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I keep wondering why European cities seem so full of stuff – cultural, consumerist, the lot – compared with Australia. Why is it that Adelaide feels so empty compared with Stockholm when they have very similar populations? Why is it that Stockholm has a wonderful public transport system and Adelaide’s sucks? Why is it, if tripadvisor is a useful guide, that there are 1358 restaurant listings for Adelaide, 1976 for Stockholm. That’s the easiest thing to attempt to measure, but I imagine that everything would be pretty similar – cinemas, theatres, music venues. The lot.

I wandered around Stockholm thinking it felt like Australia – by which I mean Adelaide and Melbourne – and nothing like Australia. English being an important language helped create that illusion, no doubt. But also, if in a smaller way than in Australia, Stockholm has that coffee shop feel that makes Melbourne in particular, but Adelaide too, special.

The differences between them are two-fold. One is that Stockholm is geographically much smaller than Adelaide. Same population, but mainly in apartments. Australia can’t, alas, have it all ways. It can’t have a population living in houses with gardens, and have that sense of built-up urban liveliness and have a great public transport system. The last two come from living in tiny areas with no gardens. The other thing is that Europe’s both small and decentralised. A theatre group, a musician (etc) can cruise around Europe dropping in at many different viable venues. Australia is a long way away from anything and each city is a long way away from – anything.

I love coming back to Australia, but I’m now put out by the way it takes an hour to get from one inner city side of the city to another. Paris and London – let alone the teensy places like Edinburgh, Dublin, Seville – are completely walkable. I don’t mean the ‘burbs’ but the inner parts, the parts tourists want to go to. That just isn’t possible in Australia. So whereas the moment you stop off a plane in Australia, you are struck by the flatness of it all, due to the low density living, and flatness means emptiness, places like Stockholm seem cozy. I imagine even when it’s six foot deep in snow it still feels cozy.

And maybe that makes it easier to go to things too. In Australia people are driven by a car subservient mentality – if they can’t drive, they won’t go. In Europe you don’t need to think like that. You walk to the theatre, you hop on a tram to the opera. The place in Australia that best emulates this is the inner city of Melbourne. Readily usable public transport for the inner suburbs, based on a tram system, and lo – a thriving live culture scene. You can go to the theatre every night in Melbourne and not be stretched for what to see. In Adelaide there is almost no live culture, no music, no theatre and lo – no public transport either. Maybe as the extraordinary transformation continues to take place which is converting the city centre into a high density residential area, this will change. But since I understand a lot of that population to be overseas students, then again, maybe not. There is certainly a developing vibrancy in the city centre in Adelaide which I haven’t seen since my childhood days there.

Let’s drive home the point with a few stats.

South Australia is almost 100,000 sq km, which covers the size of several small European countries: say Holland and Denmark, or Holland and Switzerland – I say several because you could throw in those countries that are the size of Melbourne. But most of the land is at best semi-arid and other than its capital, no town larger than 25,000 people. Almost all South Australians live in Adelaide. The density of population in Stockholm is going on for 5000/km. In Adelaide it isn’t even 700/km. In Melbourne, 430/km. Interesting that Melbourne nonetheless has a thriving innercity. Adelaide is over 600 kms to the next city, with nothing in between. In Europe there’d be whole countries set in those distances, with nice cities of a viable size for the support of live culture. And the distance from Adelaide to the next country? Thousands of kms. The tyranny of distance. It’s hard to imagine anything ever beating it.

The average size of farms in South Australia is over 500 hectares. To put that into a figure you might understand at the moment, that is maybe 600 FIFA regulation soccer grounds. The average size of a farm in Switzerland is 17 hectares and in Sweden 37. The biggest farm in South Australia (also in the world) is over 23,000 sq km. On the list of sizes of European countries it would come in at the same place as European Turkey, ahead of Slovenia and Montenegro. Turkey has 74M people, though I don’t know how many live in ‘European Turkey’. Slovenia has 2M people. Montenegro has 650K people. The population of Anna Creek station? About eight. Not 8M or 8K. Just – eight. Are you getting the message yet???? Australia is EMPTY!!! Of course, it is also incapable of sustaining these populations. Except for camels, that is.

Danish smørrebrød

Speaking of things Scandinavian, as I have been lately, in Melbourne at the beginning of the year we happened upon a smørrebrød at Denmark House in Melbourne.

We started out in the bar, cooling down after walking in from forty-in-the-shade before heading into this lovely setting:

Denmark House smorgasbord (5)

Stylish surrounds and an excellent value meal. The cinnamon buns are brought in from Denmark. They were good, but I’m a bit surprised that there aren’t wonderful local examples to hand. For a change, I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

Danish smørrebrød

Danish smørrebrød

Denmark House smorgasbord (4)

Denmark House smorgasbord (9)

Denmark House smorgasbord (10)

Denmark House smorgasbord (11)

Denmark House smorgasbord (12)

Denmark House smorgasbord (8)

I made this a couple of times a while ago and am only just writing it down, so chance plays a part in its accuracy. The first time I made it I added quinoa, the second time I didn’t. To be honest, the quinoa looked like little worms to us once cooked, but I dare say it makes a nutritionally superior dish. Worms would.

