Our final day in West Sweden started with a boat ride (on a boat called Evert) down the coast to Grönemad, Grebbestad, a town on the coast well known for its seafood – oysters, crabs, lobsters, langoustines. It’s estimated that 90% of Sweden’s oysters are from the waters around this town. Now, I say boat ride but it was more like a thrill ride for us landlubbers sitting on the back of the boat, with the brisk wind on our cheeks and us squealing every time we hit a wave of considerable size. I heard it was quite a bumpy ride for those sitting inside but closer to the front.

And we saw a seal – how thrilling! This was an adult sunning itself on a rock; it seemed very unimpressed by us.

Seal

About an hour after we started (with stops to see the seal and to see a couple of traditional fishing villages on the way), we arrived at this boathouse – Everts Sjöbod (Evert’s Boathouse), owned and run by brothers Per and Lars Karlsson. It was they who picked us up that morning.

Everts Sjöbod

Inside, it’s decorated exactly how I’d expect a Swedish boathouse to be decorated – it was gorgeous and, y’know, nautical (and warm). While the downstairs was comfy but practical, upstairs was bright and spacious and apparently can be hired out for parties.

Downstairs

Upstairs

To give us a moment to catch our breath and rest, we were brought coffee and cake upstairs – our last fika in Sweden. I miss this custom already.

Cake

After, we descended back down the stairs to take part in our Oyster Experience. Per had already started raking up oysters from underneath the boathouse while we were partaking in fika and he had quite a collection already when we went down to join him. There’s a small net attached to the rake and every scoop he brought up had at least a few oysters in it. He later explained that he harvests them all around Grebbestad but brings them back to under his boathouse where the oysters love to live.

The native Swedish oysters are easily identified – round and rather pretty. See that mutant in the top right of the pile in the photo below? OK, it’s not a mutant but just a different kind of oyster – a Japanese species. As I may have mentioned before, I like the meatiness of the native oysters over the creaminess of other oysters that I’ve tried in the past: the Japanese oyster looked like a creamy one.

Oysters

They were brought inside to a demonstration table already setup for us. We learned to shuck oysters (interestingly, it’s a different oyster knife used for the natives versus the Japanese one) and I even had a go at it. It’s trickier than it looks (especially when demonstrated by a man who takes part in Grebbestad’s annual Nordic Oyster Opening Championship) but I got it open in the end.

After we had a go, he shucked the remaining ones and we gathered round the table and feasted. Ah, nothing like an early morning oyster or two.

Shucked Oysters

Alas, there was no photo of the oyster I shucked as that went straight down my gullet!

While we were still digesting our oysters, there was no rest for Per and Lars. They immediately started setting up their other boat, Tuffa, pictured below, a gorgeous wooden boat built in the 50s.

Tuffa

And why were we going out on the water again? Well, to make up for the lobster safari that did not go as planned the day before, we were going out on another! They leave their lobster traps close by and so it was only a short trip out to see what lay in store for us. Per had even brought a bucket of salted herring bait to refill the traps.

Per

The first trap pulled up had two crabs inside. A lovely catch but they ain’t no lobster.

Crab

And then with the second trap – success! A lobster! And even another crab or two, making for what I consider a pretty good haul from only two traps.

Lobster

We came back to a seafood lunch set out for us. This was our last meal in Sweden for we were heading for the airport straight after.

Boiled langoustines (what the Swedish call saltwater crayfish, as opposed to freshwater crayfish) and crabs were the bulk of our meal and we spent a jolly hour cracking and slurping and gnawing away at those shells.

Langoustines

Crabs

One cannot forget the cheese! That cheese and sauces and breads and crackers rounded out our meal.

Cheeses and Sauces

I’m just sorry for Per and Lars for the mess we left! Their oyster tasting and lobster safari packages can all be booked on the West Sweden website as part of the Shellfish Journey promotion.

A dozy bus ride later and we were again at Gothenburg airport to catch our flight back to London. Gosh, I miss all that seafood and fresh air and fikas. It’s still surprising to me how close West Sweden is from London and it is doable in a weekend. While we were driven around in a hired minibus for our weekend, I did notice that public transportation is very good and there’s a whole network of buses that can get you from Gothenburg to Grebbested, Strömstad or Lysekil.

My fellow food bloggers’ posts on this trip can be found here: Jeanne of Cook Sister, Chris of Cheese and Biscuits, Helen of Food Stories, Lizzie of Hollow Legs and Nadia of Food Fanatic (though if you don’t read Danish, you’ll need Google Translate for Nadia’s posts!). And as usual, all my photos from this trip can be seen in this Flickr photoset.

Thank you again to the West Sweden Tourist Board (Facebook page, Twitter, Blog) and Visit Sweden (Facebook, Twitter) for this amazing Shellfish Journey. Thank you also to Stephanie, Malin and Ann-Charlotte who arranged the trip and accompanied us there – they were great.

We woke early on Saturday morning to take a bus to Strömstad further up the coast. From here, we caught a ferry to South Koster Island (Sydkoster in Swedish), where we were going to spend the day. This small and quiet car-free island has about 300 year-round residents but come the summer, that number swells to thousands per day, with visitors there for the beaches, forests and general peacefulness the island affords. As we were visiting during the off season, we came across very few visitors during our time there (luckily). And in case you’re wondering, there’s a North Koster Island too but it is smaller.

