When in Sweden…Eat Swedish Meatballs!
On a recent trip to Göteborg (or Gothenburg), Sweden, we had a pleasant morning wandering around the old city blocks, watching people and just enjoying the day. However, since this day was in January, the cool, sunny late morning quickly turned blustery and gray. By noon we were cold and ready to duck inside somewhere for lunch.
We really wanted some traditional Swedish food and were not impressed with the majority of places we’d seen. Think pizza-kebab or McDonalds. Cheap? Yes. Traditional? No. Or we would find a nice looking place that was a little too high-end for us. French haute-cuisine, or steak houses. Again, not traditional, and too expensive for a get out of the cold, cozy kind of lunch.
We walked past a few cafes that looked comfortable enough but we didn’t really give them much thought as the typical cafe usually has little more than coffee and maybe a light snack. In fact, we walked past the Cafe Du Nord, twice before we decided to take a closer look. It had a steady stream of locals going in and out and it’s dining tables were mostly full and too big for the typical coffee and drinks kind of place. A closer inspection (looking through the big street front window) revealed happy diners in a warm, comfortable dining room enjoying steaming plates of tasty looking food, so we decided to give it a try.
The menu, as much as you can call it that, is written on a few small chalkboards scattered around the room. Basically this is a walk up to the counter, order your food and drinks, pay at the end of the line and take a seat. We weren’t sure what we were doing. We knew we wanted Swedish meatballs so we went down the line with our tray, ordered some drinks from the girl at the cash register and asked if they had meatballs.
Well, as it turns out, the Cafe du Nord has been serving meatballs and other traditional dishes since 1875. In fact it’s best known in Gothenburg as the Köttbullekafeet (direct translation-meatball cafe). The girl laughed and said, “Of course. How many?”
The food was brought out to us by the same friendly girl–three large meatballs covered in gravy on each plate with a side of mashed potatoes and some lingonberry jam. Delicious! And about as traditional as you could ask for.
We were the only tourists in the place and it was crowded. This was a stand and wait for a table cafe but not quite line out the door. Still, it was a cold January afternoon, I’m sure it gets more crowded later in the year. While we were eating it got more and more crowded and as we were finishing up a mom with two small children came in. She looked hopelessly around the room for a table. Giving up, she turned to leave, bracing herself for the protests of the oldest boy. Sure enough, he started to cry and tug at her arm to pull her back toward the counter. I’m not sure what he was saying but I’d bet it was something like, “You said we could have Cafe Du Nord meatballs, you promised!”
We caught her eye, smiled at her and motioned for her to come on over as we pushed our now empty plates to the corner. A look of relief and a small cry of joy were thanks enough.
Have you ever been to Gothenburg on a blustery January afternoon? Did you stop in at “the meatball cafe?”