Ingredients

Two tins of chickpeas rinsed
Two tins of tomatoes chopped or equivalent fresh
Lots of finely chopped garlic and ginger – at least a couple of tblespns of each
Several onions finely diced
Ras el hanout: 2 heaped tblsp
ghee or oil for frying

Method

Gently fry the onion in a generous amount of ghee until softened, add the garlic and ginger, stir and fry for a few minutes and add the ras el hanout. Mix that in well, add the tomatoes, thoroughly mix and then the chickpeas. Bring to a simmer and reduce to very low heat. Cook for at least an hour. It will not surprise you to hear it is better the day after.

Serve with rice. Add coriander, lemon, chilli to taste. It would be fine as part of an Indian meal. I’m sure it would be lovely as a meat dish too if one were so inclined.

As you can see, this is easy-peasy, only making the ras el hanout takes any effort. If you look online you will see a gadzillion ways of making this, it’s almost like a kitchen sink mix. I guess prosperity and geography play their part, as well as personal taste. I took one of the longer lines of ingredients, figuring I’d stick to what was in the cupboard out of the list. It comes from An Edible Mosaic

Ras el hahout

1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground chili powder
2 teaspoons ground paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground allspice
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoons ground mace
1 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
3/4 teaspoon ground fennel seed
3/4 teaspoon ground anise seed
1/2 teaspoon ground fenugreek
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons ground orris root
2 dried bay leaves, ground in a spice mill and strained through a fine mesh sieve (about 1/8 + 1/16 teaspoon ground)
1 teaspoon organic, culinary-grade dried lavender buds, ground in a spice mill and strained through a fine mesh sieve (about 1/2 teaspoon ground)
1 tablespoon organic, culinary-grade dried rose petals, ground in a spice mill and strained through a fine mesh sieve (about 1 1/4 teaspoon ground)

Thoroughly mix and store in an airtight container.
I used all but the last four and ground them all fresh but for the ginger, allspice and tumeric.
As usual, instead of cayenne I added my own chilli powder from dried chillies.

Posh Bars in Stockholm

I’m not a big fan of bars unless they are really nice. I get humoured on this, so the one bar we found ourselves visiting in Stockholm was at The Grand Hotel. We’ve been talking about going there for days, but in the end it was a chance encounter in the street that got us there:

‘Excuse me’ said a nice young blonde chap as we were walking past him. ‘You live in Geneva, right?’

‘Yes’ we said uncertain where this was leading.

‘And you go to Les Bergues, don’t you?’.

Indeed we do. Part of my being humoured. A cocktail costs about $35-$40 in Les Bergues, the bar of The Four Seasons and our local. I’d so much rather go to this lovely place and have one drink than go to one of the gadzillion places around where you can buy 2 or 3 drinks for the same price whilst standing up and shouting at each other over bad music. Or even sit and shout at each other. I’d rather stay home and have nothing. Shouting is something you do after you fall overboard and need saving. The idea that it is part of having a good time is incomprehensible to me.

It transpired that this young man – I recognised him by now – had worked at Les Bergues. Clearly he had one of those excellent memories that famously go with the best staff as he hadn’t been there for 18 months, but could spot us on the street in a strange city. Maybe also clearly, we spend too much time in the bar there :) Not that we drink cocktails except as a real treat, but we do frequently go down for a pot of tea, books in hand.

Back to the story. He was Swedish and had decided to go back home where he worked at the bar at The Grand. Of course, hearing this prompted us to get there.

So, how does it stack up against our benchmark standard of Les Bergues? Nice view of the water from the room which is next to the window and from some parts of the main room. Larger. I imagine if it were crowded I’d want to be somewhere else. Les Bergues can’t get crowded. It is small with reasonably spaced tables. Cheaper. We got a cocktail and tea for the same money as a cocktail at Les Bergues and the cocktail we both went for was very nice, featuring rhubarb. Unfortunately they don’t have an online cocktail menu and the details escape me. The nibbles were inferior, but they have a nice bar menu with usual enormous Swedish helpings. We ordered nothing much, just olives as we were coming back the next day to try the smorgasbord lunch and were consequently on a diet. You can see why it’s handy coming to Stockholm from Geneva, there’s none of that ‘OMG it’s so expensive’! Our bill came to the equivalent of 75CHF and we thought we’d shopped well.

