Cook a Fine DIY Dinner in the Swedish Wilderness
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
This experience lets you unplug, zone out and reconnect with Mother Nature. And eat.
By Ximena N. Larkin
This is a dining experience where your shoes are bound to get dirty. There is no host — and no ceiling or walls, so you might want to keep your jacket on. No, it’s not a mistake (or, worse, a Fyre Festival situation). It’s an unconventional way to experience gourmet local Swedish food right from where it comes from: in the wilderness.
Edible Country is an outdoor dining program designed to encourage people to explore the natural beauty of Sweden — a land that is 97 percent uninhabited — and sample the foods found within its borders. Namely, by trying out one of the nine-course menus that Michelin-starred chefs have created for al fresco tables located across the country. Depending on your wilderness and chef skills, this might even mean foraging for the ingredients yourself. And while that might not sound like your typical meal out, that’s the draw: getting outside to unplug and indulge in a little nature therapy — and eat.
The program, which is sponsored by government-run tourism initiative Visit Sweden, tasked chefs Titti Qvarnström, Niklas Ekstedt, Jacob Holmström and Anton Bjuhr to come up with menus that match the varied landscapes where the 13 tables, which seat eight to 10 people, are located. In Asa, the southern region of Sweden, a single blond wood table stands alone in the forest on a green carpet of moss, flanked by tall, skinny trees that provide cover from the elements. To the north in Arjeplog, the table sits out in the open on a sandy beach, with a clear and breathtaking view of low-rising mountains on the horizon.
Visiting a local fisherman, distiller, dairy farmer or baker lets you experience the country like a native.
“We want to show the different parts of Sweden and how diverse we are,” explains Malin Johansson, owner of Norrqvarn Hotell, who manages the table in Göta Cana, located up on a cliff overlooking the ocean. “It’s spectacular. The idea is to go out into nature and explore what we have here. Each site looks different depending [on] where you are in the season.”
When you book your table, you’ll get the chef’s menu, along with the recipes and list of ingredients — you’ll either need to bring these or forage for them on-site. A short description of each ingredient is provided, along with instructions on where to find them, plus any precautions to take (for example, ground elder leaf grows near poisonous hemlock).
But if you’re new to the kitchen or the great outdoors, do what I did and spare yourself the headache: Create your own menu and pick up your items from local purveyors en route to your table. Visiting a local fisherman, distiller, dairy farmer or baker lets you experience the country like a native. All that’s left is to cook on-site. For my group, this meant collecting water from a nearby spring to boil crawfish and langoustine — purchased from a local fisherman a few hours earlier — to complement the cheese, bread and aquavit (a Nordic spirit reminiscent of gin) picked up along the way to our table.
When the initiative first launched in spring 2019, the tables were offered free of charge. Starting in March 2020, however, a booking fee of 200 Swedish krona (about $20) will be introduced to address no-shows as well as provide an on-site host. The fee also includes a cooking kit, which contains the necessary utensils and basics (such as butter, salt and pepper) needed to prepare the meal. And though the experience is billed as do-it-yourself, add-on services — for things like hiring a forager, guide or local chef — are available for an additional cost (varies by location).
There have been a few hiccups along the way — mainly logistics. Each location is managed individually, so availability and offerings can vary. Some sites offer a full-service meal while others are more hands-off. It’s up to the guest to research first by reading each site listing. The booking system has also been a bit problematic, with location offerings sometimes lacking clarity.
That might be because the concept began as a public relations campaign (i.e., stunt) — it was never meant to receive any bookings, explains Melinda Martino, PR manager for Visit Sweden. But Edible Country became popular. Soon after its launch, reservations for the (then seven) tables started to arrive from China, Australia, the U.S., Israel and other parts of Europe. After the number of diners reached over 1,000, six more tables were added. To address the booking issues, organizers have used the off-season to overhaul the website. Martino promises a more intuitive experience for when bookings reopen in March.
And though the project was engineered to highlight Sweden’s chefs, the true beauty of this initiative is encouraging people to get back outdoors and enjoy a meal like our primitive ancestors did. It’s a humbling reminder that, yes, we can cook for ourselves without an internet connection and a smartphone. And it can be quite beautiful.
- Ximena N. Larkin, OZY AuthorContact Ximena N. Larkin