Saturday, May 14, 2005
There are some things in life that are just plain unpleasant, but still have to be contended with whether you like it or not. For instance, going to the dentist, or a trip to Ikea, home of high concept, low quality home furnishings from Sweden.
Instead of just getting a new medicine cabinet and maybe one of those shower shelves, next thing you know, poof, two new shoe racks, those those ridiculous and ultimately pointless novelty ice cube trays (I tried to stop him! I TRIED!) that you can’t ever get the ice out of and a pack of 300 tea lights are piled into the cart.
Like the free samples at Costco that a certain faction of the world claim are not only edible, but delicious, there IS a guilty pleasure foodie perk in this Swedish wonderland – and the main reason I agreed to go along with this tacky mass-consumer post-collegiate shopping spree in the first place -- the tiny food hall inconveniently located by the exit just after the check out. (Convenient only if you are just coming for that though, I suppose) This market is the key to making the whole trip worthwhile. If you can get your shopping partner (because lets face it, who goes to this maze alone?) to stand in line, you can spend a leisurely 20 minutes stocking up on Sweden’s finest exports. Everything from Absolut Vodka, Swedish Meatballs and Aquavit to Rye Crisps and Pickled Herring can be had. The Ikea food hall is a fun place to go for all your Nordic needs.
Spying a break in the line, I took my $0.25 cup of lingonberry juice (a gorgeous shade of crimson, a perfect balance of sweet and refreshingly tart) and dashed in to see what was to be had. I had to act fast since I was also with a candy-aholic small-fry - who asked the check out girl if she wouldn’t mind if he opened and tasted all the candy first to decide which I should buy him. Cheeky baby.
The Swedish flavor palate, steeped in a rich history, typically includes dill, nutmeg (what makes a meatball Swedish) cardamom, ginger, cinnamon and lingonberries. (Not to mention salmon and herring) So while I completely missed my favorite item, Anna's Ginger Thins (sigh) I did make good with an assortment of delights that included all the other classic flavors. Dill Chips, which are fat, crinkle cut potatoes that barely seem fried (no residual grease on the fingers) and are (shock) lightly dusted with dried dill. I love that purety of the flavor and the thickness of the chip. They are perfect for dipping or eating with a large glass of chilled vodka. I did just find out they are distributed in Sweden by Kraft, so a little of the exotic cache is gone though. (I am not their biggest fan)
The mini cinnamon buns were flavorful, if not a little dry and tough. They aboslutly perked up with a few minutes in the oven though, which I sense was intended. They were spicy and buttery and a perfect snack. I fell absolutely ga-ga head over heals in love with the cardamom crisps, halves of buns (like little hot dog buns really) turned to melba with a touch of sugar and spice, they are a perfect foil for pickled herring, a nutty cheese or just on their own. I also bought a small jar of crinkle cut pickles that were nicely crisp and redolent with the fresh taste of dill. As a departure from the norm (at least, the norm in the US) there was no garlic listed in the ingredients so there was a lack of bite that I was expecting and instead a heady and fresh pickle experience.
While I was off browsing, the candy-aholic small-fry had made short order of the free samples of assorted jams and jellys. Had I had a firmer grip on the situation, I would have directed him away from there, (being a germ phobe and all) but it was too late, and to my delight and surprise he ran over and declared the lingonberry-chipotle salsa “quite nice,” and offered to swap one of the bars of chocolate he was optimistically clutching for a jar. Since the chocolate would have gone right into him and the sauce is now here with me, it seemed like a fair trade. He may think Coco-Puffs are the greatest foodstuff ever, but he also seems to know his sauces. This stuff is divine. Smokey heat from the chiles, tartness from the berries and an underlying sweetness make this a perfect item. Highly, highly recommended.
The last item that made it to the check stand was a small bag of Swedish Fish, my favorite candy as a child (but only the red ones), which I tore into with gusto. As the precursor to the gummy bear, they have a similar texture, but a bit more give. The flavor instantly took me back but now there is an unpleasant, almost acidic aftertaste that lingers for much too long. I guess my tastes have changed, since the candy-aholic small-fry ate the whole bag while my back was turned.
Overall, if for some strange reason you are near an Ikea and just want to check out the shop, I really do recommend it. There are lots of super delicious things to try and the prices are reasonable. The lines are long, but the fun of trying a batch of new foods is well worth it. You may even be inspired to make a Swedish meal!
Herrgardost is the most popular cheese in Sweden and has been produced since the 18th century, when it was created by a Swedish cheese master.
In Sweden, 68 per cent of the population eat a home-cooked meal for lunch every day.
Swedish exports consist primarily of surplus grain, beverages, butter and pork. Close to 60% of the export value goes to other EU countries.