Every big town has it own treats. From suya in Lagos to strömming in Stockholm. Rapper and amateur chef Mange Schmidt has made it his lifelong quest to find the most delicious street-food dishes from all corners of the globe, an undertaking that he is pursuing together with Pilsner Urquell. Welcome to the world of compressed food culture.
Fish and chips, frankfurters or a quick curry — wherever a bunch of people are gathered together in the world, they usually need a quick, tasty meal. Dishes served from stalls in the street are, in fact, the very essence of food culture. A bite on the go was even an integral part of daily life in ancient Rome, whether that meant nibbling on salted peas or grabbing a sausage or fried fish on the way to the forum. And it always came with garum, of course, that mysterious sauce made from rotten fish that, these days, we find labelled as “fish sauce” in various Asian countries. A necessity for every roman, more popular than ketchup is today.
Better known as a rapper, Mange Schmidt has also worked in a lot of restaurants and bars, but never actually as a full-time cook. He was brought up in a food-loving household and, as a kid, his father would take him to Günter’s sausage stand in Stockholm, one of the few quality hot-dog vendors in Sweden at that time. The quality of Swedish sausages during Schmidt’s childhood was at an all-time low. “If you asked for an ordinary Swedish hot dog, Günter wouldn’t rest until you had tried one of his lovely handmade sausages sourced from all over the world.”
Günter served young Schmidt his spectacular sausages with sauerkraut and his secret hoy hoy sauce, which was made to a recipe known only to a trusted few. It was from these encounters that Schmidt’s lifelong quest to find top-quality street food began — a quest that has taken him around the globe. However, tonight, we meet at his flat in Skanstull to talk about urban street food, and it is his version of his first great street-food meal that he is preparing: a kabanos in a baguette, served with his own, very tasty chimichurri, rather than Günter’s well-kept secret. There’s nothing like your first kiss.
Maybe it was while eating this dish as a kid that he got interested in how sublime treats like this were actually created. Later he realised that he needed to make most of the ingredients himself. From his own roti bread to homemade ketchup and caramelised onions. During trips to Zanzibar or the Middle East he always found himself searching for the perfect pilau or falafel, as well as the secrets behind a great sauce or piece of bread. And now his own, thoroughly investigated recipes have been published in Street Food — An Introduction, which he wrote together with Jonas Cramby. In this, every dish is made from scratch. “Of course you can buy a quality sausage or bread if you want to. I actually bought these sausages today at Hötorgshallen. But some of the sauces and other stuff really need some serious preparation. So it’s street food all right, but not necessarily fast food — and definitely not junk food.”
Schmidt’s missionary work on street food has also caught the attention of Pilsner Urquell, who picked him to be one of their ambassadors. And this classic original pilsner, the world’s first pale lager, is also the perfect accompaniment to the dishes that Schmidt serves. For some reason, wine rarely goes well with street food — pilsner has that perfect bitterness that suits the flavoursome, often-spicy offerings. “If I could have picked one drink to work with, that works well with my recipes, Pilsner Urquell would have been my first choice. It is also very genuine — just like the food that I like.”
Today, street food is becoming part of upmarket-restaurant culture and can be found on the menu at chic bars and bistros. And at home, the search for the perfect dumpling, taco or spring roll has only just begun. Notoriously nervous about following trends, Swedes has been baking levant flatbread long enough. It is time to make room for local specialities from all over the globe and to transform neglected classics such as pizza or kebabs into elegant taste explosions. “I have a hunch that quality kebabs will be the next big thing.”
And maybe that’s part of our interest in street food: to turn the mundane into something magnificent. Maybe we will soon start seeing late-night Gothenburg classics such as the halv special becoming a gourmet’s delight. Exotic or not, street food is food culture in a nutshell. Try a snack in a new port and you can tell straightaway whether it was good choice of destination — a truth that has left many Swedish towns as rather dark chapters in the history of human civilisation. But now, hopefully, all that is about to change.
Words by Tor Bergman
Photography by Pejman Biroun Vand
Thanks to Pilsner Urquell and check out more of the street food videos with Mange Schmidt on their YouTube channel.