The Swedish love to fika. At least twice a day if they have the time. Any place that has a verb for drinking coffee and eating something sweet will always be more than alright by foodie Rachel Mills. Find out how she ate her way around Skåne in southern Sweden.
The southernmost region of Sweden is known for growing, farming, foraging and hunting and the municipality of Skåne is forging an international reputation as a place to eat and drink yourself happy.
On the frontier of many bloody historic Swedish-Danish conflicts, Skåne today stands very much shoulder to shoulder with the Danes, just over the Öresund Strait, not least because of the mighty 16km bridge that directly links Malmö with Copenhagen (and the rest of mainland Europe). Completed in 1999, the bridge was the catalyst for the rapid redevelopment of Sweden’s third-largest city.
Malmö is home to 300,000 residents, a friendly and multicultural lot who are proud of their city and the wonderfully fertile province around it. The ecologically-minded administration is working hard to become sustainable and has ambitious plans to run the entire city on 100 percent renewable energy by 2030.
An integral part of this drive towards sustainability is food. Locally sourced, organic, healthy food is top of the agenda, and Malmö – a Fairtrade city – boasts a superb café culture and restaurant scene that thrives on serving up tasty dishes based on seasonal ingredients.
I was lucky enough to visit for Malmö’s first ever Restaurant Day when locals with a passion for food opened up their homes, and squares and public parks, and set up pop-up restaurants of their own. The perfect day to squeeze in a little exercise with a lot of indulgence, I jumped on a bike to better explore the attractive city streets and get between the thirteen pop-ups a little quicker. Anyone used to cycling nose to tail with HGVs will find the almost deserted 470km of cycle paths an absolute joy to navigate.
First stop was the wonderful Bake and Breakfast, where in the shared gardens of her apartment block, Ghenwa Nahim and her three children were serving up traditional Lebanese bread stuffed with cheese and herbs from her allotment. After tearing ourselves away we took the scenic route towards the cutting-edge Western Harbour and the ever-present Turning Torso, the tallest building in Scandinavia. Paula Rooth had pimped up her bicycle and set up a Bike Café on the roadside, selling delicious vegan, gluten-free and sugar-free cakes and cookies, along with mint tea.
Lunch was at På Taket, where seven floors up, Madeleine Fritsch-Lärka and her family had transformed a huge balcony into a buzzing eatery. On the menu was freshly made rhubarb lemonade, mouthwatering goats’ cheese on a bed of lettuce, with walnuts, honey and vitlöksvinägrett, with a divine almond, lemon and vanilla ice-cream based on an old Estonian recipe for Pascha (passover) pudding.
Ridiculously full, I soldiered on for an afternoon at Smakverkstand Makes History (a local non-profit group with a passion for historic recipes), Tea Party (yet more wonderful cakes), Vegan Mama (Lebanese stew) and Monkey Fist Tacos (Mexican).
If you’re not here on Restaurant Day, then A Slice of Swedish Hospitality gives visitors the chance to get to know locals over dinner in their own home. I gave it a go, and any awkwardness I might have felt about turning up at a stranger’s house to eat was overcome by Kicki and Bjorn, our genuine and friendly hosts.
People take part for a variety of reasons, to meet new friends or practice cooking, but everyone speaks English, and there’s a lot of insider information about what’s best in Malmö (apparently the parks, music scene and football team are a big plus). Our traditional Swedish midsummer feast included herring, meatballs and Janssons frestelse (a bit like potato gratin), ales from a local brewery and of course the customary aquavit, with singing before each shot.
65km north of Malmö, Helsingborg is the alternative hub for travel from Denmark (which is just 4km across the strait). An elegant and prosperous university city with a relaxed and liberal feel, historic Helsingborg is aspiring to become a cruise ship destination. It has spruced up the buzzing waterfront and opened the gleaming Dunkers Kulturhus to host exhibitions and events.
The city is expanding ever south and the once industrial wastelands are brimming with start-ups like the Helsingborgs Bryggeri, which is keeping the Skåne brewing culture alive – in an old slaughterhouse. This tiny microbrewery produced 85,000 litres of beer last year and if you can’t join a Saturday tour, search out a bottle of the dark and smooth Kaffestout in the local systemboloaget, or government-affiliated alcohol shop.
Helsingborg has various stylish restaurants, cafés and konditori, the most polished of which is Sofiero, an absolute must for anyone wanting a blow out meal. Prepared by some of Sweden’s best chefs (who know how to create soufflé and bisque with the best of them) and served in the dining room of the once royal summer residence, it’s a wonderful affair.
North of Helsingborg you can get up close and personal with the cracking Skåne countryside on the craggy Kullaberg Peninsula, a Special Protection Area that hosts all sorts of animal and birdlife. The new Kullaleden trail can be tackled in about five days and takes in the entire coast of the peninsula. Locals refer to the place as “the first green island in Europe” (following the Ice Age) and there are some great little beaches, seaside villages, private gardens and castles to visit. Along the route you can book into hotels or B&Bs, or rough it in rustic shelters with a sea view thrown in for free.
It’s not all just about nature though, there are a number of foodie delights on the Kullaberg Peninsula. Seek out the market hall in Höganäs to stock up on fresh, local artisan produce – sourdoughs, meats, cheeses, wild garlic, tomato jam and every seasonal fruit and vegetable you could want. The market is the brainchild of The Grand Hotel in nearby Mölle, and even if you don’t stay here, stop at the village for the picturesque harbour and the Krukmakeri and Café (don’t go home without buying some pottery or trying this quirky café’s famous tomato soup).
For a guided tour of the peninsula’s nature reserve with a focus on food and local folklore, get in touch with Kullabergs Matvandringar. Founders Mia Håkansson and husband Mats dreamed up the idea on a walkabout in Australia, and I spent several happy hours with them exploring peaceful meadows, beech forest and lush pastures, as a wonderful succession of pop-up picnics appeared as if from nowhere (thanks Mats). The food and drink was from the best local producers – think sausage, berries, sweetened herring fried in butter, roe, freshly baked rye bread, new potatoes, tomatoes of every colour and tender asparagus.
The final foodie indulgence for me was Flickorna Lundgren Café. Opened during the Depression by the Lundgren sisters, today it’s run by the third generation of the same family and is the place to fika in style. Sit back in the gardens of the picture-postcard cottage, sample traditional vaniljhjärta (delicious heart-shaped pastries filled with vanilla cream – they churn out 37,000 a week here) and sip coffee. You’ll love to fika too.
Rachel stayed in the Villa Thalassa in Helsingborg (room only from 900SEK (£80) per night based on two sharing) and the Rica Hotel in Malmö (bed and breakfast from 590SEK (£52) based on two sharing). A Slice of Swedish Hospitality costs 550 SEK (£50) for adults and 250 SEK (£23) for children (5-12), including all taxes and drinks. Featured image by Tina Stafrén/imagebank.sweden.se.