01 October 2012

Things Swedish People Like

Falu Red aka This Red Paint.  As soon as we drove away from Stockholm, we entered a land of red houses.  And all the same red, too.  This isn't an overstatement.  At first, Falu Red was designed to mimic the look of brickface in cities in the 1700s.  When, farmers began to paint their houses in the 1800s, they chose the paint for its practical purposes and it swept the nation.  Made of linseed oil, water, rye flour and copper compounds and zinc from the great copper mine in Falun (hence the name), Falu Red is non-toxic and actually helps preserve wood.  The recipe has been the same since the 1920s.   Falu Red has become so iconic in the Swedish countryside that "a red house," is used the same way "a white picket fence," would be - the symbol of an ideal.
Cardamom.  When we first saw kardemumma in a labeled shaker at a coffee shop - you know, where the cinnamon or cocoa powder usually are - we were surprised.  Then, we tasted it in one baked good after another.  It's a spice that we would probably never have associated with sweets before.  I'm not sure either of us could really have picked it out of a line up before Sweden.  But we sure can now.  Above, one of many kardemummabullar.  Think cinnamon bun, but with cardamom.
Dagens Rätt.  This means "Daily Lunch Special," and is served for about three hours mid-day Monday through Friday at just about every Swedish restaurant. Usually, it's a smörgåsbord (buffet) of soup, one or two hot dishes and an extensive salad bar. For the record, "salad bar" in Sweden means a whole selection of salads, from grains and beans to tzaitziki and hummus. We're not simply talking lettuce and fixings, here. A soft drink and coffee is included and, sometimes, a small dessert. It began decades ago when the government decided to subsidize lunches to keep workers happier and healthier (and more productive). Nowadays, most employers subsidize the lunches. So, places are packed at lunchtime. It was easily the healthiest and best we were able to eat on the cheap in a very long time. Swedes like the system so much that even big city brunch - the trendiest meal of all - is a buffet by reservation system in the hottest places. I call it smörgåsbrunch.
Wallpaper.  Don't let the white walls of Ikea fool you (or the lime green or pink ones for that matter).  Swedes love wallpaper and, being as I love wallpaper, it has been a real treat.
Beer and Burger Pubs.  In Sweden, bars can only sell alcohol if they classify themselves as 'restaurants' and serve hot food until at least 10pm.  That's a recipe for a pub right there - a place where you can sit with your stronger-than-supermarket beer and eat something simple.  Like a burger.  Boy do Swedes like their beer with a burger.  And they like one strong and the other big. The list of beer was always impressive, from the island of Gotland to the island of Jamaica and a whopper of a homemade veggie burger was available at each place we tried.  Never the thin, frozen type, either.  It was nice to go to these pubs and not feel like they were British or Irish themed.  Just good ole fashioned (or new fashioned?) Swedish beer and burger bars.
Extra Headlights.  In an unofficial survey performed by me in the passenger seat on a highway 4 hours north of Stockholm, 9 out of 50 cars (18%) had extra headlights attached to their grills.  Logically, they showed up more and more as we continued on toward the Arctic Circle. In the far north of Sweden, Lapland, the sun rises above the horizon for only two hours during winter.  (Stockholm gets about 5 1/2 hours of daylight in that same depth of winter).  So, one can see the point of the extra wattage. At a gas station yesterday, a man affixed his extra headlights.  Autumn has arrived.  The beginning of the sun's end.
Wooden Butter Knives.   These are not just quaint decorative touches.  A Swedish person would never dream of spreading butter with anything but a wooden butter knife.  Families have one for each member - different hands, different perfect fits. Households tend to have slightly different knives for use with different breads.  They are smooth, light, often made of juniper wood and every kitchen we rented (4 in all) had loads of them in their utensil drawers.  The handles are thinner than the blade.  They're kind of like little, shortened canoe paddles.  Above, the magical butter at Fäviken Magasinet.  Don't let the photo fool you.  Swedes skim their butter from the top.  Those wooden butter knives were not made to dig, scoop or chop, but rather gliddde and spread.

Saab.  It is the only automobile given the "Royal Warrant" by the King of Sweden and, as of June 2012, Saab belongs to the Swedes once more!  Well, the Swedes and the Chinese who share ownership of a company called National Electric Vehicle Sweden.  Sure, there was the whole GM bankruptcy snafu, but Sweden came to the rescue and their beloved brand will live to see another day.  (Obviously, Swedish people also like Volvo, but I really wanted to use this picture of an awesome classic Saab in Stockholm).

Honorable Mentions

Making you pay for the toilet.  Even as a paying customers in some cafes, you've gotta fork it over to pee.  Lessons learned the hard way, folks.  We felt stealthy when we discovered a free one, marking it one our maps.  Carry coins with you if you ever go to Sweden.  5 - 10 krona (75¢ to $1.50) is the going rate to use the restroom and since most have a door that you insert a coin into, it's vital to have exact change. Apparently, Stockholm pay toilets have been transitioning to Pay-By-Text functionality, but we didn't run into any of those ourselves.

Too Many Toppings.  This applies the most to pizza.  Outside of the cities, pizzeria and kebab restaurants are your local places to eat.  The pizza menus in Sweden are massive and include a list of combinations that seem bizarrely overwrought.  Pizza with kebab on it was a no-brainer, of course. But then...shrimp, skagen (roe and mayo salad), ham, pickles, pineapple, bernaise sauce.  On one pie.  Hot dogs get served with all sorts of pålägg (toppings): shrimp salad, Kalles (the iconic tubed caviar spread), bacon, cheese, coleslaw or mashed potatoes stuffed into the bun.  Lest we forget smörgåstårta.  The land of buffets has bred some very overzealous taste mixers.

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