My Gracious Host
Swedes like their Nordic neighbours, rely heavily on mean and fish as their main course, while berries, breads and vegetables form the side. So when I went bag packing solo around Europe back in 2014, my couch surfing host, Harald was both amused and confused as I asked him to teach me a local vegetarian dish. He said they eat enough vegetables, but there was really no vegetarian main course that he could think of. I left to explore the city feeling a bit disappointed. Upon my return in the evening, I found Harald absorbed in grating a Kilo of Potatoes. He looked up and smirked, proudly announcing the realisation of a somewhat vegetarian dish for me, Raggmunk, a potato pancake served traditionally with fried pork and locally foraged Lingonberries that are graciously converted into a preserve after being cooked with sugar on a low and slow flame. He replaced the pork with some shredded cabbage to match my vegetarian palate.
Swedish Potato Pancakes
They were rather comforting and delicious especially considering the simple ingredients. An effective and unpretentious meal ready in minutes! Harald threw in some flour, butter, eggs, milk, and grated potatoes with a dash of salt in a bowl to reach the right consistency. He relied on his heart and intuition for measuring the ingredients and poured the batter into a slightly greased pan till brown and crisp from the edges. ‘The more crispy and buttery the pancake is around the edges, the better it tastes. The trick is not to spread the batter too thick!’
Hungry for more Raggmunk, I rummaged the menu of all the local restaurant’s but discovered that it’s a dish made mostly at home and in actuality served on the side of some kind of meat. Hmmmm, so Swedish cuisine was most definitely not vegetarian friendly. Oh, of course, they have restaurant’s serving the vegetarian flair, but those are influences carried on from other countries or as a side dish. There are also many cafe’s dedicated for vegans and vegetarians.
The Vegetarian Mission
Harald was on a mission to find me my vegetarian inspiration, so he took me to an Indian inspired vegetarian café called Chutney’s. There was nothing really Indian about it, except for a few elements of the decor and they served dal and rice along with other vegetarian goodies. They did make a lot of their own version of Indian sauces/condiments. But, what they served best was their secret 12 grain bread made majorly with Rye flour and it was sweetened with some kind of dark syrup which they refused to reveal, despite all my efforts to get them to share their secrets. As a Chef, I totally get it! They did give me hints about the spices used perhaps ginger, cinnamon, anise?
I have seriously never had better bread in my life and a bite of it was truly psychedelic leaving me curious and wanting more even after devouring 5 slices with butter…I had to burn it all out with hours of walking later! And guess what? It came free along with some Swedish Crispy bread and lingonberry preserve and you could eat as much as you want if you purchased a cup of coffee for 4.50 Euros. Unfortunately, the recipe remains a secret and I am now left to my own devices to figure it out. Oh well, I shall be going back to Chutney’s for more when back in Stockholm.
Being a vegetarian can be frustrating sometimes when you want to avoid pizza’s and burgers! But for now I was happy living on the Chutney’s bread along with many other kinds of breads, and not to forget the famous Swedish Cinnamon Buns, cheese and the famous Swedish crispy flatbread made with Rye Flour. Life at home made it easy with Harald’s constant attempts of keeping me well fed. As a gesture of gratitude for Harald’s efforts, I cooked an Indian vegetarian meal of carefully spiced potatoes, cabbage and lentils along with rice and tortilla’s which played the role of our Indian ‘Roti’ and while Harald loved the spices, poor Mirijam (Harald’s daughter) was left to fish out the less spicy parts of the vegetable and relied heavily on the Tortillas. Not wanting to eat out all the time, one of the many benefits of couchsurfing is to be able to cook and fend for yourself in the kitchen provided graciously by your host. So the basics like eggs, pasta and salads became my best friends to whip up a quick meal so that I had time to venture out.
What really matters
There were times where Harald would invite me to have a vegetarian dinner cooked by him for Mirijam, just a simple tomato soup tossed with some pasta along with a garlic bread that he quickly whipped up. Even though the Chef in me would frown upon it, I thoroughly enjoyed its simplicity and basked in the warmth and excitement of the conversations of Mirijam’s stories about her school, even though she spoke in Swedish and Harald would translate for me, but watching Mirijam’s face light up and a very attentive Harald would make me forget that I was far away from home. Sometimes, these simple gestures of kindness and connections go way beyond any food to make us feel happy and warm. This truly was hospitality in its simplest and most honest form making me forget for a minute the Chef in me.
- 300 g Flour
- 800 g Potatoes
- 1 each Egg
- 1.5 C Milk
- 50 g Butter
- 2 t Salt
1. Mix the egg, flour and milk to make batter. Add salt.
2. Peel the potatoes, grate them and leave to drain out the excess liquid.
3. Mix in with the remaining ingredients
4. Form into small patties
5. Shallow Fry in butter until golden brown on both sides.
Serve with shredded raw cabbage and Lingonberry Preserve.* I am sure if you don’t get Lingonberries where you stay, you can try another tart jam available to you.