After learning about Sweden’s medieval and pre-industrialization history, I wanted to feel the pulse of contemporary Sweden. The trendier parts of Stockholm (I stayed in the Sofo neighborhood, a play on NYC’s Soho) are chic and streamlined, like walking around a giant IKEA store, or hipper-than-thou neighborhoods in Brooklyn (cough, Williamsburg). You can get a good read on the city by simply hopping between cafes, which are present in abundance at a density that rivals Italian cities. These cafes often serve espresso and cinnamon rolls, and you can also find hybrids like cafe-thrift stores, cafe-record stores, cafe-office, cafe-hair salon, etc. Swedes take their coffee very seriously it seems, perhaps as a substitute for alcohol. This is, of course, by design, since Sweden has a state-run monopoly on alcohol sales and the prices are inflated to discourage drinking in prodigious quantities. All this means that Swedes go to Denmark or Germany to bring back cheaper booze.
Many cafes also offer light meals, sandwiches and such, and you can usually get a breakfast or lunch special with food, juice and coffee for a set price.
Ready for some people watching? Don’t forget to bring your skinny jeans!
Vurma Cafe is like visiting your hippie, India-obsessed aunt, with brocade pillows in a rainbow of colors lining the benches and pink lights strung overhead. I visited the Nytorget branch, but they have multiple locations, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the others have a varying style. They offer a great breakfast menu with organic and gluten-free options. For 80 SEK, I got a bowl of Turkish yogurt with pumpkin, flax and sunflower seeds, accompanied by wide multigrain crackers topped with sprouts, tomato, cucumber and cheese, plus a hardboiled egg and coffee. I couldn’t resist the call of the semla cream puffs, and added one of those to my meal to balance out all the healthy items.
Fabrique is known for their sourdough breads, but also makes fine cinnamon rolls and other pastries. They have several locations throughout Stockholm and an offshoot branch in London. The Södermannagatan location shares space with Il Caffè next door, where you can get coffee and Italian-style sandwiches made on Fabrique bread. Be sure to pick up a cinnamon roll, the most traditional pastry to have when taking fika (coffee break).
In this converted stable, Snickarbacken is at once a cafe, a gallery space and a concept store. At the time I was there, the store seemed to be focused on bathroom fixtures (sink handles) and linens, while a movie screened silently on the tall walls behind the tables. You can buy coffee beans, chocolates and other specialty groceries, and if you’re in the mood to read, there’s plenty of indie English-language magazines, including our very own Lucky Peach. Or you can browse through Stylelikeus, a Brooklyn-based compilation of closet interviews, featuring people with interesting apparel and style philosophies.
With the crowning of Copenhagen’s Noma as the “best restaurant in the world,” new Nordic cuisine has reached unprecedented heights in popularity. Foraged ingredients, heirloom varieties, carefully deconstructed plates–casual dining this is most definitely not, and the price tag for most of these types of restaurants reflects that. I’ve never tried it though, so I decided to make my splurge meal at Restaurang Volt, which I’d heard was a more casual and playful Noma. Here, the four-course tasting menu runs 550 SEK ($85), and it’s easy to make reservations online. The staff speaks impeccable English, and fields questions about ingredients and wines with a smile.
The food at Restaurang Volt was also fabulous, and introduced me to eating parts of trees. Little did I know that pine bark and spruce leaves could be so tasty! From now on when I visit parks, I’ll simply be looking around, thinking “Mmm, dinner.”
Not pictured: cod, sunchoke, pearl onion, elderflower
DesignTorget is my favorite store in Stockholm for whimsical, fun yet functional items that pop with an element of surprise. They have decorative items, housewares, kitchenware, small gadgets, toys and gifts; there really is something for everyone. It’s like being in a more upscale IKEA, without the lines or screaming children, or like being in a Scandinavian version of Tokyo’s Loft. What’s that, a wooden bird? No wait, it’s a doorstopper! A banded roll of plastic sticks unfurls into a whisk (“That’s so that it’s easier to store and it doesn’t get caught in other utensils in the drawer.”) and tea strainers come with hats to keep your cup warm. Definitely worth browsing if you want to see what the Swedish “eye for design” is about.