October 1, 2007

Of Money and Meatballs

“Ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch.”

That was me paying for food in Stockholm. You would think that traveling from London, where the dollar-to-pound ratio is roughly 2/1 to Sweden, where the dollar to Kronor ratio is 1/6, would be a little cheaper.

You’d be wrong. If you want to sit down in Stockholm and enjoy some native Swedish meatballs, expect to shell out close to 200 Kronor – 30 bucks.

Fortunately for the meatballs, they are simply scrumptious. I never knew a meatball could be so good until I stepped into a bar and restaurant just north of Gamla stan and ordered the Swedish meatballs. Imagine, if you can, a perfectly seasoned meatball that is neither overcooked nor undercooked. That means they’re moist on the inside without being hard on the outside. From what I understand, the meatballs actually contain mashed potatoes, which might explain their propensity for perfection.

But the thing that makes these orbs of meat most desirable is their sauce. They’re doused in a cream sauce that is somewhere between brown and yellow and carries the flavor that makes the meatballs so distinctive. You’ll probably like this stuff even if you’re foolish enough to not like gravy like substances, so make sure your meatballs are thoroughly covered.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this dish is that the cream sauce is not used to cover up for inconsistent cooking. Often, when I eat at restaurants, I think the food is doused in gravy or sauces to cover for the fact that it’s only the chef’s second day on the job. But with Swedish meatballs, the gravy adds more than a little moisture, it adds its own distinct flavor. The meatballs would be plenty moist on their own anyway, so you know the gravy has to be there for another reason.

Any self-respecting restaurant will serve you your meatballs with boiled potatoes and Lingon berries. My potatoes were the only potatoes of their type that I’ve ever eaten that were boiled to perfection. It’s quite difficult to get them just right so that they are fully cooked but don’t fall apart. I can now say that getting them just right is quite the reward.

Lingon berries would probably deserve their own post if I had eaten more of them. Those that were served with Swedish meatballs were mashed and had one of the best sweet flavors I’ve tried. It was sweet enough that it should have been sickening, but somehow it wasn’t. I chalk that up to the fact that they had a natural sugar, rather than the processed sugar that usually creates such a strong sweetness.

The only real regret I had after finishing my meatballs was that they were so expensive. If you judge the meal against other sit-down meals in Stockholm, the price was actually good. If you judge it against meals in other countries, it will make your skin crawl.

But if you judge it on flavor alone, you’ll want to crawl back to the restaurant and order another plate.

Thank goodness I’m not spending the semester in Stockholm. I might be broke.
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