Being so relatively compact, Stockholm is a gloriously walkable place. It is quite possible to go from one side of the city to the other within about an hour without having to break a sweat. The realisation that you’ve forgotten your camera/guidebook/lip balm/ear muffs/intercontinental ballistic missile back at the apartment doesn’t quite result in the same level of frustration and you are never too far from where you want to be.
It also encourages you to see much more of the city, take in the feel and ambience of the place without having to zip from one tourist hot spot to another, avoiding everything in between. The pace is more sedate but it genuinely feels like you have done more. Especially when massaging your tired feet at the end of the day before falling asleep at eight thirty thanks to sheer exhaustion.
Conversely, because it feels so compact it is easy to kid oneself into thinking a destination is much closer than it really is. A glance at the map can easily result in the mistaken assumption that that little place you saw yesterday – you know the one, where the food looked so good – is a mere stroll away. The cold hard reality of the situation, that it is still four miles away, only becomes scathingly apparent when hunger begins to cripple you, slowing your progress even further.
But at least you arrive hungry. And that is exactly how we arrived at Östermalms Saluhall, Stockholm’s foremost food market. Dating from 1888, this incredible indoor hall is a true temple to gastronomy – the sort of place that I can only dream about spending all eternity in when I shuffle off this mortal coil. The quality and range of the produce on offer was staggering and in between the fishmongers, grocers and butchers were four or five eateries offering some of the finest traditional Swedish food in the city.
I left the final decision as to where we ate up to the birthday girl but we had to wander round a couple of times, open mouthed, desperate not to miss anything, before we finally chose Lisa Elmqvist.
Lisa Elmqvist has been selling fish in Stockholm since the 1920s and from a single stall on the harbour front, the ‘empire’ quickly grew to include a restaurant, fishmonger and deli all housed in one corner of the Saluhall. Although it comes highly recommended, the restaurant looked a touch starched, especially for a couple of tourists how had trekked slightly too far to still appear as effortlessly cool as was necessary, judging by the clientele already eating there. Less formal, and less expensive, than the restaurant is the delicatessen offering similar wares without the pretence, table service or starched tablecloths.
Here it is possible to eat a light lunch for about ten pounds, including a beer and as much rye bread and knackerbröd as you can comfortably consume whilst still maintaining the requisite level of sophistication. We ordered at the bar and took a seat at a high table, balanced precariously atop tall stools. Two beers provided some much needed liquid refreshment and we nibbled on some of the delicious crispbread as a surrogate starter whilst we waited for our order to be called out.
We didn’t have to wait long. A shout rang out from the counter and informed us that they were ready for collection. My herring plate consisted of four different types of the cured fish complete with cheese and a hard-boiled egg garnished with tiny jewel like salmon roe. As a youngster I couldn’t abide the intensity of cured herring, nor could I understand the appeal. But, as with coffee and whiskey and a whole host of other foods, time has altered my palate and I can’t get enough of this northern European staple.
The selection in front of me was delicious, although when I tasted my girlfriend’s skagen I was in two minds as to whether I had made the right choice. Tiny crayfish tails, stirred into a light sauce of mayonnaise and crème fraîche and flavoured with dill, skagen is a real taste of summer and one that is worth replicating at home, especially as midsummer is just around the corner.
We both finished our plates, mopping up any remaining sauce with a thin slice of dense black bread and decided on how to spend the rest of the day - ‘There’s that great little gallery we went past yesterday, I’m sure it’s only a short walk away.’