Touristy in Stockholm

We are really really bad tourists. We meant to go to art galleries and more palaces and all sorts of things. I can imagine if the weather had been worse we would have done that. But the weather was perfect for walking and walking and walking, so that is largely what we did. Still, we went to the following.

The Nobel Prize museum. I mentioned elsewhere online my surprise that they didn’t display the sports section. I was expecting to see Australia Australia Australia all the way. Except for the bad weather events, of course. In practice we found the place lacking, even granted that it ignores sport. There were displays where one could find out something about each prize winner, but most of the information which was clearly supposed to be there was missing. New and thus incomplete? Next up a little cinema where one could actually see winners in film clips. But each clip is limited to a few minutes in length – pity! On the other hand, it was a fairly comfy place to nap. Indeed so soundly did we sleep, that when we later woke up and moved on to a gallery nearby, only to discover all our money, which generally speaking was in my bag, was missing, the worst did seem possible to me. Either an enterprising thief had ferreted around in my bag or I’d left it all in the apartment we were renting. Yes, all was okay, I had left it behind. Phew!

Skansen Established in the late 1800, this bills itself as the world’s first open-air museum. It’s a strange mix of historical display – authentic buildings, costume etc of the past – and a zoo of sorts. Frankly, I thought the animals were a bit sooky – it was only about low twenties, but they were acting like Australians in the middle of a mid forties heatwave. Ie mostly napping and often not visible. There are lots of eating opportunities here, so although we brought a picnic with us, there was no need. In fact we rested up for a while in a nineteenth century cafe located in the historical quarter which had a charming outside area, though inside was grimly dark as seems to be the wont of locals.

Drottningholm Palace My favourite. You take a ferry for an hour’s trip or so through a sample of the archipelago to get to this beautiful seventeenth century palace which is on UNESCO’s world heritage list. We weren’t good enough tourists to go inside. Instead we brought a picnic lunch to have outside in the grounds which are well worth spending a few hours’ walking around. Again, it wasn’t necessary to bring lunch, there being several places to eat. We went to a very old building near the Chinese Pavilion when we needed a drink. I don’t see this cafe mentioned on the website, we came upon it by accident.

Drottningholm Theatre For us the highlight of the palace visit was going to be seeing The Magic Flute at its amazing theatre – the only working eighteenth century theatre in Europe and the set for Bergman’s famous interpretation of the opera. Ahem. I said ‘was going to be’. It turned out that we’d actually bought tickets for a guided tour of the theatre. JUST the sort of thing we don’t do! In fact it has occasionally shown the opera, but not this year and it was too early in the summer for anything to be on there. There is a standard tour of the theater and while we were there, a special one that focussed on Bergman – expensive at around $40 for one hour*, but there were only three of us unlike the large group for the regular tour and we got to go on the stage. It was all very exciting, so much so that I forgot to sing. The building is amazing, I highly recommend paying for a tour, and if you happen to be there at a time where an opera is possible, go!! I’m sure it’ll be worth it.

* yeah, don’t tell me, suspiciously cheap for an opera, but the last time we’d seen The Magic Flute it had been by coin donation, so you know….

Cafes in Stockholm

Ahhh…it was almost like Melbourne, not least in Vasastan, which is dubbed Little Paris hereabouts, but I’m tempted to call it Little Melbourne.

We spent so much time wandering around Stockholm that we didn’t make as many cafe stops as we will next time we come, when it will be November and there will be no reason at all to be out on the streets except to move from one coffee shop to another. Or so I imagine. But in July? It is reading-outside-light at 10pm.

Still, we examined several.

First up Gilda’s Rum and Espresso Bar. I question the dark depths of places like this, but I’m told Swedes like dark insides. I speculate that in winter it makes it less depressing – if only marginally so – to have to step back outside. Everything is good except the tea which is Kusmi. Unfortunately French flavoured tea is taking over Europe, it is all but impossible to get plain tea. I can’t remember the last time I saw Ceylon tea on sale anywhere in Europe. If the coffee drinkers of Sweden were all forced into ‘Lemon and Ginger’, ‘Liquorice with Orange’, ‘Apple and Cinnamon’ I could stand the idea that tea drinkers should have to put up with this too. But the coffee drinkers wouldn’t dream of such a thing here where coffee is important. So why should tea drinkers? Why is it that tea has been marketed to people who don’t like tea by covering up the tea flavour with rubbish ingredients? The ridiculous thing is that I’m only asking for one plain tea to be stocked. If a cafe has 20 flavours of tea, could they not make one of them just tea flavoured? Tea aside, a nice cafe with simple uncooked food options – salads, rolls, toasted sandwiches, yoghurt, cakes.

