I went to a gatukök (street kitchen) in Stockholm in 1986 on my first visit to the country. Hungry, culture-shocked, and knowing no Swedish, I shyly enquired, "Do you have hamburgers?"
"Of course we do," I was assured. The fry cook asked if I wanted pommes frites with it, to which I replied yes. Momentarily I was handed a paper plate with a ton of french fries beneath a fried hamburger patty! I asked the cook where the bun might be. 'Well," he sniffed, "you must specify 'with bread' when ordering."
Things haven't improved much since then.
The Swedes are as stiff as boards and every bit as interesting, and so is their food culture. Take, for example, a meal you'll find in virtually every Swedish restaurant. Imaginatively called 'Plank Steak', it’s a dubious cut of grilled beef drowned in bearnaise sauce served with mashed potatoes, and delivered — you guessed it! — on a board.
If that sounds dull, you may consider that other Swedish classic, Pytt i Panna, essentially beef or pork hash that comes with a raw egg yolk (in its shell) plopped atop the hash.
No? How about a hot dog then? Sweden eats more more of them per capita than any other country on earth. Various forms of hot dog are readily available at any one of the hundred, if not tens of thousands, of hot dog kiosks scattered throughout Stockholm and the entire kingdom of Sweden. I learned early upon my arrival here that, when ordering a frankfurter, I should ask for a randig med rött på, which means “striped with red on” — that is, grilled with ketchup.
Kosher frankfurters are non-existent, though there was a kosher deli in my neighborhood not so long ago where you could buy matzoh, gefilte fish, chopped liver and fresh bagels, but it has since been converted to a trendy coffee shop for hipsters called Beards 'n’ Beans. If you're seeking overpriced coffee and 1990's drum-and-bass or acid jazz blasting deafeningly over the PA, you've come to the right place. It's simply not my cup a cino.
I come from Southern California, where fast food often means a Mexican burrito. I quickly learned, to my horror, that the Swedes have their own version, known as a tunnbrödsrulle (thin bread roll). This gastronomic nightmare consists of a thin soft flour flatbread with three scoops of mash, two or more hot dogs , a large dollop of shrimp salad, shredded iceberg salad, chopped onions, and lots and lots of ketchup and mustard, served with a half dozen napkins for your comfort and safety. Definitely an acquired taste, but very popular with the drunken famished crowds that need that extra nourishment after the clubs and pubs close for the evening.
Being a sober recovering something-or-other, I generally prefer my local fairly clean kebab joint, where the servers are polite and the clientele mostly sober and even joyous, if often bearded. The tea and watered-down American-style coffee are absolutely free!