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A Texas-Czech in Sweden

On April 29th I returned from a week-long trip to Sweden, where I spent half the time in Stockholm and half the time on the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea. This trip was a very long time coming... in fact, since my dear friend Laura moved to Sweden in 1989.

Neither Gotland nor Stockholm were places I expected to run into signs of Texas or Czech culture. But to my surprise, there was a Mexican restaurant in the medieval town of Visby on Gotland. We did NOT partake, though, even out of extreme curiosity. I grew up on Tex-Mex and did not want my ideas of it sullied. And with dishes like Fajita Tropicana on their menu, I was not hopeful.   

Later in the week, we sought out a very popular Czech pub in Stockholm called Soldaten Svejk (Soldier Švejk) named after the character in the satirical Jaroslav Hašek novel about a soldier during World War 1. Laura had been there several times, never able to get a table because the wait was so long. But one quick request to a busy waitress and she snatched the "reserved" sign off a tiny table and we sat down. Reserved for us!


Me in front of the Soldier Švejk pub in Stockholm.

It was very loud. It was very crowded and lively. There was no Czech to be heard spoken anywhere. We were told by the waitress that she didn't know of any Czechs that came into the pub, but that the owners were running the establishment started by their parents who were Czech emigres.


    


Happily, the menu had many dishes on it that I hadn't had since the last time I was in the Czech Republic, 10 years ago, including schnitzel, strawberry dumplings, beer cheese, and utopenec (pickled sausage.) My traveling companions, Tammy and Laura, and I started with beers and slivovice, of course. We drank beers ranging from light to very dark, none of which I'd seen in Texas. They even carried hruskovice, made from pears instead of plums, which I'd also never had and indulged in after dinner. It had the same fiery bite as slivovice, but with a slight pear aftertaste.


Leco with bread dumplings.
For dinner, we shared two dishes. One was very typical Czech pub food... a thick slice of breaded and fried cheese with creamy, tangy tartar sauce and fried potatoes. (Chunks of potatoes sauteed until browned in butter or oil with maybe garlic like home fries, not deep fried like french fries.) The other dish was actually Slovak, a delicious and visually beautiful vegetable stew called lečo, which has peppers, tomatoes, garlic, and onions in it and was served with heavy bread dumplings. One of my favorite blogs, Slovak Cooking, has a
Fried cheese with tartar sauce.
recipe for it here, which contains sausages, but you could leave those out, if you're vegetarian. We left the restaurant high on carbs (potatoes, dumplings, breading, beer) and uncomfortably full, but I was so happy.


Ironically, on our walks around the city the next day, we wandered into one of Laura's favorite bookstores and sitting featured on a shelf was a book about Texas barbecue in Swedish by a Swede. Then around another city corner, we ran into the Texas Longhorn restaurant, serving steaks and margaritas. We once again did not indulge. They might have made the best margarita outside Texas' borders, but I was skeptical. Still I find it fascinating how known Texas food culture is outside the country. Maybe I should move to Stockholm and open a little breakfast place that serves Tex-Czech kolaches and breakfast tacos.



My dear friend Laura and
her dear neighbor Edo.
Finally, on my last night in Stockholm, we ran into one of Laura's neighbors, Edo, a man from Bosnia who had been in Stockholm for decades. The conversation drifted to the slivovice and hruskovice we'd drunk the night before at the Soldaten Svejk. Edo, with a twinkle in his surprised eyes, said he actually had slivovice in his apartment and would we like some? He called it rakija sljivovica and it was actually home-distilled by his brother in Bosnia. (Did I want some? I live for experiences like that.) We sat in his living room with the evening light coming through the open door and windows on what was probably the warmest evening so far this year while he talked in Swedish and Laura translated. Edo also brought out Bosnian sausage that he'd sliced up called bosanska goveda suduka.

It was just a lovely evening aglow with light, hospitality, friendship and slivovice. I was reminded of very similar beautiful evenings in the Czech Republic visiting with friends and distant family, eating and drinking the same things. I missed them, but Bosnian sausage and slivovice in Stockholm with Swedish friends was a very, very sweet replacement.


Bosnian slivovice and dry sausage. Na zdravy!


Comments

  1. I love this post, Dawn! Friends (and reminders of family) can be found just about anywhere in the world, it seems. Thank you for your thoughtful gifts from Gotland. I can't wait to visit!

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