Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Social Democracy

The concept of social democracy, quite popular in Sweden (some people often sing the anthem of social democracy in a party occasion), is something very unfamiliar to me. I know what it means. It just doesn't sound natural to me. It sounds very foreign to me. I now understand why.

After the Second World War, the Japanese politics was dominated by the Liberal Democratic Party, a conservative, right-wing party. The main opposition party was the Japan Socialist Party. This party, unlike those social democratic parties in Europe, did not abandon communism. While social democratic parties in Europe supported the US in the Vietnam War, the Japan Socialist Party criticized the US. The party was always close to Soviet Union, mainland China, and Eastern European countries during the Cold War.

In a nutshell, the political party who was supposed to bring the idea of social democracy to Japan failed to do it by sticking to the ideal of achieving socialism via violent revolution.

As a result, the concept of social democracy is quite foreign to Japanese people including myself. If you have a Japanese friend, ask him or her what social democracy is. I bet you won't get any answer.

And that's one of the reasons I'm so perplexed by Sweden where the social democratic party had been in power for a long time.

It seems I should learn the history of social democracy in Europe.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Götgatan Stories

Yet another uninspiring cafe in Stockholm.

As always, the decor is great. Located on the ground floor of the Skrapan shopping center, Götgatan Stories has got a high-ceiling with ceiling to floor glass windows facing the busy Götgatan street. Coffee cups are colored either with chocolate brown or with maya blue.

And as always, coffee and food is disappointing. Machiato tastes okay but with that weird sourness that always comes with coffee in Sweden. The food that I order is toast with chili prawns and saffron aioli (about 7.8 euro). The term chili in the menu in Stockholm usually suggests something wrong. But I feel a bit adventurous today. And I get disappointed. First few bites are all right. It's interesting. But it's quite large a portion, served with, for some reason, balsamic vinegar that doesn't really match the whole concept of this toast, which is not really crispy. Accompanying salad includes the disgustingly-colored red beets (a very typical salad ingredient in Sweden) and, for some reason, pickled Chinese cabbage which is so out of place. As is often the case in "creative" dishes in Stockholm, it's colourful (red beets, saffron yellow, and balsamic brown) without thinking much about the right combination of tastes.

As I start feeling ill (it's oily in addition to strange tastes), I decide not to finish eating the dish even though I rarely do so.

Fast food in Stockholm

The latest issue (Issue 32) of Monocle magazine touches on the subject of fast food in Stockholm. It introduces three decent fast food joints in Sweden's capital: La Neta (for authentic Mexican tacos), Hantverkargatan 14 (quality deli), and Steam (for dumplings to take away). Talking about La Neta, they say, "It brings some much-needed colour to the city's fast food scene... Swedes are the second-biggest consumers of TexMex in Europe after Norway, so no wonder it's always packed."

Not again. Good places are always packed in this city... I'm discouraged to visit La Neta for lunch today.

I checked the locations of these three places. They are all out of my usual sphere of activity. Maybe I live and work in wrong parts of Stockholm...

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Souperb is a ready-meal provider in Sweden. As its name suggests, it tries to offer superb soup. But they also produce some non-soup ready meals.

Last Saturday, I had to go to office to get some work done. On Saturdays, there are no restaurants open around my workplace. I had to buy some ready meal at a kiosk next to the nearest station, even though I know ready meals in Sweden taste pretty bad.

I happened to find Souperb's Wallenbergare med Potatismos, which looked rather nice. And it tasted better than I expected, even though green peas got some wrong taste for some reason.

Slightly encouraged by this experience, today I finally tried one of Souperb's offers that I've always avoided ever since I moved to Sweden: Sweet Beef Tokyo. (Remember I am from Tokyo.) I looked at it, and I had to leave the kiosk once, because it didn't look really right. But I didn't want to end up with meatballs again, which is the only decent lunch dish around my workplace. I took courage to buy one and had it for lunch today.

It's worse than I expected. Remember my expectation wasn't that high. I've never had something like this in Tokyo. One thing that's completely wrong is red chili. We Japanese never ever put chili into what Souperb calls sweet beef. Plus, umami is completely absent. (If you don't know what umami is, look it up on Wikipedia.)

Here's the real recipe for what Souperb calls sweet beef. It seems the sources of the trouble are finely chopped onions and leeks (so they lose the texture; in Japan, onions and leeks are only sliced for this dish so you can enjoy the soft but still crunchy texture) and, most importantly, the failure to simmer beef in Japanese sake or white wine and to add mirin to the sweet soy sauce. Japanese sake or mirin is hard to obtain in Sweden. But why don't they even use white wine? Perhaps they prefer drinking it.

Using the name of Tokyo for this ready meal is derogatory to the superb dining culture of Japan's capital. (I'm serious.)

Souperb also offers Hot Chicken Bangkok, but I wouldn't try, especially because Thai foods in Stockholm, which is quite popular, almost always get something wrong.


According to (a Japanese newspaper's website), you'll be arrested if you watch the film 2012 on DVD in North Korea.

