meat, served with a fried egg and pickled beetroot. You may see a more luxurious version, called Biff Rydberg, with beef chunks and raw egg yolk on restaurant menus. The Wallenbergare is a veal patty dish served with mashed potatoes, peas, and lingonberry while its cousin Biff à la Lindström uses ground beef and capers instead of veal.

The shrimp sandwich (räksmörgås) remains the most popular type of open face sandwich, topped with generous amounts of baby shrimp, boiled egg slices, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and a creamy dressing.

While most locals don't order pickled herring, they do order the other popular herring—stekt strömming (pan-fried herring). It is often served with mashed potatoes, lingonberry, dill, and liquid butter.

And don't be fooled by these high calorie-sounding meals. Stockholmers are quite the active bunch, and quickly burn off calories by walking and biking everywhere.

Top five restaurants for husmanskost:

FIKA in Stockholm

Drop Coffee Stockholm
Credit: Franklin Heijnen (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The traditional Swedish observance of "fika" is partially to blame for the city's love of sweets. This involves frequently gatherings with colleagues, family, and friends several times a day for coffee breaks, complete with sugary pastries such as kannelbullar (cinnamon buns).

Collectively known as fikabröd, the most popular sweet pastries consumed alongside cinnamon buns are kardemummabullar (cardamom buns), dense hand-rolled chocolate and oatmeal balls called chokladbullar, sugary tarts with shortbread crusts and almond paste called Mazarin, almond biscuits filled with chocolate mousse and a crunchy chocolate outer layer called biskvi, and the mother of all seasonal fikabröd, semlor—bulbous oval-shaped wheat Lenten buns filled with almond paste and heavy whipped cream, and served between January and April.

Tip five cafés to enjoy fika:

Fusion Food in Stockholm

Farang Stockholm Dining
Credit: Courtesy of Farang

If you'd rather head out for a nice dinner, Stockholm's fusion food scene is the hottest trend at the moment, from Asian fusion bistros blending Japanese and Thai flavors with local Nordic ingredients to higher-end Mexican fusion restaurants with their own creative spins on classic tacos.

Top five fusion restaurants: