One reason I enjoy blogging is that I get to write about food without pretending to be a culinary expert. I quietly make pesto and throw pizza on the grill and if my adventures are occasionally entertaining to my handful of readers, then I’ve struck success. There is, however, one culinary genre I am pretty knowledgeable about. I am a Nordic food junkie. So consumed for my quest to eat all things Scandinavian it always surprises me when other eaters don’t share my mission. (I am both amused and bewildered when I receive feedback from blog readers who cannot get Scandinavian imports like Norwegian cheese in their California or DC neighborhoods. I’ve been annoyed with locals who continue to define Nordic food as white, bland, and decayed.)
In the Twin Cities we Scandinavian zealots have anticipated the opening of FIKA for a few years. FIKA is an important part of the American Swedish Institute (ASI) expansion, and we hoped for a modern spin on traditional cuisine. With whispered promises of this cafe (cafeteria? bistro?), we mourned the loss of restaurant Aquavit and celebrated the opening of The Bachelor Farmer. In between we gravitated to IKEA just to discuss crayfish and rye bread, and we nibbled on delightful pastries from Scandinavian bakeries such as Café Finspang and Taste of Scandinavia. I don’t know if my Nordic food obsession and my kinship with ASI make me more or less capable of relaying my first taste of FIKA. My expectations were pretty high.
FIKA’s lunch service begins at 11:30. We arrived at ASI early, and had twenty minutes or so to eye the menu and make our choices over a cardamom bun, iced tea and cold-pressed coffee. We considered the cardamom roll a post-breakfast, pre-lunch requisite: Come for the cardamom, stay for the meal. T ordered the meatballs, and I finally decided on two plates: gravlax and fingerlings, and pork belly. The meatballs came with mounds of mashed potatoes and lingonberries, and plenty of quick pickled cucumbers. The balls were caramelized with a beautiful crusty exterior and tender but meaty insides. My gravlax was silky perfection and I nearly licked the plate to get every drop of the horseradishy lemony mustard sauce (which made appearances on all three of our dishes). And the pork belly? Oh the pork belly. Supine atop a smooth and luxurious minty pea puree, the belly was that sublime and holy place where crisped fat fellowships with delicate flesh. Enoki mushrooms and red cabbage anchored the dish with shape and color.
Nordic food is my drug of choice. I love the balance of flavor and texture, the beauty of simplicity, and the understated sensuality. Our meal at FIKA pulled me into a blissful high.
I’ll return again soon, and often. Next up, sandwiches and salads (if I can turn away from the pork). Radish sandwiches are the foundation of a good summer lunch, and I’ve been hearing raves about the salads, especially the beet. Next time I’ll bring cash to tip the servers as my credit card receipt had no place for additions and amenities (a crumple of lonely dollars in a tip jar made me sad). And I’ll begin my meal with a post-breakfast, pre-lunch cardamom bun.
“Fika” is a verb. The tradition of breaking the day up over coffee and baked goodies with neighbors and family (nearly any time of day) was so popular in late 19th Century Sweden that immigrant farm wives brought the practice with them. It remains an important practice in Scandinavia, and is so woven into American rural culture that it is no longer associated with our immigrant past.