Year 2012 is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-Song, the former president and founder of the People's Democratic Republic of Korea (the official name of North Korea). The Republic is "thus" officially supposed to become a superpower in 2012. Since the film depicts 2012 as the year of a series of natural disasters leading to the verge of human extinction, it's unacceptable for Kim Jong-Il, the current president and son of Kim Il-Song.

This is a county where the minister in charge of currency denomination was recently executed for his policy failure.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Quote of Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe

Some years ago at an international writers’ meeting in Sweden, a Swedish writer and journalist said to a small group of us Africans present: “You fellows are lucky. Your governments put you in prison. Here in Sweden nobody pays any attention to us no matter what we write.” We apologized profusely to him for his misfortune and our undeserved luck!

... which is quoted from Chris Blattman's blog

Saturday, March 20, 2010

mjölkchoklad-pannacotta med blodapelsin

Do you think it's a good idea to mix the tastes of milk chocolate and bloody orange? I don't think so, but a pâtissier at my neighborhood organic supermarket does when he or she makes panna cotta. I'm not very impressed. Each portion (milk chocolate panna cotta and bloody orange jelly, respectively) tastes good. But when they both are put into my mouth, it tastes awkward. Bloody orange may work well with the bitterness of dark chocolate, but not with the sweetness of milk chocolate.

The Wikipedia entry on Swedish cuisine characterizes it as "contrasting flavours; such as the traditional dish of meatballs and gravy with tart, pungent lingonberry jam (slightly similar in taste to cranberry sauce)." It's nothing wrong with contrasting flavours. It could work like magic. But not always, of course. And, for some reason, Swedish choices of contrasting flavours rarely result in magic to my taste...

Friday, March 19, 2010

We won!

As far as I remember, this is perhaps the first time for Japan to win against the coalition of US and European countries in international negotiation.

I'm sorry, but we love fatty tuna. In the West, salmon is the main fish for sushi, but it is tuna in Japan. Imagine, say, Japan claimed for banning the export of salmon because of overfishing. Would you accept that?

Continental Europe tends to believe in paternalistic government intervention like banning a certain kind of economic activities. Why don't they believe in the responsible behavior of private agents? Japanese fishers have been observing the quota for fishing tuna.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Mankiw's advice for choosing a graduate program

5. Is the location of the school a fun place to live?  Grad school is a long haul, typically 4 to 6 years, which is a significant fraction of your life.  Being a PhD student is hard work, but it should not be a miserable existence.

6. Is the university overall a good place?  It is always more fun being part of a great institution.  Even if the economics department is perfect, if it is an island in a sea of mediocrity, being there will be less satisfying.

Quoted from Greg Mankiw's Blog (March 14, 2010)

Sunday, March 14, 2010


The Berghain nightclub, voted as the world's best nightclub by DJ Mag last year, opens at midnight on Sunday and close on the Sunday evening. Unlike usual nightclubs, therefore, you can just hop in on the Sunday afternoon (which I did). And the venue, a former power station, is kind of post-industrial chic; concrete columns and walls with steel interior, somehow matching with techno music's squeaky sound. The main dance floor has a very high ceiling. And it provides the underground and alternative atmosphere although it's not dangerous: I saw gay men couples wearing only bikini pants and kissing deep. Even though smoking in the indoor public space (like restaurants and bars) is prohibited in Germany, many people smoke inside. Some compartments are completely dark: you never know what people do inside. And many good-looking girls. :) If you happen to have a chance to visit Berlin over a weekend, visit this place. It's certainly one of the best nightclubs in the world.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Fabio's BBC Radio 1 Show This Weekend

You gotta listen to this weekend's BBC Radio 1 Drum and Bass Show hosted by Fabio before it becomes unavailable online at the end of this Saturday. Many good drum and bass tunes are played, and the recorded live performance by DJ Marky alongside MC Tali is just awesome. Once you listen to this, you'll know why I love drum and bass music.

Click here and then click LISTEN NOW to start the quality sound streaming of the programme.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Cafes in Stockholm

I planned to write something good about Stockholm today. Unfortunately, the Swedish capital made me unhappy again today. So I have to write something negative about Stockholm (again).

After two years and a half have passed since I moved here, I still haven't found my favorite cafe in this city. There are several that came close to the throne, but there's always something wrong with them.

Mocco in Östermalm, the poshest area of Stockholm, serves decent, if not excellent, toast called Barcelona and offers high-ceiling, minimalistic and stylish decor to a good mixture of trend-conscious people. But their coffee is absolutely disgusting, and it sometimes gets very crowded and noisy.

Caffe Nero in Vasastan serves coffee that's okay, if not excellent, and delicious panini, if a bit too oily. Tatao Ando-ish concrete-surfaced counters and relaxing black-leather chairs at the back of the cafe are nice. Their pasta is not impressive, though. And it gets packed during lunchtime.

Cafe Spoon in Hammerby sjöstad, my neighborhood, offers wooden, minimalist interior with the view of waterway from its patio. It serves okay foods with Caffe Monteriva (Swedish espresso brand)'s coffee which is too sour to me.

