We had been talking about fika constantly in the last few days before our trip. “We’re planning to have three fikas a day!” crowed Su-Lin on e-mail. “What??” I retorted, “We’re cutting down on fika??”. And yes, we had barely been in Gothenburg three hours when we indulged in our first fika. It had been a rough day, what with bumpy flights, lost luggage and gusty winds driving the relentless rain horizontally into our faces and wrecking Su-Lin’s umbrella. We were only due to meet up with the lovely ladies from Go:teborg (the Gothenburg tourist board) later that afternoon, but by mid-afternoon Su-Lin and I made an informed and considered decision to take ourselves off the streets and start our fika early. It doesn’t take you very long in Sweden to figure out that fika is a national passtime and an established social institution. The word can be used both as a verb and a noun – so you can have a fika or you can simply fika. Literally, it means having a coffee or tea break with colleagues, friends, a date, or family. But it is viewed as such an unshakeable institution that apparently entire offices down pens and go for fika as regular as clockwork in the mid-afternoon – even the Swedish government does this! So your company and beverage may change, but fika always includes a drink, something sweet to eat (like cinnamon or saffron buns) and a break from your daily toil. Our first fika was at Soho, a coffee bar and restaurant place that looked tiny from the outside but expanded miraculously once you walked in, to encompass two bars, and at least four distinct restaurant areas, each decorated in a subtly different style. Even though it was too early for dinner and maybe a little late for 3pm fika, the place was buzzing when we arrived and yet still managed to feel like somebody’s (admittedly large!) open-plan house. We eyed up the cakes and sandwiches on display before settling on our choices – a sandwich for me, gingerbread cake with a cream cheese frosting and berries for Su-Lin and excellent coffee for both of us. In fact, you struggle to find anything BUT excellent coffee in Sweden. Heaven.
The next morning, we were ready to tackle the food markets of Gothenburg. First up was the Saluhallen – the food halls of Gothenburg, conveniently located at Kungstorget, about a 5 minute walk from our lovely hotel. The building looks a little like a Victorian conservatory or train station and was designed by architect Hans Hedlund who designed a number of other buildings in Gothenburg. Sales of food and provisions started here Feb 1, 1889 and continues to this day. Inside, there are 40 stores and different food places, almost all of which are independent retailers. We started our visit off at Flickorna Kanold (literally “the Kanold Girls”), a family chocolate business with a history. The Kanold family came to Gothenburg from Germany in the 1890s and brothers Anton and Fred Kanold started the chocolate business. Years passed and the company was sold off until nobody from the Kanold family was involved in ths business. But in 1998 Jeanna Kanold, who is married to a descendant of the Kanold brothers, took over a chocolate shop in the Viktoriapassagen re-established the family’s connection with the brand. There are three branches in Gotheburg, but the one in Saluhallen is where the workshop is and where you can watch their sweet creations being made through a glass wall. The shop has elements of a fine chocolatier, as well as a Victorian sweet shop, including the frilly white aprons worn by staff. (they also do an astonishingly varied line in marzipan pigs – from the elegant to the stylised to the slightly demented-looking!) Don’t leave without trying the sea salt truffles, chilli truffles, or the seasonal Glögg truffles. Elsewhere at Steinbrenner & Nyberg we found an incredible selection of sweet baked goods – from spectacular cakes and tarts to more traditional kanelbulle (cinnamon rolls) and lusekatter (saffron buns in the shape of a reverse letter S, traditionally served at Advent and unexpectedly delicious – who knew saffron was so big in Swedish cooking?). But sweet treats were not the only things on offer – there was a spectacular selection of meats and sausages, smoked pig’s heads (!), cheeses, gorgeous breads and a handy salami-identification chart, alongside fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts fresh flowers. A feast for the senses!
Laden with a number of purchases, we moved on to our next stop of the day: the famous Feskekôrka or “fish church” fresh fish market. This Gothenburg landmark was built in 1874 and was an architectural experiment by Victor von Gegerfelt, a military man and one of the two most influential Swedish architects from the mid 19th century. His design of the building was inspired by the pointed arches seen in wooden Norwegian stave churches and stone Gothic churches, and he aimed to create a large interior space without pillars. The entire design does indeed have the feel of some sort of Gothic church architecture, hence the name. Huge quantities of fresh local fish is sold here every day, alongside prepared fish like hot-smoked salmon, cooked crustacea, all manner of shrimps in different creamy dressings, and every type of picled herring you can think of (and some you can’t!). They are pretty generous with their samples and Su-Lin and I tried all sorts of herring preparations. Our discovery of the day was herring in a Christmassy pickle including cinnamon and a fruity vinegar, served on some sort of gingerbread. Yes, I know it sounds odd, but the slight, spicy sweetness of the bread was precisely what the salty, tangy herring needed – a taste revelation! There is also a restaurant upstairs where you can sample the cooked versions of the merchandise below.
Our last stop of the afternoon was for (what else!) fika! This time we tried Da Matteo which had been recommended by more than one person. The first Da Matteo coffee shop opened in Viktoriapassagen, Gothenburg in August of 1995. At the time, it was an Italian-styled espresso bar using imported espresso blends but in 2000 the manager and owner, Matts Johansson, got involved with specialty coffee and started working closely with coffee producers and trading coffee fresh from harvest. Since 2000 da Matteo has gone from one espresso bar to three coffee shops, as well as a bakery and their own coffee roastery where they use Smart Roast machines to roast coffee from a wide selection of countries to their exact specifications. The branch we wandered into is the one on Vallgatan and we managed to enter from the back, walking through a gorgeous courtyard into which the pretty neighbouring garden shop’s merchandise was spilling. From there, we walked through the rustic one-room roastery, piled high with sacks of beans from Sumatra and redolent with the aroma of roasting coffe; and from there into the coffee bar itself. We were lucky and got a table but soon after, it was standing room only – this place is really popular! Su-Lin was restrained and enjoyed her coffee with only a pepparkakor, but I tried the divine carrot cake – thick and moist with a pleasingly not-too-sweet cream cheese frosting.
We would love to have lingered, but we had other plans – the huge Christmas market at Liseberg and its 5 million lights beckoned, as well as a traditional julbord on an island in the archipelago – but more on that in the next post!
DISCLOSURE: We travelled to Sweden as guests of the West Sweden Tourist Board, Visit Sweden and SAS. Thank you again to the West Sweden Tourist Board (Facebook page, Twitter, Blog) and Visit Sweden (Facebook, Twitter) and also to the Gothenburg Tourist Board for organising this wonderful Christmas trip for us. Our flights were provided by SAS and a return trip to Gothenburg from London Heathrow is about £103 including all taxes and charges. We stayed at the very lovely Hotel Royal in central Gothenburg where a single room costs about £140 per night. For my previous travels to Sweden, please see my older posts:
- Villa Sjotorp and a mussel safari in Lysekil, West Sweden
- Café Ferdinand seafood buffet and Strandflickorna Hotel, West Sweden
- South Koster island and lunch at Koster garden
- Lobster safari and lobster lobster dinner at Sydkoster Hotel Ekenäs
- An oyster experience with Everts Sjöbod in Grebbestad
- Christmas markets in Gothenburg (and other shopping adventures!)
- Restaurang Familjen
Did you miss our our super-successful Tuscany Plate to Page workshop last October? Well, registrations are open for Plate to Page Somerset due to be held in the UK in Spring 2012! Have a look at the programme, details about accommodation, and if it looks like something you’d like to attend, register here – but hurry: places are limited to 12. It would be great to see you there!