Helena von Bothmer met us at the ferry stop and walked us the five minutes to Sydkoster Hotell Ekenäs, our hotel for the night. We dumped our bags and then went off to choose a bicycle from a whole field full of them. Yes, we were taking a bicycle tour of the island – bicycles are very popular, as you’d imagine, when cars are banned. Other popular modes of transport (apart from walking, which is definitely possible as the island is only about 8 square kilometres) include the golf cart and a particular three wheeled vehicle with space for cargo whose name I’ve forgotten.

Sydkoster Hotell Ekenäs

And then off we went! We cycled all round that island and passed houses, forests, and beaches. Here’s Helena telling us about the island and its residents.

We were joined by a cat who wove in and out amongst the bicycles; he was quite a friendly little fellow though he did run the risk of being run over!

Cat

Later, we stopped at the boundary of Sweden’s first Marine National Park, Kosterhavet, right on the coast of South Koster Island. Apparently there are 200 plant and animal species that cannot be found anywhere else in Sweden; as explained to us, it’s quite a deep and unique environment created, I think, by the meeting of two tectonic plates.

After further stops at the main fishing port and at the highest point on the island, well, we were hungry. At midday, we cycled to Kosters Trädgårdar (the gardens, nursery centre, farm shop, cafe/restaurant owned by Helena and her husband) for lunch. I was starving; my bicycle had decided to act up (sticking brakes) and it felt like I was cycling up a hill for most of the morning. Food was required!

We demolished a large bowl of leaf salad with peppers and toasted pumpkin seeds and cleared a platter of a wholemeal bread full of seeds.

Bread and Salad

Big bowls of a hearty fish stew were then brought out. The tomato based stew with fish, golden beetroot, potatoes, and kale was topped with a generous dollop of aioli (the amount of garlic used in Swedish cuisine surprised me) and it hit the spot. You could tell how tired we were by the silence that overcame the table as we slurped it down.

Fish Stew

We were let loose on the spread of cakes after we finished our stews. A few of us shared a variety of them and my favourite was the traditional kanelbulle, the Swedish cinnamon roll.

Desserts

After lunch, we cycled back to the hotel where we prepared for the main event of the day – a lobster safari with Johan Andersson from the hotel. Sadly, I don’t have many photos from this trip as we were very unsuccessful – 2.5m waves prevented us from getting anywhere near the lobster pots and so this safari amounted to mainly pottering around the Koster Islands. I think most fishermen would laugh at 2.5m swells but for us, they sounded deadly!

Back on land, we did get to see a few lobsters that were caught previously…but it’s not the same thing…

Lobsters

We did, however, learn how to cook the beasts in the manner we’d have them that night: dill-poached. 20L of water and 800g of salt and lots of dill stalks make up the poaching liquid (though I’d learn later that night that perhaps 800g is a bit too much) and the lobsters were unceremoniously dumped in. When fully cooked, they were taken off the heat but kept in their poaching liquid until dinnertime.

We also now know how to tell a lady lobster from a gentleman lobster – it’s all in the hips apparently (wider = female).

Male vs Female

If you’d like to try a lobster safari from South Koster Island, there are two packages available here – the small package is quite similar to what we did…but y’know, we didn’t get that hot tub. I hope you have better luck with the lobstering than we did!

As we still had an hour and a half to dinner, I set out on a short walk while there was still light. I made it to a nearby beach and just sat there for a bit – it is amazingly quiet and peaceful there and I already started imagining returning with Blai!

I made it back with lots of time to spare for dinner. The dining room was already half full when I went down and had quite a jolly atmosphere. And how can you resist a fireplace like this one we found in the restaurant?

Fireplace

All the tables were set with dishes of lobster popcorn (tossed with lobster powder made from lobster oil and topped with lobster chips) and regular butter and goat’s milk butter. Goat’s milk butter is indeed goaty. And those lobster chips? They melted in one’s mouth and had a fabulously strong shellfish flavour.

Lobster Popcorn

We started with a creamy lobster soup served on lobster semolina and artichokes. The flavour of the soup had obviously come from boiling lots of lobster shells, a great way to get the most out of the crustaceans.

Creamy Lobster Soup

Here’s my dill poached lobster paired with a sliced of cheese quiche. And just in case that wasn’t enough cheese for you, there was even more on the side along with a red pepper mayonnaise and an aioli. The lobster was lovely but if you wanted to dill-poach it at home, I’d recommend reducing that salt amount – woooo, it was salty!

My Lobster

And then we were presented with more cheese! This was Himmelsraften, a washed hard cheese from Jämtland served with seabuckthorn and smoked rapeseed oil. The cheese was lovely but I had trouble with the tart seabuckthorn jelly with it.

Himmelsraften

Finally, poached Clara Friis pears with vanilla ice cream and pear cognac zabaglione for dessert. I would have liked a bit more of the pear and cake but from what I understand, desserts aren’t so big in Swedish culture. It sounds like most of the sweets are eaten at fika.

Poached Clara Friis Pears

Full and needing rest, I retired to my room (yup, another early morning for the last day) to the sounds of a rock band at the bar. South Koster Island might only have 300 residents but they sure know how to party.

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.

Villa Sjötorp in Ljungskile

Behind the House

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.

Bread Basket Salad

Chicken with Chanterelles and Beetroot

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!

Coffee, Tea and Mint Chocolates

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.

Oysters

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.

Mussels

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.

Cake and Coffee

After an hour or so of utter calm (and digestion) on that rock, we again boarded our trusty steed…

Boat

… and rode off into the sunset, back to Lysekil where we were having dinner that night.

Sunset

(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.

Strandflickorna Hotell

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.

Cafe Ferdinand

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.

Buffet

Buffet

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.

Cheese and Breads/Crackers

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.

My First Plate

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.