The last place I ever expected to find myself last weekend was on a boat off the coast of West Sweden. I was part of a group of 6 food bloggers invited by the West Sweden Tourist Board and Visit Sweden on a Shellfish Journey to learn about the shellfish available off the coast of West Sweden. I’d wanted to travel to Sweden prior to this trip and had always assumed that I’d be visiting Stockholm and never thought of West Sweden to be a possible destination. We were there for three days (Friday to Sunday), right in the middle of the Shellfish Journey promotion, during which there is ample opportunity for visitors to catch shellfish as well as feast on it, which is on this year from 26 September to 6 November.
An early morning trip to Heathrow on Friday was softened by an invitation to visit the Star Alliance lounge before boarding our short SAS flight to Gothenburg. No time in Gothenburg though as we boarded a minibus at the airport and were driven further north for our journey.
First things first, we needed feeding: our first stop was Villa Sjötorp in Ljungskile. This beautiful and grand summer house with the most beautiful view out back is now a hotel and restaurant. There’s a Shellfish Journey package available through the hotel (accommodation and seafood dinner) but we were just there for a meal that day.
Our lunch was a beautifully tender chicken breast in an apple-based sauce with chanterelles and beetroot, all accompanied by a leaf salad with cauliflower and cheese and a bread basket filled with a varied assortment of buns, rye breads and crackers. The chef came out after our meal to explain that all the ingredients were sourced locally and were all organic too; it seems that the local food movement is currently very big in Sweden though I’m of the impression that it’s been popular here for a while.
We finished with coffee and tea and little melty mint chocolates. I’d always pictured Sweden to be a big coffee drinking country (cf. Wallander novels) and this just strengthened that picture; this was to be the first of many cups of joe I’d consume while there. I quite love the whole fika (a break for coffee and cake) concept!
We continued our drive up to Lysekil on the coast, where we were taking part in our main activity that day, a Mussel Safari. We hopped out of the bus almost directly onto a pier where we pulled on bright oversized jumpsuits that would both keep us warm and keep us alive if we were to accidentally fall into the sea; they wouldn’t please the fashion-conscious but better safe than sorry! Hopped onto a little boat and off we went.
That’s Adrian van der Plasse in the big woolen fisherman’s jumper. He owns Orust Shellfish and he was a brilliant guide, showing us the 20 minute route we were going to take from Lysekil and teaching us about the ways to grow mussels used in the waters around the town: the barrel and rope method versus the net method. I myself preferred the net method only because it was more aesthetically pleasing on the surface of the water. We cooed over little baby mussels and larger teenage mussels pulled up from the sea – it takes 18 months to 2 years until they reach edible maturity.
We pulled up onto a rocky island inhabited by Adrian’s two sheep and a small wooden shack…and a bucket of oysters. Lars Marstone (he runs Lysekil Ostron & Musslor and operates the mussel safaris with Adrian) started explaining that these oysters were harvested just in the waters surrounding us and started shucking them. We slurped them down as quickly as he could shuck them.
While our attention was distracted by the oysters, I didn’t realise that so much activity was taking place near the shack. Adrian had got a gas burner on and was cooking up the largest pot of mussels I had ever seen – it wasn’t long before they were ready to eat. I want to state that these weren’t mussels that were harvested while we were out on the water – that day (week? month?), those mussels could not be eaten due to a toxin in the waters (the oysters aren’t affected). We were fed safe mussels!
Armed with bowls of hot mussels, we perched anywhere we could on that rock island and took in the peacefulness of it all, the silence only punctuated by little splashes where we hurled mussel shells back into the sea.
After getting our fill of the black shellfish, the last thing I expected was even more food – it was fika time again! Here’s Lars with the coffee and an excellent carrot cake.
After an hour or so of utter calm (and digestion) on that rock, we again boarded our trusty steed…
… and rode off into the sunset, back to Lysekil where we were having dinner that night.
(A bit of a surprise – I was interviewed about the shellfish journey the next day for Bohusläningen, a local newspaper, and the article with photos from the day is available online.)
The mussel safari (actually a longer version of what we experienced and costing 795 SEK) can be booked through hotels such as the Strandflickorna Havshotellet, where we stayed that night.
Quite amusingly, we all discovered that each of our rooms were themed in some way. Mine was decorated with the bizarre belongings of a sailor now long gone. Still, I slept well later that night, thankfully.
After freshening up, we headed down to Cafe Ferdinand in Gamla Stan, the old town of Lysekil. All the buildings up north here are built of wood, making for an old town that looked relatively new; only the cobblestones were a giveaway of the town’s age.
We were presented with a seafood buffet! Banish all thoughts of grim budget buffets in the UK and even the grandiose buffets at Asian hotels – this was an intimate spread of freshly prepared seafood all sourced locally. Nothing came from further than an hour away.
And cheese! That day, I thought this was for afters but I discovered later that nope, cheese is eaten with seafood in Sweden. I’m still not used to this combination.
Needless to say, we stuffed ourselves silly.
This here was my first plate and well… I lost count after my second one and the bowl of creamy mussel soup and the salad with the giant scallop and the amazing gratinated oysters (garlic butter and breadcrumbs)… well, yeah.
It’s not possible to walk in off the street to have dinner at this cafe though. This must be booked as part of a package such as this one. It’s impossible for them to keep so much seafood available at any time – it’s a small town and we can’t have any of that glorious seafood go to waste!
It was hard to believe that we’d only been in West Sweden for a day, having packed in so much activity. It was off to bed for us as we had an early morning start the next day.