The good people of Spain feel quite strongly about Mexican food, and not in a good way.
Apparently, those feelings are not shared by other European countries. I can’t speak for all of them, of course, and I can’t even speak for Sweden, but I can tell you that I’ve seen several clues that lead me to believe the Swedes are quite passionate about many different international cuisines, particularly of the Mexican and Tex-Mex variety.
First, Jonas Cramby. I did a double-take last year when I saw his name on the cover of a book called “Tex-Mex from Scratch.” “What the heck does a Swede named Jonas Cramby know about Tex-Mex?” was my first thought.
My second thought, as I flipped through the book: “Hey, this isn’t too bad.”
It turns out that Cramby has written about both Texas barbecue and Tex-Mex because he’s personally interested in Texas culture and become there’s a huge market for these flavors in his native Sweden. (He has a pretty cool YouTube channel if you want to hear/watch a Swede in the Swedish countryside show you how to make fajitas or lamb barbacoa.)
How do I know there’s a huge market for those flavors in Sweden? Because every grocery store we went in had a huge Tex-Mex section. In one of the bigger supermarkets in Visby, I found practically a whole aisle filled with taco kits, corn and flour tortillas, salsas, queso, spice packets, refried beans and rice mixes. Grocery stores aren’t going to stock that many items if those products aren’t selling well.
We saw several Tex-Mex/Mexican restaurants in each city we visited but didn’t try any, sadly. (I’ll file that one under #travelregrets.)
So why do Swedes love tacos? A theory I’ve been developing has to do starts with the fact that they generally embrace international flavors. Just about every cuisine you can find in Austin I saw in Sweden. In the grocery store magazine, the recipes ranged from Lebanese kofta to Thai soup and American potato salad. Just as authentic Mexican and Tex-Mex is growing in popularity in the U.S., the foodies of Scandinavia are just as curious about replicating some of those unique flavors in their kitchens as New Yorkers.
And I also have to point out that although Swedish food certainly isn’t the bland/boring cuisine that several people warned me about before I left, the bold, intense ingredients used in Tex-Mex and Mexican food — chiles, cumin, lime, cilantro, to name a few — provide a nice contrast to the pickled, preserved and homey ingredients that are the backbone of Swedish cuisine.
This week, I used a package of Swedish taco seasoning I picked up at one of the markets in Stockholm. It was heavy on the cumin, and though not as dark in color as some American taco mixes, it packed a nice bit of heat that I wasn’t expecting.
That little chihuahua with the sombrero on the back of the package is a little silly, though.
Where are some of the interesting places you’ve seen Tex-Mex or Mexican cuisine served? Anyone with knowledge of Sweden have any other ideas about why Tex-Mex is so popular there?