Kaffebar in Södermalm serves an excellent toast topped with Västerbotten cheese (a Swedish specialty). But, with only a few seats in a large space, they are aiming to be an Italian coffee bar (meaning you are supposed to gulp a shot of espresso quick while you are standing) and they also serve Caffe Monteriva (Swedish espresso brand)'s coffee which is too sour to me.

Sosta Espresso Bar, supposedly serving the best espresso in the city, does serve good coffee, but they don't have any seats. Their focaccia is not particularly fantastic.

Blå Lotus, which I visited last Saturday, is very nicely presented with three rooms in different themes: the largest green room at the entrance, the blue room with gold-rimmed mirrors on the wall, and the red room with Chinese lamps and decoration. Their signature(?) sandwich cake Shiva looks perfect with melting cheese, roasted tomatoes, garlic puree... But something is missing in its taste. (Perhaps butter?) As I sensed an inspiration from India in this place, I ordered chai rather than coffee. It was great that they didn't serve a cup of warm water with a chai teabag. But they pour foamed milk onto spice-infused black tea that's kept on a hot plate. Chai should be made by boiling milk, not water, with tea leaves and spice, shouldn't it? The mixture of spice is good, though. However, the place is very busy in the Saturday afternoon. I waited 15 minutes to place an order at the counter, and then sat on a small table for one person at the narrow corner of the blue room.

So the quest for my favorite cafe in Stockholm still continues. And today I went to Gildas rum, the best cafe in Stockholm according to Spotted by Locals. It was half past three in the Saturday afternoon. So I imagined the place wouldn't be too crowded. I was wrong. I couldn't find any chairs to sit down.

I also visited other cafes in the same area known as Sofo, the supposedly hippest area of Stockholm: Svart Kaffe, which plays dubstep (for the first time I hear that in Stockholm), and Cafe Oye, the Chilean cafe. Both places are packed with no seat left. Both of them are also tiny places. Even if I get seated, I wouldn't feel very comfortable.

The problem is not the absence of good cafes in this city, it seems. There appear to be good ones. But those good places are easily packed either because everyone follows the suit once they hear a good reputation or because there are very few good cafes in the first place. In other words, there is no hidden-gem kind of cafe in this city. Good places are known to everybody. Spacious cafes tend to serve bad foods and bad coffee for some reason. Many cafes are stylishly decorated, but the appearance does not reflect the quality of food and coffee at all in this city.

The only way to enjoy those small, (hopefully) decent cafes is to wake up early over the weekend, which I hate to do, especially during the winter when going out is such a hassle: making sure I wear clothes warm enough and struggling to walk either on the uneven surface of snow or on the slippery ice. My legs hurt after 30 minutes of walking on the snow as I'm not grown up in snowy winter. (Not many people in Europe know it rarely snows in Tokyo, my hometown, by the way. If you look at the globe, it's obvious, however. Tokyo is about as north as Athens.)

And my final complaint is there is no proper tea salon as I prefer black tea to coffee. No one in Stockholm seems to know you need absolutely boiling water to infuse black tea properly. And black tea per se is not very popular here; people drink Earl Grey or other flavored tea. Flavored tea usually uses the low quality tea leaves, and I hate it.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Drum and Bass in Sweden

As I keep saying on this blog, I'm a big fan of drum and bass. I'm also interested in its cousin dubstep. Since England is the epicenter of both types of music, whether or not I can satisfy this musical interest of mine in Sweden depends on whether Swedish promoters invite great DJs from there. In Sweden, a promoter called Traffic organizes drum and bass events from time to time. For dubstep, AllOutDubstep is, as far as I know, the only promoter.

They organize events in Stockholm and in Malmö, the third largest city of Sweden in the south (across the water from the Danish capital Copenhagen). (The letter ö reads somewhere between e and o.) Twice in a row, the event in Malmö looks very interesting to me. Last December, Malmö saw DJ Hype, one of the biggest DJs in the drum & bass scene whose astonishing scratching technique always makes me dance. This weekend, AllOutDubstep invites Breakage, perhaps one of the most important producers in the dubstep scene right now, to Malmö. A couple of his drum and bass tunes that I heard on Fabio's BBC Radio 1 show are incredible.

And what I don't understand is this.

Breakage won't come to Stockholm, neither did DJ Hype. 

Are DJ Hype and Breakage too dangerous to homogeneously tidy-clad people in Stockholm? Come on.

Maybe it's not Sweden but Stockholm that makes my life difficult.

Oh, there is another specific incident about Stockholm that makes me unhappy. A violinist friend of mine has been touring with an Ausie singer as a supporting musician. This singer comes to Stockholm this April, but my friend won't come because the stage in Stockholm is too small to have a quartet performing live. So I won't be able to see this friend in Stockholm.

These are very specific reasons to dislike Stockholm, but they mean a lot to me. I'm just incompatible with this beautiful, safe, and usually regarded as livable, capital of Sweden.

Foods in Sweden

It seems it's not only me who have some trouble with foods in Sweden.

Here's an experience of an American girl.

Here's an experience of an Irish man.