On Sweden’s west coast, there is a small town called Grebbestad, where food has always been in focus. But today, increasingly, foreign tourists are drawn to the area to combine its breath-taking scenery and the culinary fare. What is so special about this place? Its luxurious oysters.
Food tourism is no longer just a trend; it is a way of travelling. In all, there is a growing interest among tourists to discover the origin of food, drink, and local products, especially seeing growth in sustainable and organic culinary tourism, which is expected to gain popularity in the coming years. Overall, food is now one of the main motivations for travellers choosing their destinations and is predicted to grow 9% over the next three years.
The trend is largely driven by the millennial generation, who seek genuine local dining experiences. According to UNWTO, several studies have found that tourists travel to those destinations that have established a reputation as a place to experiment with quality local products. Swedish cuisine today centres on healthy, locally sourced produce, while certain preparation methods can be traced back to the Viking era.
The oyster found in the region of Grebbestad is the original European variety called Ostrea Edulis, also known as Belona. They’re known to be some of the fattest and most flavourful Nordic oysters, which some claim to be the best oysters in the world.
In Grebbestad, visitors can book and enjoy a truly unique experience on the water. Oyster paddling through a wild landscape and floating over naturally occurring oyster beds in a kayak is particularly memorable. The experience is probably one of the main reasons why tourists keep coming back to the small town – and why new people are discovering this hidden pearl.
Swedish DMC Skärgårdsidyllen Kayak & Outdoor thus combine soft adventure tourism and gastronomic discovery with paddling tours over the wild oyster beds. The visitor safely floats over the wild oysters, feeling the saltiness in the air, while seeing the oysters on the bottom of the sea in their own habitat.
From Hamburgsund in the far south to Strömstad in the far north, a stretch of 60 kilometres is where approximate 90 % of all Swedish oysters are harvested. During the oyster paddling tour, the visitor will familiarise and learn about the oysters in their own habitat. They learn how to identify different species, and can also make a short break on an island to have the opportunity to try an oyster or two.
The oyster paddling tour, including the oyster tasting, takes approximately three hours. The best time to eat oysters, like all other seafood, is the months that include the letter R: in other words, from the beginning of September throughout the month of April.
No previous experience of kayaking is required. The trip itself is an introduction to kayaking, where the guides continuously train the basic skills one needs. However, it is assumed that the paddler knows how to swim and is at least 15 years old.
Sweden – a foodie’s paradise
As a Scandinavian country with four distinct seasons, Sweden’s food culture has been shaped by its climate. The frost-free season – between May and August – was historically geared towards producing what could be stored through the winter months. However, southern regions enjoy twice as long a season due to milder temperatures.
Historic culinary methods with lasting appeal
Food preservation was practiced in Sweden as early as the Viking times. Richer households used methods such as salting and smoking, while the less wealthy would typically opt to dry, ferment or pickle their fish and produce. Pickled and fermented foods remain a part of the Swedish diet even to this day, and popular variants are cucumber, cabbage and other vegetables and root vegetables. The pickled herring (sill) is a staple for the national holidays of Easter, Midsummer and Christmas.
Porridge and bread have also been staples for over a millennium. The population relied on water mills, whose wheels only turned twice a year, and the bread therefore had to last for a long period of time. Hence the rise of crisp bread (knäckebröd) that could be stored until the next production. In the south, where windmills were used, baking was done more frequently, giving southerners access to softer bread.
Protein sources of yesteryear were milk, cheese, pork, fish and game such as elk. Reindeer meat was, and still is, mostly eaten in northern Sweden as part of the Sami culinary tradition.
The main vegetables grown in the past were onions, turnips and swedes (rutabaga) – root vegetables grew well in the Swedish climate and were also key due to their keeping for a long time. Around 1720, the potato entered the Swedish culinary scene, gradually replacing the root vegetable as the most important base produce. It has remained an important part of the Swedish diet, often eaten boiled or mashed. The arrival of new potatoes (färskpotatis) is the start of summer in Sweden.
Still a part of the Swedish food culture is “husmanskost” – perhaps best translated to comfort food, i.e. hearty meals often consisting of meat, potato and a serving of boiled vegetables. Some examples of these classic Swedish foods are: “isterband” (smoked pork sausages served with creamed dill potatoes), “rotmos och fläsk” (root vegetable mash and pork sausage) and “ärtsoppa” (Swedish yellow pea soup, usually accompanied by pancakes), a tradition dating back to the 18th century.
Photo – top of page: Oysters fresh from the sea – Photo by Skärgårdsidyllen Kayak & Outdoor