RIP Anthony Bourdain. You inspired me to create. This was first published in September 2017. The idea, execution, photography, and writing was done by me.
Kebabtallrik is one of the greatest foods Middle Eastern immigrants have brought to Sweden. Not only is it delicious, but also cheap and quick.
Kebab has its origins in the Middle East. When some people think of kebab, they think of shish kebabs, meat skewers. However, most of the kebabtallriks in Sweden are made from a variant called döner kebab. This is a Turkish flair, with the kebabs being cooked on a vertical rotisserie with the outer layer sliced vertically into thin shavings as it cooks. Tallrik means plate in English, so kebabtallrik just means a kebab plate. It consists of three main things: kebab, french fries, and a side of vegetables such as lettuce, tomatoes, onions, peppers, etc. In order to maximize the value of kebabtallriks, we need to minimize the cost per gram. I brought along a scale to each of these kebab stands and measured the mass of each kebabtallrik. Having studied chemistry and physics during high school and university, I made sure to zero the scale before measuring the product by asking each kebab stand to provide me with an empty styrofoam container.
Coming from California, I loved Chipotle. It consists of a trifecta of Mexican food: quality ingredients like perfectly charred medium-rare steak, delicious corn, Pico de Gallo (mild if you never had authentic Mexican food), and the speed of McDonalds. In my eyes, Chipotle is the holy grail of value, but there are certain procedures that must be followed to achieve this, e.g. getting two halves of meat, half chicken, half steak, extra corn and extra corn on the side, in order to reap the full benefits of value. So when I came to Sweden to study abroad at Lund University, I had to find a replacement for Chipotle. The replacement came to be kebabtallrik. I think Chipotle is tastier, but kebabtallrik satisfies all the criteria: the flavors are good, it has the speed of McDonalds and for the price to food ratio, it provides a good value. I analyzed five main kebab joints throughout Lund. Here are my observations:
Cost: 78 SEK
Weight: 783 g
Cost per gram: 0.0996
This place is a godsend if you live in Delphi. Delphi is one of the major student accommodations in Lund, in addition to Sparta, Parentesen, and Pålsjöäng. I lived here only during summer, but from winter until spring, I would bike up a couple of times every week to kick it with my buddies who lived here. Biking is one of the greatest things about being a student in Lund. Not only is the city of Lund incredibly bike-able with no massive mountains like San Francisco or Lisbon, but you can get anywhere in Lund within 20 minutes by bike. There are a good amount of parties in Lund and what would be hella fun would be to assemble your squadron, form vultron, and then mob to the festivities by bike.
Another thing that’s interesting to me is the drunk biking in Lund. It’s definitely inadvertently encouraged. If you show up to a bar or club a little too drunk, the bouncers at the door don’t let you in. So you have to leave and drunk bike to the next destination. (I assume most students especially internationals bike everywhere, but I do know a few that had no bikes and just walked.) In addition to not getting let into bars or clubs, a couple of buddies either chipped a tooth, fell in a bush and lost their phone / wallet, or injured themselves biking back buzzed. You can injure yourself pretty badly, but I’m going to come clean, biking drunk is exhilarating. It’s in between live fast, die young and live long and prosper, the best parts of life.
So if you live in Delphi and you’re too hungovered or too lazy to cook, definitely come here. At a kronor to gram ratio of 0.0996, it’s on the higher side, but the quality of the kebab you are getting is worth it.
Cost: 70 SEK
Weight: 876 g
Cost per gram: 0.0799
Lundafalafel is by far the undisputed champion of the king of value. With a cost per gram of 0.0799, it defeats the other Kebabtallriks by a solid margin. Not only that, but with a central location right on Stora Södergatan, it’s convenient for everyone. I remember when I first arrived in Lund in January. I was freezing because I’m from California and wasn’t used to the cold. I also didn’t get my wok yet so I couldn’t chef it up. At my studio flat, I only had skillets so I was eating fried eggs, salad, yogurt, cereal, etc. Basically, I was first world starving. Swedes I talked to were saying kebab is the best here and to go check out this place called Lundafalafel.
