"IKEA, Swedish for common sense," is how the commercial goes. Yet my common sense seems to escape me while shopping there. Although the products are nifty and super cheap, it is NOT my greatest talent to build beautiful furniture from planks of wood, a package of bolts, and a direction sheet that has only arrows as its vocabulary. Yet back I go, trip after trip, filling my cart with baskets of every size, shape, and dimension and spectacular flower-shaped light bulbs that may or not fit in American lamps. "What’s the sense?" I have asked many times. Now I know. It’s all about the sense of TASTE- The IKEA food mart rocks! Tack sa mycket, (thank you) Bjorn!
Now I must confess, I lived in Stockholm for years so my taste for things Swedish is admittedly subjective. So, to be fair and unbiased in writing about the food, I decided to have a Smorgasbord with my Westport peeps so they could tell me their unadulterated opinions. Here's how it went down:
We started with the appetizer spreads, which looked a lot like toothpaste tubes with pictures of sea creatures on them. Not exactly a great visual, but what a taste! We sampled three different tubes: PRAWN (jumbo shrimp) CHEESE SPREAD, KALLES CREAMED SMOKED ROE, and the ABBA SALMON PATE’, all spread on extra crunchy LEKSANDS KNACKEBROD (crispy crackers). The prawn cheese was creamy with bits of real shrimp throughout. The Kalles Roe was saltier and a tad more fishy and the Abba Salmon Pate was somewhere in between. All three were delectable so, naturally, we popped some on a hard boiled egg! It’s the perfect breakfast treat for the slightly more adventuresome crowd. Or, for a great brunch dish, boil some eggs and slice off the tops. Add a spoonful of Crème Fraiche and squeeze a dollop of Creamed Roe on each egg, then garnish with a sprig of dill. Serve in your favorite egg cups. Adorable!
Our next course was the GRAV LAX (“grave salmon” to you! from the medieval practice of curing the fish by burying it in the sand above the high tide level!) which is salmon that has been cold-cured in sugar, salt, and fresh dill. Ikea sells it in packages just like you might find packaged smoked salmon in your local store. We placed the thinly sliced fish on yet another type of crisp cracker, this time a FULLKORN SKORPA, which looks a bit like a bruschetta-sized cracker but has a slightly sweet and nutty flavor. On top, we drizzled SENAP SAS (a sweet, dill-infused mustard sauce, especially designed for Grav Lax.) My Westport gals were a little more hesitant about trying it but, once they tasted it, they loved it. Again, a perfect appetizer for lunch or brunch! Jatte gott! (very yummy!)
Next, I pulled out 3 jars of pickled herring. This time, most of the ladies backed far away from the table as I opened the lids but, take my word for it, pickled herring is where it’s at! The most common is the INLAGD SILL (“inlaged” means marinaded and “sill” means herring - there’s that “common sense” again!) which is NOT fishy in any way and has been steeping in vineager, sugar, salt, onions, and carrots for a loooooong time! We (well, at least I!) also tried the SVARTVINBARS SILL (with a blackcurrant marinade) and the SENAPSSILL, my favorite, which is coated in a mild mustard sauce. Yes, this is herring. But it isn’t what you might expect. It is mild, it is tasty, and it is NOT fishy. You can trust me, I’m the TART YOGURT lady!
After I lured the ladies back to the table, it was time for the main courses. The first was the classic Swedish dish, KOTT BULLAR. Yes, you guessed it, Swedish Meatballs! They are yummy and come in a freezable bag with plenty inside. You can bake them if you wish, but they are just as good “nuked” in the microwave for a couple of minutes. Ikea sells the traditional cream sauce (Graddsas) to go with, but we opted to save the calories for the desserts to come! Instead, we had LINGONBERRY JAM as a condiment for the meat balls, which made for a delicious juxtaposition of the savory meat and the sweet fruit spread. We served them with ROSTI ( frozen potato fritters that are easily fried in a tiny bit of oil for a couple of minutes on either side) which are basically crisped potato pancakes. Another side was the marinated sweet red cabbage which comes in a large jar that you can refrigerate after taking your share. Garnish with some Inlagd Gurka (Swedish for “that’s a pickle in my pocket!”) and your meal is complete. That, was main course number 1.
