THE WASHINGTON POST – Most days, chefs around the world call their distributors to order food items for the days ahead.
They might order seasonal produce, or a standby ingredient for a signature dish.
Not so for Erik Andersson Mohlin.
You see, every dish on the nightly menu is made with ingredients that were destined for the rubbish bin, often because they’re bruised or slightly overripe.
But here in Malmo, a port city in Skane, Sweden’s southernmost province, one distributor’s trash is a visionary chef’s treasure.
On a weeknight this past September, that treasure took the form of prime rib in smoked-tomato, chile, pickled cabbage and carrot.
My skepticism quickly vapourised.
As flavourful as it was colourful, it was the kind of meal you mourn when it’s gone.
This city of 344,000 is about 30 minutes by train from Copenhagen Airport over the Oresund Bridge, a five-mile marvel completed in 2000, and three-ish hours south of Gothenburg, along Sweden’s western coast.
Yet despite its accessibility, it gets far fewer visitors than those popular destinations.
Over the past few years, however, in part as a result of the increased access the bridge provides, construction has boomed and an urban renaissance has begun to take shape.
The creative and progressive, sustainability-focussed food and drink scene, a major point of interest in most Scandinavian cities, has blossomed accordingly and helped put Malmo on the culinary traveller’s radar.
The cityscape is a tableau of old and new. The canals that ring the centre of the city, built as a defence system in the early 1800s, delineate the old city.
Half-timbered buildings around the cobblestoned Lilla Torg (Little Square), date back to the late 16th century, only to be outdone by the centrally located Gothic-style St Peter’s Church, completed in the 14th Century near one of the town’s canals.
The western harbour, a short walk away, has seen a construction boom in the past 20 years. Once a gritty centre of herring fishing, now it’s the site of sleek new hotels and Malmo Live, an event centre that opened in 2015 and serves as home to Malmo Symphony Orchestra. Stroll another 20 minutes and you end up in an ultramodern neighbourhood anchored by the neo-futuristic Turning Torso, a mesmerising skyscraper that twists a full 90 degrees from base to roof. Completed in 2005, it’s Scandinavia’s tallest building.
But despite these symbols of modernity, an Old World, locally focussed sensibility defines how many restaurants operate. In countless cities, restaurants brandish “local” ingredients as a badge of honour, but in Malmo they are de rigueur.
At Lyran, a compact neighbourhood restaurant with an open kitchen, rustic decor and a humble brick exterior that belies its posh yet relaxed elegance, the local ingredients dictate the menu.
It’s presented as a simple list of ingredients, with entries such as “Chanterelles from Mushroom-Mike” and “Yogurt from our neighbour.” Chef Jorgen Lloyd carries out what he calls “instinctive cooking,” a practice that’s partially improvisational and entirely focussed on low-impact dining.
One thing that stood out over the few days I spent exploring Malmo’s restaurants is the way large and small food and drink businesses work together to spotlight one another.
It’s a practice evident at Bishops Arms, a Swedish chain with more than 40 outposts around the country.
Scandinavia has become known for its molecular gastronomy, but before spherification or foams there were just the unique, fragrant fruits themselves. Sweden’s native berries and lush orchard fruits are being made the most of these days. But for all their wander-in-the-woods, honourable goodness, restaurants here are far from precious. They’re anchored in a confident, knowing philosophy that food should reflect its geography, its people.
Nobody has to explain or shout or boast about it because it’s intrinsic and obvious.
The Swedes are not a flashy or dramatic people. There is no pomp or pretense in the serene landscapes, either, be it the seaside villages or fields anchored by ancient castles.
The region’s food and drink are an extension of that. It’s an MO that’s ubiquitous – unavoidable, you might say – even when a restaurant isn’t necessarily trying to highlight it.
I see it again, on my last evening in Sweden, at Care/Of, a moody establishment with steampunk fixtures. Caraway and dill play starring roles. It’s an acquired taste.
And that night I acquired it, a change of heart brought on by the tangy mix of lime and pink grapefruit soda.
Each one was a straightforward, crystalline articulation of the savoury herbs, an articulation of the earth, the place. Like everything else in Malmo.
WHERE TO EAT
The concept here is simple: Chef Erik Andersson Mohlin buys products that distributors are about to toss but are still fully usable and uses them to prepare creative meals. The minimalist space ensures that nothing distracts from the beautiful and tasty – and righteous – fare.
Forty miles east of Malmo, raw elegance meets farmhouse-chic at Meeting Place, a small operation on a family farm.
Local ingredients are the calling card at this laid-back eatery with rustic-chic furniture and a dramatic open kitchen. Small plates of creative, whimsical fare are as pretty as they are tasty.
WHAT TO DO
Museum of Disgusting Food
More of a study in anthropology than anything else, this eccentric museum displays some of the most revolting, cringeworthy food and drink from cultures around the world.