Lured by the promise of fresh local ingredients, star chefs and some rather good beer, I head to Skanör in Sweden for a beautiful food festival by the sea.
The wind in my face is so strong I can feel my hipster bike attempting to go backwards under the pressure. I stand up in the saddle and apply more motive power to the pedals as on either side of the causeway brown cows eye me impassively while flocks of strange seabirds circle overhead
I have to get a move on, Magnus Nilsson of restaurant Fäviken fame has a pop up food truck selling his take on hot dogs up ahead at the food festival, a collaboration between chefs, restaurants and local farmers and producers, and I am keen to get a look and taste before the crowds build up.
Everyone around me is on hipster bikes too, but this isn’t Shoreditch. Here In Skanör, southern Sweden it’s the bike of choice for young and old alike just as it has been since time immemorial. Only one gear to choose from and in order to stop or fall off (the result is usually the same) you apply reverse pedal pressure. After a few close encounters with the tarmac I have got the hang of it. On this perfectly flat land a bike is a beautiful way to travel.
And this is a beautiful part of the world to have a food festival, the sky shimmers enticingly, an effect created by the light bouncing back off the Dulux-white sands. In the distance can be seen the massive bridge that connects Sweden with Denmark; that and the propellers of the sea-based electricity windmills are all that disturb the infinite horizon.
A perfectly lovely spot
The little village of Skanör is laid out on a handy grid system, with the compact houses located on each crossroads having odd angled corners to them. This I am told by Christian, the owner of my lovely, cosy hotel the Hotel Gässlingen , is a result of a disastrous fire in the 18th Century when the horse drawn fire truck got hopelessly jammed trying to get round the old ‘sharper’ corners. As a result the mayor ordered the houses to be rebuilt in a way to avoid that ever happening again.
Here was once one of the biggest herring fisheries of the region too, so many fish in fact that apparently villagers simply walked into the water with a bucket and scooped them up. Fished out long ago, of course, and the village is now a mixture of holiday homes and homes for full-time residents who work in Malmo a relatively short drive away. Clean and tidy and ever so Swedish it makes you feel healthy just being here.
The Food Festival is in its second year and is compact enough to be do-able with relaxed ease. I arrive to find lots of people already braving the fierce wind to fill their faces at the stalls. I move swiftly past the burger stand, I’m sure they are fine but who wants to eat yet another burger, to where a man is busily grilling fresh green asparagus from local farms. ‘I’m a vet, by trade,’ he tells me as he sprinkles on rock salt, ‘I’m helping out my friend.’ His friend imports Parmesan and has made a hollandaise sauce to go with the asparagus, a sauce that is shot through with the umami-laden cheese. The result is pure deliciousness.
Who are you calling a bastard?
Bastard is not the first name I’d choose to call a restaurant myself, but Bastard in Malmo is very well regarded by the trendier Swedes. It’s big on meats and they’ve brought their home-made black pudding, a loaf shaped creation, as well as pies to the party and are cooking pork belly slices that have been slow sous-vided for sixteen hours and now are coloured and caramelised on the charcoal grill before being dunked in home-made kimchi and served up to the crowd. The chefs sport full sleeve tattoos, conforming to the new orthodoxy among young chefs.
Pig skin tortilla? Oh well go on then. It looks like a giant prawn cracker; white and puffy and crispy but it is indeed ‘crackling’ and stuffed with fresh vegetables. And then I join the queue for the Magnus Nilsson hotdog, in front of his jet black converted caravan Korvkiosk (Hot dog kiosk) and I reflect that Scandiwegian food does not always get the attention it deserves, with critics looking too much at the gimmicks of a few and not the heart and soul of the many.
Nilsson apparently bought a local charcuterie producer that was about to go out of business and got into hot dogs that way, touring the caravan while his main restaurant got refurbed. His take on a hot dog, when I eventually get served, is two dogs in a wrap of flatbread with shredded carrot and creamy mash and a flower, a pansy I think for those of a horticultural bent. It’s perfectly ok, tasty even but it was £10, which even by Swedish price standards is a bit steep.
The cost of eating
I wander into the beer tent to get a drink to wash it down and I am sold a 33cl glass of artisan brewed beer, from New Carnegie Mill Brewery for £6. ‘You think things here in Sweden are expensive,’ says a big bearded man to me, noting me reel back in shock, ‘try Norway!’ He shakes his head and walks off. Many Swedes do their shopping over the bridge in Denmark to save money.
But I have my bike for free transport at least, so I pedal off to explore the dunes and check out the Farmers’ Market. On this peninsula nowhere is more than fifteen leisurely minutes of pedalling away and after an enjoyable wander among the foods at the market make my way back to my hotel.
Smoke on the water
The hotel is hosting one of many special dinners in the area tonight, a vegetarian feast from famous chef Daniel Berlin and Olle T Cellton, chef at Babette’s in Stockholm consisting of six totally vegetarian courses and local ingredients in season, but I am not booked in and so soon back on my bike and back to the harbour to the restaurant Skanörs Fiskrögeri. Here they smoke their own fish and shellfish to be sold in the shop or in the restaurant. I start hugely with smoked salmon tartar topped with a poached egg plus green sauce and croutons and then a locally fished char fillet with asparagus and mashed potatoes plus a few gloriously plump langoustines to add even more richness.
Next day dawns bright again and I pedal down to the other end of the peninsula to the Falsterbo region, about ten minutes ride south. Here Nils – Arvid Andersson takes me foraging into a woods comprised of trees planted a long time ago to stop the erosion of the sand by sea. But by the time of planting it was already too late for the original village, the remains of everything but the church, Nils tells me, are eerily under our feet.
It has worked to stop further erosion though and now is a large and beautiful area where Nils takes me to sample nature’s free foods, the garlics and herbs and leaves like sorrel that are everywhere, if you know what to look for. ‘I often come here to get my salads and herbs,’ he tells me as we both nibble on a berry before breaking through the treeline to gaze at the wide wild sea beyond. The sun shines down from a blue sky as we gaze out silently.
Beer in the evening
And finally for the evening it’s a bit of a UK angle with Billy White who has previously been a chef at St John in London and several other top restaurants. Billy is a Brit who married a Swede and now lives and works in Sweden and he is taking the helm of restaurant Hotel Norregård for the evening.
Today Billy is head chef at New Carnegie Brewery in Stockholm, a craft brewery and also Sweden’s oldest brand of beer. His menu is beer-laden and beer matched and a very convivial evening is had by everyone especially under the effects of Keller Bier, unfiltered and cold fermented and 5.9%, as we dive into the excellent food that culminates in a leg of lamb per table that is laden with flavour.
The next day slightly thick-headed, I take one last refreshing pedal around, checking out smart stylish shops and investigating the tiny brightly- coloured beach huts which line the shore. This whole area is quite beautiful and otherworldly in the most marvellous way and it’s a wrench to leave. Next year I’ll be back for sure.
The best route to Skanör is via Copenhagen airport, cross into Sweden by train (fifteen minutes) and then bus south (about 40 minutes) or an approximate £40 cab ride.
I stayed at the very pretty Hotel Gasslingen. Bikes are available at the hotel which features a pool, spa and sun-drenched atrium.