The menu at Lyran looks more like a luxury shopping list than a description of dishes. A few items — rhubarb, poppy seeds, coriander, black garlic — sound simple enough. But most are distinguished by their seemingly exotic origins. Capers from Pantelleria. Scanian beef. Chioggia beetroot. Mascarpone from La Treccia. Ramsons from Mushroom Mike. Only the smattering of Swedish words — the names of local farms that supply the restaurant — remind you that you’re in Malmö.
Still, Lyran’s eclectic menu is a sign of the times in Sweden’s third-largest city. After years of industrial decline, Malmö has emerged as a forward-thinking metropolis — one that champions sustainability and start-ups, and is attracting newcomers from far and wide. It’s also Sweden’s most diverse city. An influx of immigrants — many from Syria — means that almost 180 countries are represented.
Little wonder, then, that its food scene is exploding. From third-wave coffee to artisanal bakeries, bustling markets to cutting-edge cuisine, Malmö has everything you’d expect from a cosmopolitan city. Fancy a splurge? Head to one of its four Michelin-starred restaurants. Prefer street food? There are dozens of falafel shops, some started by Syrian refugees. Locals debate who makes the best. To resolve it, perhaps, Malmö is hosting the Falafel World Cup this summer.
Local chef Alexander Norén has worked in the city all his life and describes it as the “Brooklyn to Copenhagen’s Manhattan”. Besides the geographic parallel — the two cities are linked by an iconic bridge — his clear inference is that Malmö is edgier than the Danish capital, its cheaper rents inspiring a number of restaurants to take risks.
Alexander’s own venture, SOI 29, is a case in point. It’s a Thai restaurant, yet there isn’t a bowl of noodles in sight. Instead, it offers classic Thai cuisine such as green papaya salad, Tom Yum Goong (prawn soup), and Pla Thot Sam Rot (fried whole sea bass with a tamarind-tangy three-flavour sauce). Or, as Alexander puts it, “street food with a chef’s touch”.
Alexander launched SOI 29 in spring this year, with three other chefs, including his wife, Johanna. “Everyone was doing the same thing, this Scandi thing,” he explains. “I was so tired of cooking that food and felt like I wanted to take the ball and run the other way.” This meant taking a ‘deep dive’ into Thai cuisine, culminating in a trip to Bangkok, where Alexander spent a month cooking at the celebrated restaurant Nahm alongside noted Thai food expert David Thompson.
He brought some of Nahm’s dishes back to Malmö — including a recipe for Yam Pak, a flavour bomb of fruit and herbs (as well as the phone number of the company that supplies Nahm with shrimp paste). Ingredients are everything at SOI 29. Alexander gets fresh produce flown in from Thailand every Monday, along with authentic spices including galangal and holy basil. The fish and meat are local and organic, as is that most Scandinavian of herbs — dill. “People come here and say: ‘Is this really Thai food? It’s a salad with dill. Do they eat dill in Thailand?’” He laughs. “I tell them, in northern Thailand and Laos, they eat lots of dill.”
A pedal push away, I meet Petra Jarl, who’s every bit as uncompromising about her ingredients. Petra is the owner of a delicatessen called Ola & Ko. She launched it four years ago with one goal: “To serve only the best produce, preferably from the surrounding region, Skåne — and always, always, always without containing anything that isn’t food.”
Today that means focusing on anything from local goods such as cloudberry jam and rhubarb soda to dry-aged pork and Wagyu beef. Between customers, Jarl slips me a slice of salami she made herself, and counts off the ingredients: lamb, white wine, Szechuan pepper and salt. Her criteria for stocking items are equally simple. “Does it taste exceptionally good? Does it have a connection with Skåne? If so, let’s bring it here.”
There’s a similar dogma on display at one of Malmö’s trendiest restaurants. Saltimporten Canteen occupies a glass-fronted warehouse in the city’s northern harbour. It was launched by acclaimed local chefs Ola Rudin and Sebastian Persson a couple of years ago, following their decision to work more family-friendly hours. To this end, it’s only open for lunch on weekdays (the duo also runs a catering business). The menu is simpler still: Rudin and Persson offer diners just two dishes, which range from classic Swedish to more exotic fare. No matter what, says Rudin, the trick is seasonality, and working directly with local farmers and producers. “It tastes better and feels better,” he explains. “We stay in contact with the farmers and they let us know when, for example, the carrots taste just right.” Rudin acknowledges that compared to Copenhagen across the water “Malmö is still in many ways the underdog” but believes in its potential. “We’re part of a generation of chefs who want to put Malmö on the culinary map with local quality-driven food and a unique identity.”
Which brings us back to Lyran. This tiny neighbourhood restaurant opposite a once-dubious park is the jewel in the crown of Malmö’s food scene. I eat at the countertop opposite its open kitchen, and at the end of service, owner Jörgen Lloyd pours himself a glass of wine and starts jotting down ingredients he’d like to use the next day. “Right now I’m in a bubble where I want my food to be as pure as possible,” he says. That means working with as few ingredients as he can. Later he’ll text his farmers and find out what they’ve got — “whether it’s spot-on and needs to be taken right now”. He meets them every morning and conjures up that day’s dishes with his two other chefs. Lloyd’s devotion to seasonal ingredients means dishes are often on the menu for just a few days at a time. I got lucky, dining on the last day for a standout dish: rainbow trout fillet, served with its own roe. “The eggs are whipped with a bit of salt, and are very fresh and pert,” Lloyd says.
I can see why everyone I meet in Malmö tells me to dine at Lyran. Lloyd is a self-taught, homegrown hero. “I could never read a recipe because it bores me,” he laughs. “I started to cook from inspiration, from pure instinct.”
And today, his inspiration comes from the melting pot of his city. Look closely, and you’ll spot pistachios from Iran, pine nuts from Pakistan, and freshly ground spices from the Palestinian bazaar across the road. “They make it themselves — harissa, za’atar, all kinds of spice mixes I’ve never heard of,” Lloyd says. “They say you have to try this, and the next day it’s on my menu.” Indeed, “a dash of this and a pinch of that” is how Lyran’s menu describes the spices. This also happens to be a very good description of Malmö’s food scene today.
A taste of Malmö
Chefs Ola Rudin and Sebastian Persson dish out simple but delicious fare such as beef tartare with beetroots, blackcurrants and tarragon; pickled herring with beetroot and browned butter; and braised pork belly, cauliflower, ramson and leek ash. There are only two options — one meat, one veggie — so the queue moves quickly.
How much: Lunch costs about £7 per person, excluding drinks.
Occupying a townhouse in the prettiest part of Malmö, Bastard is the elder statesman of its contemporary dining scene, but it remains a fun place to knock back a bottle of natural wine and tuck into something casual — a pot of pig’s head terrine, say, or green asparagus with almonds and lumpfish roe.
How much: Dinner costs around £40 per person, excluding drinks.
Of the dishes that head chef Alexander Norén picked up at Bangkok restaurant Nahm, one of the best is a salad of sour mango, physalis and Asian pear with coriander, mint and dill, and a dressing of palm sugar, tamarind, sesame seeds and deep-fried shallots. It’s a dish of weapons-grade deliciousness.
How much: Dinner costs around £32 per person, excluding drinks.
Numerous airlines fly to Copenhagen from airports around the UK. From there, trains to Malmö leave Copenhagen Airport every 20 minutes and cost £13. Rooms at the Clarion Hotel & Congress Malmö Live cost from £86 B&B.
Published in the Jul/Aug 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)