The only issue I have with this place is that it’s cash only and I never carry cash. My everyday carry is my phone, a money clip with IDs and credit cards, and keys. I carry no cash or coins for that matter. There have been numerous studies on why transitioning to a cashless society is better. For example, take grocery store transactions. Let’s err on the safer side and say paying by card vs cash saves 5 seconds per transaction on average. In the USA in 2017, individuals make on average 1.5 grocery trips per week, meaning 78 trips per year (source). With an average savings of 5 seconds per transaction, each individual saves 390 seconds (6 and a half minutes). That might sound like nothing for an individual; we spend more time on Facebook each day (source). But if you take into account the US population size of 323.1 million and 77.2%, the percentage of people over 18, (rough estimate of how many people do their own grocery shopping, (source), we get 249.5 million people.
So each year the US population wastes ~97,309 million seconds => 27 million hours. According to statistics, the average American makes $23.86 per hour, so America could potentially save $644.22 million per year if we all transitioned to a cash less society (source). The transition to Apple Pay is another step forward; instead of carrying around numerous cards, all we need to carry around is an iPhone.
However, I think the real future of cashless society is with QR codes. In restaurants in China, you could scan a restaurant’s QR code, enter the amount of the bill and pay. The two technologies behind this are called Alipay and WeChat wallet. I’ve personally seen this in use when I was in Beijing in February and it’s super convenient. This needs to be the future in Western countries including Sweden and the USA.
The technology is so widespread that even beggars on the street in China have QR codes on their signs instead of tin cans.
Cost: 75 SEK
Weight: 330 g
Cost per gram: 0.227
At the highest price per gram, Sibylla’s kebabtallrik provides the least amount of value. However, the quality of the meat is much higher than other joints. The kebab is thicker and the meat is tastier than all the other kebabtallrik’s sampled. This could be partly due to the fact that Sibylla is a chain of fast food restaurants around Sweden and Finland. With a corporate supply chain, the quality of the meat would most likely be higher and also standardized across locations. They serve other traditional Swedish food like grillad korv med bröd (a grilled sausage in a bun) and köttbullar med mos och lingon (meatballs with mashed potatoes and lingonberries).
I like multinational corporations especially in the realm of food. I’m not going to lie, I love McDonalds. I can go into almost any country in the world and go in a McDonalds and it will taste 99% the same. Sure, there are local specializations like India’s veggie burgers, Hong Kong’s rice burgers, Japan’s black burgers, etc., but McDonalds is incredibly standardized. They took ‘think globally, act locally’ to another level. In 7th grade Ms. Orlando’s class, I read Fast Food Nation and the book quoted a statistic saying that the Golden Arches are now more recognized than the Christian cross.
I can go into almost any country, find a Golden Arch and the food will remind me of home. McDonalds successfully rode the globalization trend and exported American culture worldwide. All the other kebab joints in this editorial are local to Lund, but Sibylla is a nationwide chain. I could be in Göteborg or Stockholm, and get the Sibylla’s flair of kebabtallrik and know exactly what I would be getting. Sibylla has ~170 locations in Sweden which all standardized the Sibylla kebabtallrik taste. However, in terms of making me full, it just didn’t cut it.
Cost: 79 SEK
Weight: 737 g
Cost per gram: 0.107
0.107 SEK/g is respectable. Kryddan is the last name of two brothers and run by them. Both are co-owners of Pizzeria Kryddan; one of which appears in my pictures. It’s super close to Parentesen which is home to the annual Brännboll tournament. The people living inside each Parentesen corridor become a team. During the tournament, each team competes to not become last place, otherwise they would be responsible for cleaning up the mess that follows.
To understand the debauchery of this tournament, we have to understand the architecture of Parentesen. Parentesen got its name because it looks like a pair of parentheses, with the space enveloped between them occupied by a field. Each corridor above the ground has a balcony directly facing the field. With two balconies per floor per parenthesis, there are a total of 12 balconies facing the field. During the tournament, all the other corridors are watching from these balconies. Honestly, I got to hand it to the architects of Parentesen. They made a modern day Roman Colosseum inside this student town of Lund. The Brännboll tournament is the modern equivalent of a Roman gladiator fight. There’s no humans murdered or lions being slayed, but once the final game takes place and the absolute loser of the entire tournament is determined, everyone from all the 12 balconies start throwing all their trash onto the field below. When I mean trash, I don’t just mean the trash from this week’s recycling or trash bin. The residents of Parentesen start hoarding trash weeks or months in advance, just so when the absolute loser is determined, they can throw off all their rubbish onto the field and the losers would have to clean it up. House rules!
