The Swedish coastal city of Gothenburg has always known how to play its cards right. For centuries it was Sweden’s only North Sea port, until in 1658, thanks to the Treaty of Roskilde, the country gained the whole western coastline it holds to this day.
Its time as Sweden’s main port enabled Gothenburg to develop strong maritime and fishing industries, which later diversified and grew to include, for example, the manufacturing headquarters of Volvo cars. Industrial decline forced the place to reinvent itself and it has now reemerged as a centre for tourism, culture and gastronomy, illustrated by five Michelin-starred restaurants in a city of just over half a million inhabitants.
However, in Gothenburg, like in the whole of Sweden, this culinary phenomenon is relatively new. This is explained in part by difficulties in acquiring fresh ingredients but also, and most importantly, by local habits related to alcohol consumption. According to Professor Hakan Jonsson’s study, The Road to New Nordic Cuisine. The Swedish Example, until the 1980s the average Swedish restaurant was mediocre at best and the general population was little accustomed to eating out.
If that were not enough, restaurants also had a dubious reputation given that many people went there only to dodge the strict restrictions on the consumption of alcoholic drinks. As such, these establishments had little incentive to improve the quality of their cooking.
It was only when the restrictions on drinking spirits were lifted that the restaurants found themselves obliged to compete with their menus rather than their alcohol supply. This change saw the country raise its game in terms of gastronomy.
In the case of Gothenburg, this renaissance centred around their principal raw material: seafood. In fact, one of the city’s most emblematic buildings is the Feskekorka, which literally translates as “fish church,” and is actually the indoor fish market.
One of the city’s typical dishes is undoubtedly fisksoppa, or fish soup, a hearty broth made with the region’s characteristic salmon together with other fish and vegetables.
This is a recipe that is certainly rooted in popular Swedish gastronomy, as the writer Jules Verne observed. In one of his works — The Waif of the Cynthia — he includes the dish as part of a menu which, as he writes in the novel, “would have frightened a Frenchman by its massive solidity.”