Beverley Embarks on an Oyster Odyssey in Sweden
Date Created: 01 June 2012
Postcard One- Introducing Sweden
When I first visited Sweden many years ago, this culturally diverse and ravishingly beautiful country proved a revelation. During the summer, long hot days give visitors plenty of time to soak up all Sweden has to offer. As far as cities are concerned, Stockholm may be the jewel in this country’s crown but it’s well worth exploring further afield. My most recent visit to West Sweden couldn’t have been more entertaining as I embarked on an oyster odyssey starting in Gothenburg. Tracking down freshly caught seafood is a good excuse for driving through the glorious landscape and staying on atmospheric islands in the archipelagos.
DISCOVER ALL THE GLITTERING OCEAN HAS TO OFFER IN PRISTINE SWEDEN
There can be few comestibles capable of dividing opinion more than the oyster. Hemingway loved them. Thackeray wasn’t keen. Woody Allen wouldn’t even try one but Isadora Duncan believed her mother’s diet of champagne and oysters – the food of love - inspired her talent for dancing. And whilst I know people who think they’re the ultimate gourmet experience, others flinch at the very thought of swallowing a slimy bivalve mollusc. My opinion of them rested somewhere in between – until I tried oysters in Sweden.
My oyster odyssey begins in Gothenburg. The gateway to West Sweden, there is much to admire in this handsome and historic city but I am here to sample the local gastronomy. Oysters are a jewel in the region’s culinary crown and I spy my first one in the Saluhallen covered food market. Conveniently situated opposite my chic Hotel Avalon, the market sells a mouth-watering variety of fresh and varied foodstuffs exemplifying the region’s local cuisine.
With produce such as this, it’s easy to see why Gothenburg claims to be one of Europe’s top culinary destinations. The city has five Michelin starred restaurants, one of which is Sjomagasinet run by charismatic chef Leif Mannerstrom who’s cooked for everyone from pop stars to presidents. With views across the glittering harbour, the restaurant may date from 1775 when it was a warehouse for the East India Company, but there’s certainly nothing antique about the perfectly cooked cod on my plate.
Seafood, I am told, grows slower in the cold waters of the North Sea which is why the oysters on the West Coast of Sweden are famed for their quality and taste. After a two hour drive and a bracing boat ride from Gothenburg, I finally sample my first Swedish oyster. On the tiny island of Karingon, I explore a toy town village comprising a picturesque harbour and timber clad houses with lace curtains at the windows and geraniums on the porch. Originally established by herring fishermen during the seventeenth century, Karingon is a summer haven for those wishing to escape the city. But one family has made the island their year round home.
Together with her parents, Camilla Hofsten has established an oyster farm on Karingon. In ‘Karingo,’ their cosy rustic oyster bar, Camilla tells us how Belom oysters take three to four years to mature and the waters surrounding the island offer the perfect conditions and temperature to produce the ‘Rolls Royce of oysters.’ “You must try them with a glass of our own champagne and my mother’s home made bread - in our hot tub,” she says with a challenging gleam in her eye.
Although the sky is a cloudless blue, it is teeth chatteringly cold outside. In trepidation, I eye the steaming hot tub situated at the end of a jetty where Camilla’s father, Kent, is landing dozens of oysters. Dipping my fingers in the water, I find it invitingly blood temperature so as my hosts pour champagne and arrange oysters on a floating tray, I whip on a bathing costume, step in and consume.
Eating oysters in a hot tub is a decadent and elemental experience which allows time to appreciate an oyster for what it is. From the outside, it is an ugly brute, gnarled and barnacled. But on the inside, it is a pearlescent symphony of swirls and frills resembling a delicate flower. “You must chew them,” exhorts Camilla, and as I do so, I breathe in the scent of the sea and experience the faint metallic mineral quality of the succulent meat. That evening whilst enjoying another perfectly executed gourmet experience at the island’s popular fish restaurant, Peterson’s Krog, I ask Camilla’s father if he’s ever found a pearl? “Three,” he laughs. “But they were so tiny, I accidentally washed them down the sink.”
Written by Beverley Bryne.