Monday, November 10, 2014


I have always been very fond of Sweden as far back as I can remember. From the time when I was a little girl, my family has had business ties with Swedes. My Dad's friend Sven  is a dear friend of mine as well. When I was about 7 years old, I got a little note from then 8 year old Evelina through her mother Ylva who was in India on work. From then on, we have continued to write letters to each other which then graduated to emails and now whatsapp messages!! Like all friends, we have shared and discussed all things related to pets, books, movies, boys, schools, etc.

And when I was 15 years old, I had the opportunity to visit her for 4 weeks and go to school with her as well. Those 4 weeks as a 9th grader in Sweden during one summer, was a period of enlightenment and change for me. I came back a different person and till date I remember my time there fondly. One of the memories I carry with me was the time I spent in the kitchen with Ylva, my friend's mother. I was her sous chef in the kitchen and enjoyed spending that time with her during the weekends. Ylva, was a warm and caring mother who would churn out delicious meals for the family everyday. I went to Sweden as a scrawny teenager and came back as a plump one!! I gained 8kgs in those 4 weeks I spent with Evelina's family. So you can imagine what a fantastic cook Ylva was and still is!! Ylva has been a strong influence on me when it comes to my fondness for food and cooking.

Since 1995, I have visited Sweden numerous times and have been a big fan of Swedish home cooking. My favourite is of course, the Swedish meatballs. But I must say, that my most favourite are the breakfasts there. I love the different breads, honey, smoked salmon at times, the cream cheese and other cheese spreads!

During my short stay of 3 days in Sweden this October, I got to eat all my favourite dishes and what made it even more special was catching up friends after a long break. I was going back to Sweden after a break of 7.5 years, a lot of things have changed since my last visit there. For starters, Evelina has two little adorable boys aged 4 and 5 and I met them for the first time last month. Evelina put in a lot of effort to make sure that they were delicious dishes on her table for every single meal while I was there. What was very striking for me to know was that she has inherited the dining table from her parents after they moved and it was the same table that witnessed me gain 8 kgs in the summer of 1995. Only fingers crossed this time that it doesn't happen again! ;-)

My very first dinner at Evelina's was a seafood extravaganza. She had to drive to Gothenburg to pick me up from the airport and she used this opportunity to visit a local seafood store and bought a lot of goodies to feed me. There was boiled shrimp which was very flavourful and was served with a spicy aioli. There was also cold-smoked salmon and hot-smoked salmon with gravlax sauce. She had also baked a potato gratin for dinner. Its layers of potato slices baked in cream along with garlic and parsley. Now what can go wrong with something like that? It was heavenly! Although I manage to buy smoked salmon every now and then from the big metros in India, the gravlax sauce is something I miss here in India. I love the sweet, spicy and sour taste of the gravlax sauce and has been unable to recreate the same in my kitchen.

Clockwise from top left - Hot and cold smoked Salmon, Vintage Volvo, boiled shrimp and the grey autumn skies over the Swedish countryside

Evelina and her husband John, live in the Swedish countryside about 3 kms from the nearest town of Gallstad. She has her own hens in a coop and gets fresh eggs from them every day. A week before I arrived, she had a bought a whole sheep from the farmer next door and had it butchered and packed into neat little packages to be tucked into the freezer, to consume over the next few weeks. I made Rogan Josh with some of that lamb and it was a big hit with her family. I also made a chicken curry for dinner one evening and had her little boys running around in circles with their tongues out as they found it too spicy. Evelina made Swedish meatballs for lunch one day when her mother visited us. In no time, she made the meatballs, sauce and potatoes while chatting with us in her kitchen. The meatballs were served with Lingonberry jam which is a classic combination.

Like I mentioned earlier, breakfasts are my favourite in Sweden. With fresh eggs from Evelina's back yard, the breakfasts in her house were very special. As a teenager, my favourite was a layer of butter on any bread and a thick layer of honey. I had to eat that one morning just to relive that summer of 1995. Another day, it was smoked salmon with gravlax sauce and eggs. One of my new discoveries this time is the cheese spread that is available in tubes in a multitude of flavours. The flavours range from smoked shrimps, shrimp and crayfish, ham, blue cheese, chives and smoked reindeer meat with actual bits in it. During one of my visits to the local grocery store I was amazed to find a huge display of these cheese spread tubes. The range of flavours was just mind-blowing!

This was probably my shortest trip to Sweden and the first time I did not visit Sven and his family. Sweden and its people are very close to my heart and I am already longing to go back to Sweden. I hope to make it back to Sweden in 2 years from now with my little boys and share with them the culture and friendship that is very special to me. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


After landing in Tromso in northern Norway, I was to go on a long ferry ride to reach my final destination, Skjervoy. This was a huge ferry service named 'Hurtigruten' where tourists are known to spend a few days on board traveling along the west coast of Norway watching the northern lights in the winter and whales thorough out the year, if they get lucky. I was all set to witness the northern lights and was eagerly looking forward to a decent meal after the rather insipid meals on long flights.