Next Borgs Café & Brödbod (Tidigare, Systrarna Anderssons Hembageri) -Karlbergsvägen 45. Another cafe that you could slot into any part of Melbourne. A really nice feel. Unless you want special coffees you can refill your cup, as you can with tea. By now I was prepared, having a stock of teabags with me and happy to pay the price of their tea. Again, a good range of pastries, rolls, salads and one or two hot dishes. There was a typical Swedish breakfast special of pastry, coffee, juice, hardboiled egg and a ham and cheese roll. That was about $15. A really nice place to hang out – very light, unlike many in Stockholm – good music at an ambient volume. And about the cutest loo I’ve ever seen.

A block or so away we also tried Non Solo Bar for lunch, one of a line of cafes which are very popular with the locals. Tagliatelli with salmon was a very creamy sauce and orange in colour – I decided best not to speculate on that – but nice. Not too sweet, thankfully, given the Swedish fish-cream-sweet trinity. Reasonable value at around $20.

I could easily imagine spending a lot more time in cafes next time I’m in town and weather aside, it wouldn’t be too hard to imagine one is in Australia. English is the second language there, so it is all made as painless as possible for people like me!

Restaurants in Stockholm

Our experiences were a little haphazard, not least because it is the period when Stockholm closes down to go fishing. Nonetheless, our food experiences were pretty positive. Much easier to get a good feed in Stockholm than in Paris, even at the wrong time of year.

Convenience saw us going to Rott our first night. We both thought that our dishes were too messed about:

SMOKED DUCK BREAST Creamy orange and chilli risotto with saffron and cherry reduction for 255k
HERB DEER FILLET WITH SERRANO HAM Tomatskummad cream sauce with smörbrynta autumn mushrooms and salt baked beetroot with honey. 298k

I would be surprised if the risotto was made with appropriate rice and it was, in any case, about stiff enough to hold a fork up, which isn’t at all the consistency of risotto. It also had little bits of tomato, asparagus, jam and cream around the plate, which seemed to me to go against the main ingredients of the dish. On the other hand, I imagine it is hard for Swedes to cook anything without cream and sugar being added one way or another. There was a huge amount of foam with the deer. Still, this was not an awful meal, I would have been happy enough with it in Paris, but I expected better from Stockholm. The main courses were over $40 each. In Australia I’d want seriously good tucker for that price.

Day two saw us at a rather touristy venue, Östermalms Saluhall Lisa Elmqvist is an oft recommended seafood restaurant for typical Swedish fare. We shared what was described as a gourmet platter:

DELIKATESSTALLRIK – 540 SEK
with marinated and smoked salmon, smoked and fresh shrimps, smoked eel, skagen mix, crayfish mix, trout roe and bleak roe served with accompaniments

It was okay, certainly enough for two, but in particular we were disappointed that the smoked eel consisted of three tiny pieces, may 2 cm x .5cm each. I’m not really the right person to judge this sort of dish as I find the Swedish use of creamy dressings and sauces overwhelms the delicate taste of the seafood. But Manny, who has great experience of Sweden, gave it the thumbs up.

A couple of days later, we stumbled into what turned out to be another place which probably does a big tourist trade, no great surprise given it is in the old town on a main shopping drag: Mårten Trotzig. Amongst lots of good reviews on tripadvisor, it has some awful ones but notably not for the food. Some dislike the service, though we found it excellent and others complain about the prices. It is true that the bistro priced dishes chalked to the outside, are not displayed inside and the menu is considerably more expensive. You have to ask for the dishes that are displayed outside, but if you do, it doesn’t seem to be an issue to order them, even at dinner time. We had a bargain meal from these ‘bistro’ dishes: a large, impeccably cooked lambshank and an excellent version of Swedish meatballs. I’d only ever tried the Ikea ones which are revolting, so it was good to discover they don’t have to be like that. At around $20 each, these main courses were simply good value. The potatoes with my lambshank were undercooked, but this was another culture clash, as apparently Swedes like their potatoes on the al dente side, whilst it is one of the few vegetables I would never cook that sparingly. The only disappointment was that the ‘chocolate pudding’ was no such thing, it was sort of a chocolate cream, nice, but I was expecting something hot. Back to the prices – the people who complain about them can’t have much knowledge of dining in Stockholm where high-end dining prices are very expensive. But still, stick to the bistro dishes and there is nothing to complain about. An excellent meal.

Still, the very best value we got in Stockholm was also the most expensive: the smorgasbord at The Grand Hotel. You can find a detailed pictorial review by The Cutlery Chronicles. I’ll cut to the chase. It can be had for lunch or dinner, lunch being a tad cheaper and a bargain at around $70. Everything was first rate, the cold seafood was all wonderful, the hot dishes included meatballs (of course) and baked mussels which I’m going to have to try myself when I’m back home. I didn’t try the cheese but I can attest to a fantastic array of sweet things from truffles to custard-fruit pastries and an array of fruit which wouldn’t look special in Australia, but here in the North of the world was positively exotic. Excellent service, a fine view of the water; nothing let down this meal.

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