Unfortunately, I didn’t witness the game or the act of throwing trash, but I was in Parentesen the same night after all the debauchery had taken place. Here’s my snapchat from the night. (It’s extremely aesthetic!)
Olympia Pizza & Café
Cost: 80 SEK
Weight: 557 g
Cost per gram: 0.144
This joint is right outside the doors of Sparta, another Lund student accommodation. Honestly, after writing about all these kebab stands, I realized that distance plays a huge factor in determining value. Distance traveled isn’t a big deal but the time it takes is, and so we have to take into account the distance traveled to food consumption ratio. If you live in Sparta, just come by here. With a cost per gram of 0.144 SEK/g it’s on the higher side, but the time saved is worth it, especially if you order on the phone in advance.
Sparta has some of the best corridor parties, but like all corridor parties and house parties in Lund, it’s a strict ‘bring your own drinks to all gatherings’ mentality. I had a friend pay for shots for us at a house party before.
This is extremely interesting to me because it goes back to most Swedes being hoarders of alcohol. According to Sweden: An Illustrated History, a hypothesis to why Swedes are such heavy social drinkers/binge drinkers is because of weather.
With long and cold winters where people drink to stay warm or stayed inside to drink when there was nothing else to do, Swedes have a natural affinity for alcohol. Another hypothesis could be the discovery of the potato. In 1746, it was discovered that the potato was excellent for distilling and with the potato growing in abundance, alcohol was made readily available to the poorer farming population.
Regardless of the origins, Sweden has a government alcohol monopoly called Systembolaget for the sale on all alcoholic beverages stronger than 3.5% by volume. Not only were there only two Systembolagets in the entirety of Lund, but also the prices were greatly increased. It is no wonder that when my good Swedish buddy came back from Spain, he brought back an entire suitcase stuffed with alcohol.
Another interesting observation is that Systembolaget is closed on Sundays and only open until 15.00 (3 pm) on Saturdays. So you either have to hoard alcohol, have friends that hoard alcohol, be meticulous in your planning of the weekend, or be forced to go out to bars or clubs to drink if you want to turn up.
With a sample size of one for each kebab shop, there is some random error that needs to be eliminated. The best way would be to order five kebabtallriks from each kebab stand and average them. It’s the only way to be sure. In addition to random error, there are some systematic errors that could have occurred with each measurement. Here are some potential sources of error.
Kebabtallrik is made up of three primary things: kebab, french fries, and vegetables. When we measure the weight of a kebabtallrik, we want to maximize the weight of the meat because that’s the most expensive part of the meal. Too many fries or too much sauce will significantly impact the cost per gram of the kebabtallrik by artificially deflating it.
In addition, there are some workers that are extremely skilled at making kebabtallrik while some are just being trained. Going to the the kebab stand at different times per day would minimize random error. Personally, I befriended a worker at this one kebab shop who would give me great discounts. At that particular time in my life I would get two wraps, one falafel, one kebab, and a coke for 70 kronors. It was a great deal.
Lastly, I only did five of the most frequented kebab shops for me. There are another twenty in Lund at least. The food is so good and popular that they got every single block and neighborhood of Lund covered.
However, to be honest as a human being, time is the most valuable thing we have. Beyonce, Floyd Mayweather, Elon Musk, and Kanye all have 24 hours in a day, just like us. Everyone on this planet is given the same 24 hours in the day. The question is: what do you choose to do with yours? What separates us is how we choose to use that time. So at the end of the day, if you’re trying to crank out a problem set and you live in Delphi, go to Dephi Pizzeria. The time spent commuting can be better utilized and the value achieved has decreasing marginal utility.
I am unfortunately not in Lund at this particular point in my life, but if you are and want to carry on the torch please contact me.
For the next time I’m in Lund!
Thanks for reading!