It can be hard to believe, but less that three decades ago people in Skåne would regularly eat things that had been grown or raised half a world away. Sure, we still import food, but the cost of long-haul shipping and refrigeration is reflected in the prices; then there’s trends like the New New Nordic Cuisine which have done a great deal to bring back local and seasonal ingredients to Skånian tables.
What are the options, then, for those who still have a craving for the exotic—those for whom the local is anathema? Well, there’s always INVASIVORE, the all-caps one-restaurant campaign for constructive gluttony and exoticised eating, hidden down a side-street in central Ystad.
As the name suggests, albeit obliquely, INVASIVORE’S menu is based almost entirely on invasive species which lack natural predators or competition in their adopted home of Skåne. The restaurant’s concept starts from the assumption that humans are in effect super-predators that have eaten countless local species to the point of extinction over the last few millennia—so why not steer that insatiable appetite towards species that don’t belong?
The result is the sort of menu that will bring tears of anticipation to any critic of N3C—though INVASIVORE claims, perhaps a little too blithely, that their exotic ingredients are just as “local” as those of more “authentic” competitors like Trophic Cascade or Malcolm’s BBQ. Your invasivorous meal might start with clawed popcorn out of deep-fried tiny asian shore crabs (their population has exploded along the Slow Coast over the last half century) and spicy oriental shrimps (which out-compete the Baltic’s native brown shrimp) sauteed in a chili oil and served with lemon; your main course might include grilled round gobies (the gobie’s voracious appetite makes it the world’s most invasive fish) with a salad based around the peppery flavor of purslane (which forms dense, impenetrable lawns in shallow water). And to finish, how about sweet and tangy Japanese knotweed sorbet?
For the last few years, INVASIVORE has hosted a summer Cook-Off to spark creativity and identify new ingredients: a canny and vital strategy, given that a successful dish will eventually disappear once the invader has been eradicated. Such wiped-out species are added the Rogue’s Gallery of tillbakavisade inkräktare (“repulsed invaders”) that can be seen on the walls of the restaurant. One such success story (and much-missed dish) was the popular lavender-smoked black-mouthed butter bolt with herb potatoes. The fish was first introduced to the Swedish coast in ballast water from transoceanic freighters around 2008, and began to spread at an alarming rate; through intensive fishing, and INVASIVORE’s championing of them as an ingedient, the butter bolt is now really difficult (and expensive) to get a hold of.
But INVASIVORE’s crusade is not always victorious. The Asian shore crab, for instance, has been on the menu since the restaurant opened in the late 2020s: to defeat an invader, mortality must exceed the birth rate, and it turns out that even skaldjursugen Swedes can’t eat enough to keep up with this fecund little crustacean. (Attempts to export them have failed, given they’re so common in neighbouring countries as well.)
Some of INVASIVORE’s critics have noted that local diets can in fact overadapt to invasive species, maintaining rather than blowing out the population levels. A case in point is the pacific oyster, which Sweden imported from France as a high-ticket delicacy… right up until the early 2000s, when the pacific oysters were found on the Swedish west coast, where they were crowding out native species such as blue mussels and European flat oysters. Local eateries of every sort quickly added poached pacific oysters to their menu, but rather than wiping the species out, it became a lucrative product for local fishing firms, as well as a well-loved feature of the Skånian kost.
INVASIVORE rather pointedly doesn’t sell pacific oysters—a fact that is made much of on their website and menu. But there’s only so much one restaurant can do, particularly if it wants to remain a viable business—for it turns out that framing the eating of exotic invaders as a heroic act has limits. No blend of virtue and machismo proved sufficient to make the Spanish slug toast a success, for instance… though INVASIVORE says that the controversial dish did good work in raising awareness.
For those less interested in the rhetoric of modern restaurants—which do somewhat remind the Rough Planet editorial team of conceptual art manifestos from the early 2020s, if we’re honest—the three things to know about INVASIVORE is that it’s popular (reliably among the top five restaurants in Ystad by footfall), affordable (due to the choice of ingredients), and has some of the most tedious marketing materials known to mankind. But hey, two out of three ain’t bad…