Above - Hurtigruten and my sumptuous three course meal onboard

The food served on board this ferry was to highlight the produce from northern Norway. The first course was a warm carrot soup served with bits of crispy cured ham. The salty and crisp bits of ham was a lovely garnish to the soup and highlighted the sweetness of the carrots. It was followed by a course of baked arctic char (a close relative of salmon and lake trout) with pickled vegetables (mostly fennel), roasted beetroot, potatoes and a mustard sauce. The Arctic char had been sourced from a nearby port that very morning. The fish was cooked just right and the fennel along with the mustard sauce rounded off the dish very well. For dessert, it was cloudberry from the local region served with sour cream and a crisp and crumbly biscuit. Followed by dinner there was a magnificent display of the northern lights in the sky for me to witness and enjoy for the first time in my life. It was indeed a challenging task to be out on the deck of the ferry to capture the northern lights in my camera to bring back home the images and share with my family. The night was cold and the wind was howling!!!

I arrived at my friend's village in the middle of that night and the next 3 days were filled with memorable meals from the Norwegian and Indian frontiers. It is amazing to have access to such good produce in near zero weather conditions and with just the right planning, I pulled off a couple of great Indian dishes for my special friends too. My friend Elna, grew up in the sleepy seaside village of Skjervoy in the north of Norway, settled in Lillesand in the south of Norway but spent a good part of the last 20 years in Tirupur, South of India. I have known her for 20 years now and I must say that she is definitely one-of-a-kind, in a very nice way.

Day or night, east or west - stunning views

Skjervoy is a beautiful little island along the north coast of Norway, well north of the arctic circle. When Elna was a little girl growing up in this village in the 1950s and 60s, the only way to the mainland was by boat. But today, they have a single lane bridge that connects Skjervoy to another island which in turn is connected to the mainland by a tunnel that goes under the seabed. The population of the island of Skjervoy today is about 2000 and it is largely comprised of the fishing community and a few pensioners. 

I made sure that Elna's fridge is stocked up with Salmon, especially smoked salmon. I was determined to eat as much salmon as possible on this trip, as we do not have access to this lovely fish in India. My lunches were a few slivers of smoked salmon with a green salad and a soft local bread for the next 3 days. The dinners were all home-cooked and very interesting.

Elna's younger son, Thore is a trained chef but had to give up his career due to skin allergies caused from handling fresh food. He is now a full-time fisherman in the northern waters of Norway but still can thankfully whip up delicious dinners while wearing rubber gloves during prep time. For my first dinner in Skjervoy, he cooked a delicious meal of baked salmon in a hollandaise-like sauce along with spaghetti. After devouring a large piece of salmon, I was treated to fresh strawberries (quite unusual for this time of the year as I was told) with cream. To add to this delightful meal, I was also treated to another fantastic display of northern lights right over the village and it looked splendid in spite of the lights from the village.

Diwali dinner and the salmon delicacies

The next day, I decided to cook them an authentic Indian dinner and managed to serve a near original Rogan Josh cooked with the local lamb and served it with rice and a cauliflower subzi. I had taken a few Indian spices along with me and they came in handy with the Indian dishes I cooked in my Norwegian friend's kitchen. As I was in Norway during Diwali, I thought it was only appropriate to take some Indian sweets for Elna and her family. I had a taken a box of Mysurpa from Krishna sweets (a local specialty here in Coimbatore where I live) and they were truly appreciated after a meal of warm lamb curry and rice. The strawberries and wine along with the Mysurpa added a Norwegian touch just to remind me that I was far away from home but in the comfort of my dear Norwegian friends.

Baked salted Cod with the various accompaniments

On my last day in Skjervoj, I was treated to an authentic Norwegian dinner which is usually cooked on Christmas eve. Thore baked a batch of dried and salted cod which his uncle Stan was kind enough to arrange for their visitor from India (me!!!). The baked cod had a rather unusual texture and was served with an array of traditional accompaniments. It was served with boiled potatoes and a pea stew and the garnishes were sliced onion, brown cheese slivers, bacon bits fried in butter and fried bacon fat that popped in one's mouth like popcorn and melted away with all the salty goodness that comes with bacon. Apparently, the brown cheese made from goat's milk is a local specialty and it tasted delicious and reminded me of Kova (condensed solidified milk in India) for some reason. I had cooked some South Indian coriander chicken curry to satisfy my friends and they were indeed thankful for a second Indian dish during my short stay there. The highlight of every evening while I was there was the magnificent display of northern lights in the night sky over Skjervoy. Not for a moment did I miss the fireworks back home in India that were lighting up the sky during Diwali. The key factor to witness the northern lights is a clear sky and I was lucky to get 4 clear nights in a row during my stay.

Although my stay in Norway was rather short, I shared a lot of great memories with my friends over the special dinners we cooked for each other. The nearest Indian restaurant is at least a good two-hour drive from Skjervoy but even they fail to cook up dishes that are authentic enough to satisfy my friend who has spent many a months in India eating home-cooked meals in my folk's place. And to me, a self-proclaimed lover of all things with salmon, it was a gastronomic-fantasy-come-true eating salmon literally for every meal during my stay in Norway. With a heavy heart and a content belly, I said good bye to my friends (as I won't be seeing them for a while) and carried on with the rest of my trip. To be continued with more food stories from other parts of Scandinavia...............