In the globalised world, I think it can be quite easy to forget that different countries are, well, different, particularly here in Europe; we share TV programmes, brands of washing up liquid, fast-food outlets, social media platforms and pop music but, when you arrive somewhere, as a visitor or to live, those little wrinkles that don’t show from afar all come into focus. The nuts and bolts of national identity, stuck fast, limpet-like to the rock of culture.
I haven’t visited the USA in over a decade, but I remember when I first went, at the age of 14, it absolutely knocked me for six that I was in a foreign country. I thought, having watched TV sitcoms, seen movies, had coca-cola and McDonald’s and generally lived my life in the shadow of american culture, like any European, it would all feel familiar and yet, when I arrived on my exchange programme, literally nothing felt quite as I thought it would; life at Junior High School, the way people pronounced certain words (I once had to ask my host parent, Steve, to say the word ‘Roof’ to me three times before I understood what he was saying), the near universal habit of attending Happy-Clappy church services every Sunday, the enormous double-doored refrigerators, filled with preparatory food, the fact nobody walked anywhere, literally seeing a guy walking down the street with a rifle casually propped on his shoulder. None of that had featured in any episode of Friends or Frasier that I’d seen.
I think there’s probably an image of Sweden, the country that’s been my home for the last three years, in the world that’s slightly askew too, and there are definitely deep, immovable cultural roots here which, cosmopolitan as Stockholm may be, I suspect will never change. I hope they don’t.
One thing that feels to me peculiarly Scandinavian is the street hotdog culture here. In many ways, it’s the good old American Hotdog: a smoked sausage, heated up in water, served in a sweet, springy, whiter-than-white-bread bun with mustard and ketchup, but it’s the added extra toppings that make a true Swedish Hotdog, particularly Räksallad, a mayonnaise and shrimp salad that, by rights, shouldn’t be anywhere near a smoked pork sausage but, somehow, belong atop a late night hotdog as if it were the most normal, obvious combination in the world. At the extreme, you might have your hotdog wrapped in a Tunnbrōdsrulle, along with salad, pickles, onions, mashed potato (yes, mashed potato) and the aforementioned räksallad (watch the fantastic clip above of Anthony Bourdain rolling out of a bar in Medborgarplatsen and ordering one for a View From Abroad). I can’t imagine anything quite like it in any other part of the world, and yet, there it is, at every Gatukök, and it’s delicious. I suppose these weird twists on a 50’s American classic serve a similar function to the British take-away kebab; something to soak up the alcohol after a post-work trip to the pub.
Whilst these things should really be eaten in the street, there’s something to be said for making these at home, particularly where the räksallad is concerned, which can become something really quite special when half-decent ingredients are used.
You will need:
For the Räksallad:
- 150-200g of cooked prawns, shelled (I used a 500g bag of whole prawns and got 150g of meat. It really is almost all shell.)
- 75ml mayonnaise
- 50ml creme fraiche
- 1 generous tsp french mustard
- 1tsp prepared horseradish (I used some from a tube, but use jarred, or grated if you have more time and integrity than I do.)
- The fronds of 3 or 4 sprigs of dill, chopped
- 1tbsp of finely snipped chives
- 2-3 good quality hotdogs each, warmed in water than sits just below boiling point
- 2-3 hotdog buns each
- American (or, if you can get it, Swedish) mustard
- Mashed potato or french fries
Mix together all the prawn salad ingredients, season with salt and pepper to taste, and set aside for half an hour in the fridge (if you have time) to let the flavour of the horseradish permeate the mixture.
Whilst you’re making your mash, stick all the prawn heads and shells into a pan, boil in a litre of water for 15 minutes, strain, and freeze. You’ll always be glad of a litre of shellfish stock some time down the line.
Put a warmed hotdog in a bun. Squirt with a line each of ketchup and mustard. Top with a generous dollop of räksallad, maybe around 2tbsp, pick up, and eat, tucking into the mashed potato between bites so you can tell yourself it’s a Proper Meal.
Eat alongside a cold lager, and preferably a Swedish one. If you’re a Londoner (as I think most readers of this blog are) a selection of beers from the excellent Nils Oscar brewery are available from Scandinavian Kitchen on Great Titchfield St, as are the best kind of hotdogs and mustard for the authentic varmkorv-on-a-bench-in-the-street Swedish experience.