Main course number 2 was my favorite, a true Swedish summer tradition! Succulent crayfish, boiled and marinated in brine and dill, served cold and washed down with icy cold vodka. Granted, preschool pick-up was only minutes away so we just pretended to take our “shots” - no, really. Traditionally, in August, Swedes sit around a table or on the floor with piles of fresh crayfish tossed into the center of the circle. There is more Aquavit to drink than you‘d find at a high school homecoming game (!) and a good time is had by all. With Ikea’s KINESKA KRAFTOR, you can recreate that party any time of year. Packaged in a big, freezer friendly box, the crayfish are already cooked to perfection and beautifully crimson. Lay them on your table with shot glasses of vodka, spread some of Ikea’s many cheese choices on KNACKEBROD, and Sven’s your uncle! Even in the dead of a Connecticut winter, you will be transformed to the Swedish Archipelago, surrounded by water, crayfish, the midnight sun and, if you‘re lucky, lots of guys named Sven!
Bringing out the tray of desserts, I was able to entice the ladies back to the table. Ikea sells tons of goodies that are a MUST for your pantry or party. To start, we sampled the CHOKLAD HASSELNOT TORTA, a dense and chocolaty hazelnut torte. Creamy, crunchy, smooth, and decadently rich, a thin sliver of this typically Swedish combination will make you and your guests very happy. Use what you need and freeze the rest - Ikea’s cakes do well in the freezer forever! Not your cup of tea? Try the delicious and super kid-friendly KOKOSBOLLAR (coco balls.) These are scrumptious orbs of whipped fudge and oats, creamed to truffle-like perfection and finally rolled in coconut flakes. Delectable!
Next, we dove into the candy, and the Swedes really do it right. Outrageously good is the MARABOU CHOKLAD (yes, chocolate) The traditional milk chocolate is my favorite; it literally melts in your mouth and coats your taste buds with the finest, smoothest, tastiest chocolate confection known to the Norse Gods. There is also dark chocolate MARABOU and one that has a rice-crispy crunch to it, but the milk chocolate is outstanding. Swiss chocolate may be more famous but I think the Swedish chocolate rules. As for Hershey’s -shame! The Marabou reigns divine. At this point, the frenzy had begun and all thoughts of herring were behind us. We tore open the bag of individually wrapped, bite-sized DAJM bars - golden nuggets of crunchy toffee bathed in creamy milk chocolate- and munched far more than our share. Last, but not least, we savagely clawed at the bag of BILAR. You’re not going to believe this, but bilar = cars! To describe them as gummies would be cheap. To describe them as marshmallows would be insulting. They are green, white, and pink candy cars that are soft and chewy, sweet yet not cloying, and unbelievably more-ish. Tiny cars of perfection - definitely not GM!
Last were the PEPPARKAKOR (ginger snaps) which are sold in decorative tins that can and should be saved. Each tin depicts a typically Swedish scene and all have been designed by famous Swedish artists including Carl Larsson, one of that country’s most renowned. The ginger snaps are super thin and crunchy and the tastiest I’ve had. They have a kick to them and there is certainly no concealing the ginger. Dip them in hot cocoa for a fabulous taste sensation, just don’t dip for too long as they will soon collapse. Or, sandwich a scoop of your favorite vanilla ice cream between two ginger snaps and get ready to be transported to Valhalla!
There’s a famous bit of Swedish folklore that deals with PEPPARKAKOR (ginger snaps) and it goes like this: Place the cookie in the palm of your hand. Make a wish. Now, tap gently in the center of the cookie with the index finger of the other hand. If the cookie breaks into 3 even pieces, your wish will be granted. If not, eat THAT cookie and try again. We all tried. Mine was the only one that shattered. All the other girls seemed to be on the path to having their dreams come true, but only time would tell. All I know is this: money started to fall from the sky and a van full of gorgeous Swedish tennis players pulled into the driveway to offer us free lessons and post game massages. Coincidence? I think not. The IKEA food mart, Swedish for UN-Commonly Delicious Taste Sensations!
IKEA New Haven 450 Sargent Drive.