AS AN EXPAT LIVING in Denmark — a country known for its pork and pickled herring — I’m always pleasantly surprised by my Nordic neighboring countries’ comfort and ease with vegetarian fare. Copenhagen has many interesting options for foodies, including world renowned Noma, but Danes aren’t yet known for their inventive veg-friendly cooking.
On a recent visit to Stockholm, I was once again impressed by the urban Swedish offerings of affordable, delicious vegetarian and vegan eats. If I’ve got to choose sides in the sibling rivalry among Scandinavian countries based on veg-friendliness alone, Swedes win the food fight.
Advertised as a vegetarian Asian spot, Lao Wai’s entire Sichuan-inspired menu is both vegan and gluten-free, making it a destination for eco-conscious foodies and folks with specific dietary requirements or desires. I found their tea service alone to be worth a visit to the unassuming café; tea is a commonplace ritual in other parts of the world, but an extravagant treat in Scandinavia.
Clear glass pots of whole white and green leaves are served on large wooden trays, complete with a small egg timer. I kept a close eye on my three-minute hourglass filled with sand, and when my leaves were sufficiently steeped, poured the tea into a second glass pitcher for serving.
As a spice lover, I tried the blend of chilies, black and green beans, and tofu in the Jia Chang Dou Fu. On my visit, my less spice happy partner opted for a classic dish, veganized Ma Po Dou Fu. Small hunks of tofu swim in a bean curd-based sauce with mushrooms and chilies, and both dishes came with perfectly steamed rice. Lao Wai also gets bonus points for seating that offers a full view of the kitchen staff tossing veggies and tofu in enormous woks.
With extraordinarily friendly service, the smiling staff is happy to speak English or will attempt to speak another Scandinavian language or dialect, seemingly loving tourists as much as local customers. Our waiter chatted with us about the dearth of vegan options in Copenhagen and even offered suggestions for other veg-friendly restaurants in Stockholm.
Founded in 1968, Max is Sweden’s oldest hamburger chain and their answer to McDonald’s, which are competitively sprinkled around the city. One clear difference from the competition is Max’s two veggie burgers, one falafel and one made of veggies and breading, and veg-friendly side items such as bean salad, carrots, apples, and, not as healthy but still vegetarian, fried treats like Chili Cheese bites and onion rings.
Their chocolate and strawberry milkshakes aren’t dairy-free, but made to order; they’re a refreshing alternative to an ice cream bar from a kiosk. Simply put, Max is a rare veggie lover’s paradise when compared to the veg-friendliness of other fast food menus.
But in addition to their menu, what sets Max apart is their commitment to reducing their carbon footprint. A carbon label that indicates the climate impact of each item or meal — “from farm to fork” — accompanies every menu item, and no surprise, most veggie items are far more eco-friendly. Further working towards eco-consciousness, Max plants trees in Africa to offset their carbon footprint.
Multiple locations around town.
Many tourists go to Herman’s for the scenery; a panoramic view of Stockholm’s old city, amusement park, and bustling downtown is available from this humble eatery’s clifftop perch. Locals return for the warm, hearty all-vegetarian menu that changes daily. As a result, it isn’t unlikely to see punkers in faded denim jackets sitting next to vacationing retirees in windbreakers during their daily lunch buffet.
The day in late April when my partner and I ate a leisurely lunch at the café’s communal wooden tables, we had our choice between cheesy mushroom stroganoff or a spicy Tex-Mex veggie stew with yellow rice. Several salads, including carrot cole slaw and cold broccoli, were light and refreshing. Freshly baked bread was served with herb butter, and organic teas and coffee were included in our buffet price. Our dessert was chocolate cake with homemade whipped cream and blueberries cost extra.
Tucked away in a basement off a major walking street, La Neta serves filling, tasty, and affordable bean and cheese quesadillas with optional sides of chipotle salsa and cilantro. I brushed up on my Spanish with the staff while we watched our order cook on the griddle and noted several other patrons grabbing a cold Dos Equis from the cooler. While they do serve confusing combinations seen in many Nordic Tex-Mex joints — cauliflower and carrots in your burrito? — three simple cheese quesadillas filled me up and could have been enough to share as a snack. Barnhusgatan 2